The essential guide to powerline Ethernet adapters (including 12 hands-on reviews)

Powerline Ethernet adapters that use your home's electrical wiring are great supplements to Wi-Fi networks. We sort through the standards, HomePlug and G.hn, and review 12 models.

Powerline Ethernet adapter roundup

Editor’s note: This roundup of powerline ethernet adapters is continually updated. It was originally published on January 15, 2015, updated in March and again in June 2015 and now again in early September. Click here if you would like to read that original story as published in January 2015. This latest iteration contains entirely new reviews of the Extollo LANsocket 1500 and TP-Link TL-PA8030P KIT, plus updated reviews of the D-Link DHP-701AV and the Trendnet TPL-420E2K.

The powerline networking landscape continues its rapid evolution with a couple of new groundbreaking products based on the state-of-the-art HomePlug AV2 MIMO standard. The Extollo LANSocket 1500 adapter kit has edged out the previous speed champ—the D-Link DHP-701AV—while the TP-Link TL-PA8030P kit caters to people who need to add multiple devices in the same location: Each of its adapters has three ethernet ports instead of just one. This feature could be very useful for home-theater applications.

The new wave of products also highlights two tiers of HomePlug AV2 MIMO performance. The two fastest performers are based on Broadcom chips that operate on the full frequency range AV2 MIMO supports, 2-86Mhz. These adapters are significantly faster than competitors based on chips that operate in a narrower, 2-68Mhz range. However there’s some question on whether the faster products will perform as well in a noisier electrical environment than mine, which was wired in the mid 1990s.

homeplugav2 mimo

Benchmarks and prices of the top performers.

In my previous testing I looked at a couple of other HomePlug AV2 MIMO products as well as a Comtrend kit that was the first retail product based on a competing, less familiar powerline standard called G.hn.

HomePlug and G.hn both define a method for carrying data—including audio and video—over standard electrical cables. This enables you to use existing wires in your home as a data network. HomePlug is based on the IEEE 1901 and IEEE 1905.1 standards, while G.hn is based on the competing ITU G.9960 standard. In addition to using power lines to form a network, G.hn also supports using telephone wiring and coaxial cables.

G.hn and the latest version of HomePlug—HomePlug AV2 MIMO—use a variant of the multiple input/multiple output technology you’ll find in 802.11n and 802.11ac network devices. Using MIMO, a powerline device will utilize all three wires in an electrical cable, transmitting data on any two pairs: Line/Neutral, Line/Ground, Neutral/Ground, and so on to achieve theoretical TCP throughput of up to 1.2Mbps. Earlier HomePlug devices transmit using only the Line and Neutral wires; SISO (Single Input, Single Output) HomePlug AV delivered maximum throughput of 600Mbps.

homeplug adapter price chart

Price and performance of older HomePlug AV adapters (the ZyXel is the first HomePlug AV2 MIMO adapter we tested). 

HomePlug AV2 MIMO

This illustration provided by the HomePlug Alliance shows how MIMO works when applied to powerline networking.

You should be aware that real-world performance is considerably lower in both cases. Also, your home must have three-prong outlets to get the full benefit from MIMO. HomePlug AV2 MIMO adapters will work with two-prong outlets, but they’ll fall back to SISO mode (single input/single output) and deliver less throughput.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO

This illustration provided by the HomePlug Alliance shows how MIMO works when applied to powerline networking.

No mixing: HomePlug and G.hn are incompatible

Powerline networking can be faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi when you need to serve client devices that are behind very thick walls—particularly concrete or masonry—or that are multiple stories away from your router. But the two powerline standards discussed here are not interoperable, so choose one or the other.

To create a powerline network, plug one adapter an AC outlet near your router and connect it to your router using an ethernet cable. Plug other adapters into AC outlets near the devices you want to add to the network, and then connect those devices to the adapters using ethernet cables. Don’t plug the adapters into outlet strips or surge protectors, as those devices might consider the data packets traveling over the wire to be noise and filter them out.

Powerline ethernet adapters

The D-Link DHP-601AV, Linksys PLEK500, Netgear XAVB5201, TP-Link TL-PAV6010KIT, Trendnet TPL-408E2K, Trendnet TPL-420E2K were tested in one residence. The Comtrend PG-9172, D-Link DHP-701AV, Extollo LANsocket 1500, Netgear PL1200-100PAS, and TP-Link TL-PA8030P were benchmarked in a second residence. The ZyXel PLA5405 was tested in both homes.

My testing also suggested that powerline performance varies widely depending on the location of the adapters. Each product was much slower when the adapter connected to the router was further away from the adapter attached to the client, although their performance relative to each other didn’t change.

While the HomePlug Alliance certifies powerline products bearing the HomePlug brand as interoperable, that doesn’t mean you’ll get optimal performance from a network formed by a mix of HomePlug AV2 MIMO brands. When I connected D-Link’s DHP-701AV adapter to my router and connected the client computer to Netgear’s PL1200-100PAS, I saw significantly degraded performance compared to using the same brand at both ends. Interestingly enough, I saw much better performance in the reverse scenario: The Netgear connected to the router and the D-Link on the client end. Bottom line: No matter which powerline product you choose, stick with one standard and one brand.

powerline roundup Michael Brown

Apart from the ZyXel PLA5405, each of these adapters is based on the older HomePlug standard.

You can mix powerline and Wi-Fi devices, though, and most people do. You can also buy powerline-based Wi-Fi range extenders that create local wireless access points in rooms where your Wi-Fi signal can’t reach. Powerline is a fantastic solution when Wi-Fi alone doesn’t cut it, but Wi-Fi is much more convenient if for no other reason than Wi-Fi adapters are built into nearly every device (smartphones, laptops, tablets, media streamers). Plus, there’s the whole “no wires” thing; heck, even newer set-top boxes and DVRs have gone wireless.

So which powerline device is fastest?

Two sets of performance graphs accompany this story. The first covers three HomePlug AV2 MIMO adapters and one adapter based on the G.hn standard that were tested in June 2015. The second chart reports the performance of adapters that were tested in January 2015: three HomePlug AV2 adapters, two HomePlug AV2 enhanced adapters, and two HomePlug AV2 MIMO adapters.

It’s notable that HomePlug AV2 MIMO adapters took the first three places in this roundup: Extollo’s LANsocket 1500 edged out the D-Link DHP-701AV, with ZyXel’s PLA5405 finishing third. The only G.hn adapter in the roundup, Comtrend’s PG-9172 took fourth place.

homeplugav2 mimo

HomePlug AV MIMO adapters deliver the highest performance.

Unless you’re on a very tight budget, avoid older and cheaper powerline adapters. Their performance pales in comparison to the newer products. If your home has a limited number of electrical outlets, you might want to buy an adapter that has a power passthrough, even if you end up sacrificing a little performance in the process.

As for the standards battle, it wouldn’t be fair to declare a winner based on the performance of the only G.hn adapter I’ve tested; namely, Comtrend’s PG-9172. Having said that, the PG-9172 is less expensive than all the other adapters, and it was faster than Netgear’s PLP1200. On the other hand, the two remaining HomePlug AV MIMO adapters—D-Link’s DHP-701AV and ZyXel’s PLA5405—were faster still.

You can read the individual reviews for details as to how each powerline adapter performed. Just use the story navigation tools below to work your way through each one, or find the product you’re interested in reading about and click on its name from the list below:

This story, "The essential guide to powerline Ethernet adapters (including 12 hands-on reviews)" was originally published by TechHive.

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