Fed up with flaky Wi-Fi? Can’t conceive of cabling up your whole house? Then Powerline is the technology for you, and we’ve picked out six of the best powerline adapters worth considering for your home.
What are Powerline Adapters?
Powerline (also known as HomePlug) is a networking technology that uses your home’s existing power cables to distribute the network throughout your home.
As the diagram below shows, you just plug a network cable from your router into one Powerline adapter then plug that adapter into a conventional plug socket.
Then go to the room where you’d like to receive the signal and plug in a second adapter. From there you can connect directly to your computer or plug in other conventional network devices like routers, switches and hubs.
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Why buy a Powerline Adapter?
The technology has a far greater range than most Wi-Fi connections – particularly in large brick built houses where the wireless signal is severely hampered – and is generally more reliable too.
Although early versions were quite slow, the latest versions offer theoretical throughput speeds of over 500MBps. For the gamers out there, Powerline also tends to have a much lower ping/latency than Wi-Fi, making it the smarter option.
Multiple adapters (safest bet is to stick with the same brand) can also be added to the same network, allowing each room of the house to have its own reliable wired network connection.
As well as simple one-to-one adapters you can get ones that feature several Ethernet network sockets for plugging in multiple devices and ones that have integrated Wi-Fi for extending the range of your wireless internet connection.
Best Powerline Adapters: What do I need to know?
It’s worth looking out for powerline adapters that feature pass-through plug sockets. These allow you to plug in other devices so you don’t use up a plug socket with the adapter – great for households with limited plug sockets.
This is a particularly important consideration as the quality of the Powerline signal is much poorer when plugged into extensions – throughput can drop by 75%! With a pass-through adapter the signal is unaffected, no matter how many extensions you plug into it.
Also know that that Powerline can’t work across different ring mains so if your house uses multiple – for instance the kitchen is often on its own circuit – then you’ll have to use two circuits.
As well as basic network extension functions, some Powerline adapters offer some extra features such as network printer support, USB NAS functionality and even the ability to stream music to USB audio devices.
HomePlug AV vs AV2: How fast are Powerline Adapters?
Current Powerline solutions are generally either HomePlug AV or HomePlug AV2 compliant. The former will be branded as either AV200 (200Mbps) or AV500 (500Mbps) while the latter will be labelled as AV600 (600Mbps) or some variation thereon, such as AV650%2B. Remember we're talking Megabits per second (Mbps) not the Megabytes (MB/s) that most people are familiar with.
While those numbers may sound impressive, real world throughput is much lower with AV200 models typically producing a maximum of ~75Mbps (~9MB/s real world file transfer speeds), AV500 will go up to ~100Mbps (~12MB/s) and the latest AV600%2B kits will push around ~120Mbps (~14MB/s).
In comparison, 100Mbps Ethernet will go at about 12MB/s and gigabit Ethernet can hit 100MB/s. As for Wi-Fi, the best routers with multi-antennas can hit 75MB/s in ideal conditions, but your typical connection will deliver below 10MB/s throughout an average two-story household.
Best Powerline Adapters: How We Test
We’ve picked out six varied pairs of Powerline adapters that demonstrate some of the best powerline adapters available for different needs. We tested each by connecting one adapter to a router in the front living room and the other to a laptop in an upstairs back bedroom. Over our normal 802.11n Wi-Fi connection across this same distance we achieved a transfer rate of 3.29MB/s.