When it costs over $200 per room (plus a callout fee) to get an electrician to install Ethernet ports around your house, a stable wired network connection can seem like an excessive expense to many.
But if you’re one of the estimated 2.7 million Australians to have used Netflix since it launched last year and your router doesn’t happen to be located in the living room, streaming shows over the Internet may be more difficult than it needs to be.
Although an Ethernet cable is the first thing that springs to mind when you want a more reliable Internet connection, powerline adapter kits — or wall plugs that use your house or apartment’s copper electrical cabling to push an Ethernet signal from one socket to another — do an excellent job of easily connecting any two power points, provided they’re on the same circuit.
Because some of the less-expensive models can come in at less than a quarter of the cost for an electrician, can give reliable throughputs upwards of 60Mbps and are almost always simple plug and play solutions, powerline Ethernet adapters are an excellent quick-fix home networking solution.
In the past, we’ve tested the speeds through a new house with pristine wiring, and though this situation allows the devices to be pushed to their limits, it’s unlikely to be the typical usage case.
In light of this, we erred for testing on what we believe will be a typical setup: older electricity wiring in an existing building, including the use of powerboards (manufacturers recommend you don’t do this to cover themselves) and passing it all the way through the building to a Wi-Fi dead zone over 10m away.
Powerline adaptors with Wi-Fi Extension
It’s wide enough to mean you won’t be able to plug in other devices on either side of it in a power board or wall socket, and it protrudes vertically so that, if it’s connected to a wall socket near the floor or ceiling, it probably won’t fit.
Fortunately, D-Link is at least aware of the cumbersome nature of these units and has cleverly located the Ethernet port on the side of the device, so it’ll be compatible with your average skirting-board powerpoint.
We had no unexpected difficulties setting up the Ethernet portion of this powerline extender and in addition to the reset button, the Wi-Fi plug has a dedicated WPS pairing button and a useful power switch.
Interestingly, when it came to performance, over a short distance, the DHP-W313AV kit performed notably worse than TP-Link’s TL-WPA4220KIT, only netting an Ethernet download speed of 67.48Mbps, but this plateaued faster and the unit ended up with slightly speedier Ethernet download speeds in the more expansive ‘dead zone’ test.
Considering it netted average speeds, it’s significantly larger than TP-Link’s powerline extender offering and it’s also notably more expensive, it’s really hard to see the value in the DHP-W313AV.
Verdict: A large and pricey unit that didn’t end up pulling it’s weight.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
NetComm has opted for a lateral orientation with its kits, meaning they’ll be better suited for power points close to floors, tabletops or ceilings.
The downside of this, however, is that this unit is exceptionally bad at sharing power sockets, as it eclipses sockets on either side. Fortunately, NetComm has mitigated this by including an AC passthrough system, which provides a replacement socket.
Though NetComm Wireless also sells a powerline Wi-Fi forwarding adapter kit in which both plugs have AC passthrough, the NP508 kit swaps out the extra socket on the Wi-Fi end in lieu of a dual-band 2.4 or 5GHz Wi-Fi extender.
The option for a 5GHz Wi-Fi extender is great for those who just need that little bit extra Wi-Fi speed, or would simply like to use a less congested frequency.
This kit actually performed notably better than the other powerline Wi-Fi extenders and even better than some of the dedicated powerline Ethernet devices, netting around 91Mbps up and down at close range and 54Mbps down and 49Mbps up at longer distances over our older cabling.
We had a couple of brief connection issues that marred the shine of this device a little, but the AC passthrough, middle of the road price, 5GHz compatibility and superior speeds make the NP508 an excellent powerline Ethernet and Wi-Fi extension kit.
Verdict: A reasonably priced adapter with 5GHz Wi-Fi, AC passthrough and superior performance.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Since a powerline extension kit is already pushing Ethernet to a part of your house that the Wi-Fi obviously isn’t perfect in, it makes a lot of sense to tack on a Wi-Fi extender to the receiver plug.
There is a compromise in size when you have to stuff that extra wireless technology in, but TP-Link’s extender is surprisingly compact.
Even the Wi-Fi forwarding unit itself will allow another plug to fit in the socket next to it, a feat that some straight powerline adapters struggle with.
Though it maintains the usual simplicity, with a pairing button being the only pre-requisite to use the wired connection, you have to fill out the Wi-Fi name and password and pair it with your router in order to use the Wi-Fi range extender feature.
The TL-WPA4220 range extender is a little slower than TP-Link’s straight 500Mbps powerline adapter plug, netting maximum theoretical speeds of only 300Mbps.
In practice, the TL-WPA4220KIT only had 88Mbps (both uploading and downloading) over Ethernet at close range, which dropped to 32Mbps download speeds over Ethernet in our Wi-Fi dead zone through older wiring.
The added Wi-Fi extender pushes the cost of the kit up to $119, so you have to be prepared to fork out extra for this feature, but with two Ethernet out ports and Wi-Fi extension in the one system, it’s actually decent value for the money.
Verdict: A compact but slightly slower solution that’s great for budget Wi-Fi extension.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
AV500 powerline adaptors
With both the adapters in the NP511 kit having their own additional power socket, this entry-level powerline kit is a perfect example of that.
Size-wise, the NP511 keeps the horizontal protrusion that is a signature of NetComm’s powerline adapters, but manages to trim some of the overhang on the short side seen in the NP508 wireless AC passthrough adapter, which means any plug that keeps inside its allocated space will fit nicely in the neighbouring left socket.
In terms of performance, this kit outpaced all the other non-Gigabit powerline adapters we tested.
With speeds of 70Mbps down and 45.37Mbps up in the longer networking test over our building’s existing cabling, it netted around double the speeds of some of the Wi-Fi powerline kits.
NetComm suggests that the AC passthrough sockets help the device to cancel out unintended electrical noise, and though there isn’t enough of a difference in its speed results to confirm that, you can at least expect slightly better performance from this more expensive Ethernet adapter.
Considering you basically won’t lose any of your power sockets and the performance is better than both the TP-Link models we tested, if you can afford to spend a little more, the NP511 is an excellent choice of powerline adapter.
Verdict: A quality unit that is worth the cost, especially if you value your power sockets.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
We understand, in theory, why TP-Link made this AC passthrough version of its AV500 powerline adapter, but after testing it, the whole extra power socket adds up to little more than lip service in many usage cases.
Most existing wall sockets in your home will have two power sockets side by side and the non-AC passthrough unit is compact enough to allow most other plug types to fit in the socket next to it; ironically this AC passthrough unit is just large enough to prohibit the use of the neighbouring slot for almost every plug we tested, meaning, in most cases, the benefit of an additional power slot is negated.
If you’re planning on plugging into a power board or double socket we’d recommend saving the $13 and using the TL-PA411KIT instead, but if you happen to have a single-socket powerpoint in mind, or think you’ll use it with an extension lead, then the extra $13 for an additional power socket is definitely worthwhile.
Performance wise, the bigger AC passthrough unit doesn’t see any real speed increases from the standard TL-PA411KIT in either the close range or longer distances over old cabling tests, sitting at 90.48Mbps and 67.94Mbps download speeds, respectively.
There are no additional Ethernet ports on the AC passthrough plug, so in essence, it’s really an identical set as the TL-PA411KIT opposite with an additional power socket.
If you have a single-socket powerpoint ready, it’s a good value unit, otherwise go for the TL-PA411KIT.
Verdict: A reasonably-priced powerline adapter that gives an extra power socket for a specific usage type.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Even NBN broadband speeds max out at 100Mbps — a figure well shy of the theoretical 500Mbps on offer here.
But in real-world testing, AV500 standard units come with Cat 5 Ethernet cables with max speeds of 100Mbps.
However, even with Cat 6 Gigabit Ethernet cables, AV500 units won’t get over 100Mbps in any practical tests, as they only have 100Mbps ‘Fast’ Ethernet ports.
The TL-PA411KIT is sometimes advertised as a ‘nano’ starter kit, as it’s surprisingly compact for a powerline adapter, allowing a reasonable amount of plug types to slot in nicely beside it.
This is fortunate, as it doesn’t have a power throughput socket, so you’ll have to sacrifice the socket it slots into, but it’s still ahead of many in the space.
Considering you can pick it up online for less than $60, it’s very affordable too, and though it’ll push around 90Mbps between sockets at close range, it slows to around 40Mbps through powerboards and at more realistic distances over older power cabling.
There are no bells and whistles, with only single Ethernet ports and pairing buttons in each device, but we thankfully didn’t have any troubles connecting the units initially, or with any connection dropouts.
This is a solid entry-level solution for stable TV streaming or general Internet usage.
Verdict: A straightforward powerline adapter that’s a great first step into Ethernet over power.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Gigabit powerline adapters
There are a number of terms used to promote powerline adapters that have very little real-world consequence, but if you want to be able to get transfer speeds above 100Mbps, one term you’ll need to pay close attention to is ‘Gigabit Ethernet’.
Any powerline adapter without it will have regular 100Mbps ‘Fast Ethernet’ ports, rather than 1,000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports, and therefore won’t allow you to surpass the 100Mbps port bottleneck.
D-Link’s DHP-601AV powerline adapters are reasonably sized among this generally larger Gigabit category and though they do spill outside their dedicated slot space, many smaller plugs will still fit in beside them.
Looking at performance, the 601AVs punch above their price point with maximum practical speeds clocked at 266.8 up 248.2 down over a short distance, less than 20Mbps slower than D-Link’s more pricy AV2 200 DHP-701AV.
Unfortunately, the 601AV doesn’t perform as well over longer distances and older wiring, where those download speeds slowed to 87.6, but you are still looking at speeds capable of handling even the fastest Internet connection.
This unit doesn’t have any additional perks to sway you, but if you have reasonably-new wiring in your house and a fast NBN internet connection that you want to push around, then the DHP-601 definitely hits a sweet spot in terms of superior speeds and price point.
Verdict: An excellent and affordable speed upgrade to your powerline adapter setup.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
If you happen to have a large home media server that you regularly reorganise, or you find yourself in a situation with a 100Mbps NBN internet connection but no hardwired Ethernet ports, then you’re probably going to be wanting to look at the top of the line Gigabit adapters.
D-Link’s DHP-701AV adapters are the highest specced of the souped-up Gigabit range and it’s clear just from looking at them that all the other components and perks in these units have taken a backseat to ensure the fastest possible performance.
Forget any plans you might have had to plug something in next to one of the 701AV adapters; they protrude almost to the centre point of the adjacent sockets, and though there is ample surface area, there’s only one Ethernet port on each.
Filling up this space are a number of unique speed-related upgrades like Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) networking capacities and the ability to connect up to 16 adapters on the same power line.
Though at close range, the 701AV’s throughput scores were only around 20Mbps faster than D-Link’s other Gigabit adapter, this unit’s signal stayed significantly stronger over longer distances.
The 701AV unit lost only around one half of its close-range networking speeds when it was tested over a longer distance, with a download speed of 156.1 — a proportion that was closer to two-thirds in the other Gigabit adapters we tested.
If you’re looking for a speed upgrade or you just want to give your house the best networking speeds it can have over powerlines, then the 701AV is your unit.
Verdict: The only focus of this bulky device is speed, if that’s what you’re after, there’s nothing better.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
But we wonder if this extra power socket actually limited how much speed-boosting technology was able to fit in the NP507 and contributed to the limited 600Mbps theoretical rating, compared to D-Link’s 1,000Mbps and 2,000Mbps.
It isn’t quite as possessive over neighbouring sockets as the the DHP-701AV units and the AC passthrough makes up for whatever space it pinches, but it’s still the second largest powerline adapter we’ve seen.
Furthermore, much like the other Gigabit adapters, Netcomm has dropped the second Ethernet port on the NP507.
Performance wise, the NP507 kit is a little underwhelming, as well. Over a short distance, the Gigabit Ethernet ports allow this kit to get over the 100Mbps mark, hitting upload speeds around 146.2Mbps down and 123 up.
That isn’t bad and is definitely a step up from an AV500 powerline adapter, but if you’re going to the effort to specifically seek out a particularly fast powerline adapter, then this seems like a less than ideal solution.
The longer distance test over old wiring turned up similarly disappointing results, netting 56.8Mbps down and 43.2 up.
Considering the NP507 will set you back $145 — costing more than the DHP-601AV — it’s hard to see why you’d opt for this unit unless you only had a single socket and absolutely needed AC passthrough.
Verdict: A step up from your average powerline kit, but only a little one.