Powerline Adapters – Buyers Guide

Powerline Adapters – Buyers Guide

What Is Powerline?

Powerline is also known as “Homeplug.” It’s a good way to extend your home network without running cables or making the leap to a Mesh Wi-Fi system which can be expensive. Powerline actually uses the electrical wiring in your home as network cabling.

powerline adapters

Since electrical outlets can usually be found in any room of most homes there is probably no room in your home that can’t benefit from a Powerline connection. If conditions are right Powerline speeds can be faster and more reliable than using a WiFi extender.

Powerline devices work in pairs. The first device will connect to your home WiFi router and transfer your network data through the electrical wiring in your home to the second device that has been “paired” to the first device. You can pair your Powerline devices with the press of a button.

Plug both devices in the same room, click on the button “pairing” button on both devices and they will create each other using a special security key called an NMK (See “Buzzwords You Should Know” section below.) or Network Management Key. This connection uses either 56-bit DES or 128-bit AES encryption depending on the Powerline standard you’re using.

If you want to add a 3rd or 4th powerline device you can do that by pairing the new device with one of the 1st two devices – not both. If you want to remove a Powerline device from your network hold the “pairing” button down for 10 seconds. That will reset it, replace the original NWM key, and remove it from your Powerline network.

Powerline Setup And Test – Video

Don’t Get Your Standards Crossed

When dealing with Powerline it’s easy to get the different networking standards confused and end up with a device that doesn’t work for you. When you have a wired network you’re using Ethernet standards. With a wireless network, you’re talking about WiFi or 802.11 standards. With a Powerline network, you’re using the electrical wiring in your home and a new standard called Homeplug. 

There are different Homeplug standards:

Homeplug 1.0 is really slow. It runs at around 14Mbps or 85Mbps if you get the “Turbo” version. This can actually work if you just do basic surfing and emailing online.

Homeplug AV is a lot faster. It’s capable of speeds up to 200Mbps. This works well with home entertainment systems and HDTV.

Homeplug AV2 is several times faster than Homeplug AV. It’s “capable” of speeds up to 1200Gbps (1.2GB) and is great for streaming      HDTV, online games, VOIP phones, and even security cameras.

Homeplug 1.0 is basically obsolete. You’ll probably only find Homeplug AV and AV2 available in retail outlets. There are now even some Powerline adapters that are rated at 2,000Mbps. As with WiFi speed ratings, these specs are almost never “real world” and should be taken with a grain of salt. They should be used for comparison purposes only.

For example, you can count on a Homeplug AV2 device to run several times (As much as 5 times) faster than a Homeplug AV device. The actual speeds depend on multiple factors such as the condition of the wiring in your home, the number of devices on the Homeplug network, and even the amount of current being used by electrical devices at different times of the day.

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Which Powerline Adapters Are Right For You?

Powerline adapters also come in a number of different configurations. Some are strictly Ethernet and some come with WiFi capability and there are even pricier “hybrid” devices that combine Powerline with Mesh. For this reason, you’ll see different ratings which may seem confusing at times. You may purchase a Powerline adapter that’s rated at 1000Mbps and find yourself wondering why the WiFi is less than 300Mbps. The different ratings sound very familiar. One may be the WiFi rating which means the other is the Powerline rating.

When you get an Ethernet-only Powerline adapter kit it will usually be rated as AV300, AV600, AV1000, or AV1200. The key is “AV.” That is how you know you’re looking at the Powerline rating. With WiFi, you should see the familiar AC in front of the rating unless you’re dealing with a Wireless N device. For example, the TP-Link AV600 is a budget Powerline AV adapter that provides 600Mbps Ethernet and 300Mbs WiFi.

Some other ratings that can be a possible source of confusion are MIMO and Beamforming. If you’ve read any of my reviews of WiFi routers you’re familiar with me raving about the wonders of MU-MIMO and Beamforming. MU-MIMO is strictly WiFi. Some higher-end HomePlug AV2 Powerline adapters may not even have WiFI but they still employ MIMO and Beamforming on the Ethernet.

I know you really don’t want to hear a technical comparison between MU-MIMO and Beamforming on WiFi and MIMO and Beamforming on Powerline Ethernet so let me simplify it. MU-MIMO and Beamforming do what they do on WiFi networks by using multiple radios and antennas. MIMO and Beamforming do what they do on Powerline networks by employing the 3rd ground wire in electrical circuits to improve bandwidth and Quality of Service.

Top Powerline Adapters

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The TP-Link AV1300 Powerline Extender has the same capabilities as a dual-band wireless router with theoretical maximum speeds of 300 Mbs on the 2.4GHz network and 867 Mbs on the 5GHz network. On the Powerline side, the 1300 Mb theoretical maximum speed can be reached even more “theoretical” than the WiFi side due to factors such as the quality of the power wiring in your home and electrical devices running in your home.

This TP-Link AV1300 can be considered a top-notch Ethernet Powerline extender with an add-on option of WiFi connectivity. The TP-Link TL-WPA8631 and its fellow TP-Link AV1300 Powerline Extender brethren are some of the better performers among Ethernet extenders but it’s slightly lacking on the WiFi side.

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The PLW1010-100NAS from NETGEAR boasts a more robust WiFi signal than other Powerliner extenders, with WiFi5 (AC). The 1000Mbps rating is for the Ethernet port. The Ethernet speed isn’t as fast as 1200Mbps Powerliner extenders, but that’s part of the trade-off when you choose a device like this one and are trying to keep your costs low.

Netgear PLW1010-100NAS is a simple and quick means to fix WiFi dead zones without investing a lot of money into a Mesh system.

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The WiFi portion of the TP-Link AV600 WPA4220 is a dual-band, dual-band Wi-Fi extender that puts out 300 Mbps. That might not sound like much, but it was fine for most of us before the days of widespread WiFi usage. Unlike the extenders on the market, it features two Ethernet ports rather than a single Ethernet port. However, the ports only support 100 Gbs connections.

If you want inexpensive, uncomplicated streaming, the TP-Link AV600 is where you want your search to end. For a small cost, you can stream Netflix videos from your family room or basement in just a few minutes.

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Final Thoughts On Powerline Adapters

When deciding on a Powerline device it’s important to know what you’re trying to accomplish before getting into any price comparisons. Powerline WiFi adapters will come with varying WiFi and Ethernet ratings. Some are built for higher performance on the Ethernet side and some are highly rated on the WiFi side. Some are rated high for both.  Of course, those are usually more expensive.

Think it through before getting caught up in prices and once you make your decision make sure to save your receipts. Powerline is not a guarantee. Some homes with older wiring or multiple circuit breakers may not support Powerline as well as newer homes. It’s still worth a try and way simpler and cheaper than running cables through your home.

Buzzwords You Should Know

MIMO

MIMO on Powerline is not the same thing as MU-MIMO and Beamforming used on WiFi networks. MIMO on Powerline utilizes the 3rd ground wire to create another lane for network traffic to flow through. This can almost double your coverage.

An adapter that uses MIMO with work in a home without grounds but will be forced to use conventional SISO (Single Input, Single Output) and can reduce coverage by as much as half. If your home doesn’t have ground wires don’t waste money on a Powerline Extender with MIMO and Beamforming because you won’t realize the benefits.

Beamforming

Powerline Beamforming works with MIMO to maximize and align the independent streams of data packets to ensure they reach their correct destinations. In other words, it steers connections directly to the correct devices. This is a lot like what Beamforming does on the WiFi side. If a Powerline adapter has MIMO it will usually have Beamforming as well. 

NMK

NMK stands for Network Management Key. When you click on the Pairing button on two Powerline extenders connected to AC outlets in the same home within a minute of each other they seek each other out and create a connection using an encrypted key which secures their connection using 128-bit AES (AV2 standard) or 56 bit DES (AV1 standard).

Depressing the “Pair” button for 10 seconds or longer resets the NMK and removes the extender from the Powerline network it was on.

Affiliate Disclosure

Jerry Jones (WiFi Guy) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” – Jerry Jones

Affiliate Disclosure

Jerry Jones (WiFi Guy) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” – Jerry Jones

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