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The best powerline adapters

Plug and play.

Powerline networking is often overlooked in the networking world. Offering neither the security and speed of Ethernet nor the mobility of Wi-Fi, it instead is an in-between solution that users can turn to when other options simply won't work. 

A Powerline networking kit leverages the home's existing electrical wiring to establish a wired network that is accessible through every electrical outlet in the home. The ideal candidate for Powerline networking is a renter that can't run wires nor drill holes, or someone who lives in an area with lots of wireless interference. In those situations, a Powerline kit is worth a serious look.

Powerline has its share of challenges—it's the second best option for a reason. It doesn't work great when the signal has to cross circuit breakers, which can negatively impact speeds. Also, you shouldn't plug a Powerline adapter into a surge strip as doing so blocks the data signal, and high load electrical equipment like refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and microwave ovens can also negatively impact speeds.

Given the overall benefits and drawbacks, the effectiveness of Powerline networking is highly subjective. It won't work for everyone, but it can offer a solution to some challenging networking problems where other methods, such as extenders, fall short. 

The best Powerline networking adapter for gaming

The best Powerline networking adapter for gaming

  • Passthrough outlets
  • Gigabit ports
  • Strong performance on both the same and different circuit
  • Slightly higher latency in World of Tanks
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The best wireless Powerline networking adapter for gaming

The best wireless Powerline networking adapter for gaming

  • Outstanding download speeds
  • Integrated three-port Ethernet switch
  • Consistently low ping
  • Weak wireless throughput
  • Wireless extender blocks outlet, and lacks outlet passthrough
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The competition

D-Link Powerline AV2 2000 Gigabit Passthrough Starter Kit 

The D-Link Powerline AV2 2000 ticked all the right feature boxes, offering passthrough sockets and MIMO promising 2000 Mbps speeds. And while it performed very well on the same circuit tests, it produced lower throughput speeds and higher ping when moved to a different circuit. At $99.99, it's also more expensive.  

Trendnet Wi-Fi Everywhere Powerline 1200 AV2 Wireless Kit 

Trendnet's Wi-Fi Everywhere Powerline kit had lower throughput speeds on wired tests compared to our pick, although it did keep up in the wireless arena. We also didn't like the odd placement of the three Gigabit ports on the top of the adapter. Combined with the higher $119 price tag and a lower Amazon rating (3.5 stars) caused it to not earn our recommendation for this segment.

What to look for

Powerline networking adapters are usually sold as kits with two adapters. They can also be expanded with additional adapters, and a few different Powerline networks can be run simultaneously. Each adapter has at least a single Ethernet port, with some more recent kits featuring 10/100/1000 or Gigabit Ethernet. Some adapters also include additional Ethernet ports, letting it function as an integrated switch. This can be quite useful for media equipment that requires a wired internet connection. 

This Trendnet adapter allows access to the outlet above, and has a passthrough to the lower outlet as well.

This Trendnet adapter allows access to the outlet above, and has a passthrough to the lower outlet as well.

Another feature is how the adapter fits into the electrical outlet, in terms of blocking the other outlet. Some adapters feature a passthrough plug to allow use of the outlet while networking. Another feature to look for are additional Ethernet ports so there is an integrated mini switch.

Powerline networking fits under the HomePlug specifications, the latest iteration of which is AV2. This standard requires Gigabit Ethernet ports, AES 128-bit encryption, and for adapters to act as repeaters.

Current Powerline adapters are not the same technology as years ago, and this newer gear features MIMO (not to be confused with MU-MIMO which is a wireless standard). Powerline MIMO uses the ground wire in a three prong outlet to add an additional lane for data transfer. In addition, they utilize Beamforming, which is a technology to increase the throughput between adapters of each data stream. 

A variation of the standard kit is the Powerline Wireless Extender kit. This also has two adapters, with the first a standard Powerline adapter, and the second is also a Powerline adapter, but also has a wireless access point integrated into it. For wireless dead spots these kits can be a viable option, although the lower wireless speeds would not want us to make them our only option for Wi-Fi access. 

How we test

Best results are in bold, and Ethernet wired tests are provided as a baseline for comparison.

We ran a series of tests to identify the better gear in this segment of the networking arena, and we also ran the same tests directly wired via an Ethernet connection to the router for baseline measurements. Via the Speedtest app in Windows 10, we measured download and upload speeds, as well as the ping, and did this on both the same circuit as the router, and in the more challenging situation of a different circuit as the data has to traverse circuit breaker. We also focused on the latency to a gaming server via Powerline networking, and we quantitated this via Pingplotter software, and measuring the latency to a World of Tanks server (162.216.229.21) across 50 serial measurements and report the average. 

Future Directions

Powerline adapters continue to evolve, and the latest feature to be added is a PoE on a recently announced Trendnet kit, to facilitate adding security cameras, without the need for an additional electrical connection.