ZyXel PLA4231 500 Mbps Powerline Wireless N Extender review: Good, but not quite good enough

Setup
Setting up the ZyXel PLA4231 is either very easy or a challenge, depending on your situation.

In terms of hardware, it's easy; you just have to make sure there's another power-line adapter at the router's side, then plug the PLA4231 into another power socket of the house and there should be a power-line connection between the two. Now you're done, though if you like you can connect up to two other wired devices to the PLA4231.

The ZyXEL PLA4231 need another power-line adapter to work. It's here working with one from Actiontec.
The ZyXEL PLA4231 need another power-line adapter to work. Here it's working with an adapter from Actiontec. Dong Ngo/CNET

It gets harder if you want to use the device's built-in Wi-Fi network. Now there are two scenarios. In the first, if your existing network is already Wi-Fi-enabled (most networks are if run on a Wi-Fi router) and the router supports WPS, then things are easy. You just need to first connect the ZyXel PLA4231 to a power socket within the range of the existing Wi-Fi network. Then press the WPS button of the router, then do the same on the PLA4231 within two minutes. This will copy the existing Wi-FI network's setting to the PLA4231. Now move the PLA4231 to a power socket in the area you want to extend connectivity to, and you're done.

However, if the existing router doesn't support WPS, or is not a Wi-Fi router, things will be a bit harder. This is because the ZyXel PLA4231 comes with a default IP address of 192.168.1.2 and you can get to its Web interface by pointing a Web browser from a connected computer to this IP address. But this only works if your existing router also belongs to the same subnet, meaning if it has an IP address in the 192.168.1.x format. If no,t you might need to temporarily change the router's IP afdress to 192.168.1.1 before you can set up the ZyXel PLA4231. The good news is that many existing routers' default address is 192.168.1.1, so you might not run into any problem at all. For more on Web interfaces and default IP addresses, check out this post on how to set up a home router .

Once you've gotten to the Web interface, the rest is rather self-explanatory. You can set up the Wi-Fi network to your liking and change other settings of the device.

Performance
I tested the ZyXel PLA4231 both as a power-line adapter and a Wi-Fi access point, and it generally performed well.

As mentioned above, the device's wired speed is limited by that of the Ethernet standard, which caps at 100Mbps, and in my testing it offered 90Mbps. This is about as fast as Ethernet can be after overheads. Compared with other Powerline AV 500+ adapters that support Gigabit Ethernet, of course, this was much slower.

In Wi-Fi tests, the ZyXel PLA4231 also offered the expected speed of a regular single-band 802.11n device. In a close-range test with clients placed about 15 feet away, the PLA4231 averaged 65Mbps. When I increased the distance to about 100 feet, the speed was reduced to 24Mbps. And 100 feet or shorter is about the best range you can expect from the PLA4231. It can offer longer range, up to about 200 feet, but farther out the connection gets very slow. This is rather typical performance for a single-band 802.11n access point.

The ZyXel PLA4231 easily passed our 48-hour Wi-Fi stress test, during which it didn't disconnect once. The device gets a little warm while operating but not warm enough to cause concern.

Power-line adapter performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
ZyXel PLA4231
90.3 
Netgear XAV5501
160.8 
D-Link DHP-540
147.68 
Reference 802.11N 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
20 

CNET Labs 2.4GHz Wireless-N performance score (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Range  
Throughput  
Cisco Linksys E4200v2
35.8 
148.5 
Trendnet TEW-692GR
31.3 
77.8 
Netgear WNDR4000
23.9 
67.8 
ZyXeL PLA4231
26.4 
65.1 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Asus RT-N66U
45.5 
55 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
Belkin N750 DB
26.6 
50 
D-Link DIR-857
29.6 
47.8 
Netgear WNDR4500
31.1 
45.3 
Synology DS213Air
23.3 
44.7 
Asus RT-AC66U
15.2 
36.8 
D-Link DIR-865L
22.1 
36 
Belkin AC 1200 DB
9.6 
33.5 

Conclusion
The ZyXel PLA4231 500 Mbps Powerline Wireless N Extender is a missed opportunity due to the lack of support for Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi, which would greatly increase its value and performance. Given what it does and how much it costs right now, it would still be a good addition to a home network that's already power-line-ready.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 4.4 oz
  • Data Link Protocol Ethernet
  • Connectivity Technology wired
  • Enclosure Type Wall-pluggable