Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit (PWR51WK01) review: Quick and easy network extension

Both adapters come with a security button to create a secure connection between them (so nobody can tap in your network by using their own power-line adapter, a seniority that's very possible if you live in a multiple-unit housing complex), and the WPB3000 also support Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). WPS allows for quickly adding a Wi-Fi device to network by pressing a button, you don't even need to know the network's name and password.

WPB3000 adapter also comes with two network ports.
The WPB3000 adapter also comes with two network ports allowing for connecting two Ethernet-ready clients to the network via a single power-line connection. Dong Ngo/CNET

Poor support information, near-obsolete hardware As mentioned above, there's basically no instruction needed to get the PWR51WK01 kit up and running with its default settings. If you want to change the default network's name and password, however, it's going to be tricky. There's no instruction on how to do this included in the package. The Quick Setup guide points you to the support page for the device, which at the time of this review also offered no additional information on how to do that.

While the Web site can easily be change to add this needed information, what can't be change is the kit's hardware. While both adapters support the Home Plug AV 500, quick can provide up to 500Mbps of power-line speed, both of them use the regular 10/100 Ethernet ports. And this means at most, you'll get 100Mbps or less of a wired connection between them. You only get faster than that if the two support Gigabit Ethernet, like the case of the recently reviewed Trendnet TPL-408E.

On the wireless side, the WPB3000 also supports the dual-stream of the 802.11n standard and only works on the 2.4Ghz frequency band. This means you'll get just around 30Mbps of Wi-Fi speed at close range at best, and much slower speeds farther away. The actual speed of Wi-Fi connection is always much slower than the ceiling advertised speed.

Performance
As one might expect from its hardware components, the PWR51WK01 kit's performance didn't blow me away. I tested both its wired and Wi-Fi connections, and neither was impressive, even though the kit worked well.

For a wired connection, as mentioned above, since the adapter's network port only supports the regular Ethernet standard, the kit's wired data rate can't exceed that of a regular Ethernet connection. In my testing, it was about as fast as a 100Mbps connection could be, averaging about 11MBps (or 88Mbps). And you only get that if you use just one device at a time. When I used two computers to connect to two ports of the WPB3000 at the same time, the average performance was reduced to just half of that.

CNET Labs' power-line adapter performance
(Measured in Mbps)

As a Wi-Fi extender, the kit was much worse. The dual-stream single-band 802.11n was the Wi-Fi standard of 2009 and has nothing to show nowadays. At close range, just some 15 feet away, I was able to get almost 40Mbps out of the kit. Things got much worse when I increased the range to 75 feet, at which it registered just around 8Mbps. And you won't be able to really get connected after 75 feet.

CNET Labs 2.4Ghz Wireless-N Performance Score
(Measured in Mbps, longer bars mean better performance)
Long Range  
Short Range  
Asus RT-AC68U
211.4 
225 
Amp Wireless RTA15
35.2 
74.6 
ZyXel PLA4231
26.4 
65.1 
D-Link DIR-868L
55.6 
63.3 
D-Link DGL-5500
41 
58.6 
WD My Net N900 HD
16 
58.1 
Trendnet TEW-812DRU
37 
52.8 
Netgear R6300
41.6 
51.2 
SkyDog
12.3 
44.8 
Actiontec PWR51WK01
7.8 
39.6 

At this type of performance, the PWR51WK01 kit is only good for mild file sharing and Internet sharing. Chances are its Wi-Fi speed is slower than the broadband Internet connection in many homes. Note that I tested the PWR51WK01 kit at CNET's offices, where there are walls and many Wi-Fi devices which are out of my control. Generally, walls shorten the reach of a Wi-Fi signal, and other Wi-Fi devices create interference. As with all Wi-Fi devices, your results may vary depending on where you live.

Conclusion
Though working as well as intended, the Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit doesn't impress much thanks to its somewhat mediocre hardware components. The kit still makes a good buy for a home with casual needs, such as file and Internet sharing, if there's no existing power-line adapter being used. If you already have power-line at home, the ZyXel PLA4231 is a better fit. For maximum connection speeds, however, you should get the recently-reviewed Trendnet TPL-408E2K, or the Linksys PLEK500, and a separate 802.11ac access point -- or just wait till better combo products to become available.

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    Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit

    Part Number: PWR51WK01
    Pricing is currently unavailable.