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Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit (PWR511K01) review: Small, fast, and affordable

Actiontec's 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit is the smallest such adapter we've seen yet, but it does the job.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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5 min read

At a street price of around $50 for a kit of two units, the Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit is a bargain. And that's not the only good thing about it.

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Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit (PWR511K01)

The Good

The <b>Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Kit (PWR511K01)</b> is compact and affordable, and offers good performance.

The Bad

The Actiontec PWR511K01 kit's included adapters don't support Gigabit Ethernet, nor do they have a pass-through power socket.

The Bottom Line

While not perfect, the Actiontec PWR511K01 for now offers the best value among power-line adapter kits on the market.

The kit, retail model number PWR511K01, comes with two identical adapters, currently the smallest of their type, that offered very good performance in my testing.

The only real complaint I have is that these adapters don't support Gigabit Ethernet, hence offering the limited data rate of the regular Ethernet standard at most. However, the affordable price and the supercompact design still make the kit an excellent investment for those wanting to expand their wired network to the far corners of their home, where a Wi-Fi signal can't reach.

Design, setup, and features
The reason power-line adapters tend to come in a kit of two is because you need at least two adapters to create the first power-line connection. The two adapters included in the Actiontec PWR511K01 kit are those individually modeled PWR500, indicating that they support the Powerline AV+ 500 standard, which has a theoretical speed cap of 500Mbps.

Like most power-line adapters, the PWR500 has one network port. Unfortunately, unlike any Powerline AV+ 500-based adapters I've seen, the PWR500's network port doesn't seem to support Gigabit Ethernet but just the regular Ethernet standard, which caps at 100Mbps. This means, despite the adapters' support for Powerline AV+ 500, their top data rate is 100Mbps at most.

The PWR500 adapter is supercompact.
The PWR500 adapter is supercompact. Dong Ngo/CNET

Measuring merely 2.2x1.2x3.4 inches, and weighing 6.4 ounces, the PWR500 power-line adapter is the smallest of its type I've seen. In fact it's just about one-fourth the size of the Netgear XAV5501 adapter.

The new power-line adapter is shaped like a two-prong power adapter and can be snapped on a wall socket. While this is a terrible design for a larger power-line adapter -- since a large adapter crowds the wall socket area and blocks access -- the small physical size of the PWR500 poses less of a problem when used in areas with multiple wall sockets.

And you do want to use it in an area with multiple wall sockets. This is because the PWR500 adapter itself doesn't comes with a pass-through socket, meaning that should you use it in an area with just a single wall socket, there will be no outlets left for other devices. Note that, like all power-line adapters, the PWR500 adapter should be plugged directly into a wall socket. In most cases it doesn't work well or at all when plugged into a power strip or a surge protector.

Right next to the network port, the adapter has a security button that helps create a secure network connection between multiple units. This is only necessary when you want to keep your power-line network secure, in case you live in an apartment building and don't want others to tap in your home network by using another power-line adapter in their own apartment. This secure feature worked well in my trials, though it only works if you plan to use power-line adapters from Actiontec. If you want to use a mixed pool of power-line adapters from different networking vendors, this secure feature shouldn't be used for compatibility purposes.

Each PWR500 adapter has three indicator lights, labeled PWR, LK, and ETH for Power, Link, and Ethernet, respectively. When all of these lights are solid green, this generally means everything is in excellent condition. The LK light can also be either red or orange to show poor or medium power-line signals between adapters.

There's nothing to setting up a power-line connection using the PWR511K01 kit. This process is typical for a power-line kit. First you hook up one of the adapters to the network via the router (or the switch), using a network cable (the kit comes with two). The second adapter is connected to an Ethernet-ready device, such as a printer, at, say, the far end of the house. After that, you just plug both adapters into the power sockets. If the two locations share the same electrical wiring, which they would in most homes and apartment buildings, a power-line network connection is now established and the Ethernet-ready device is now connected to your home network. This is an alternative to running a long network cable between the router and the Ethernet-ready device.

The two adapters in the Actiontec  PWR511K01 kit connected to each other and the existing network with excellent signal quality in our tests.
The two adapters in the Actiontec PWR511K01 kit connected to each other and the existing network with excellent signal quality in our tests. Dong Ngo/CNET

This whole process takes just a few minutes, and it's hard to make a mistake. Now if you want to create a secure connection, just press on the secure button, for no more than 3 seconds, on each adapter with in 2 minutes of each other. Note that if you press and hold that button for more than 3 seconds but less than 10 seconds, that will clear the encryption key. Or you can press and hold that button for more than 15 seconds to reset the adapter to default factory settings.

If for some reason you find the above steps complicated, the PWR511K01 kit also comes with a detailed and illustrated Quick Start Guide poster.

Performance
The PWR511K01 didn't blow me away with its performance, but it was very good. As mentioned above, since the adapters' network port only supports the regular Ethernet standard, the kit's data rate can't exceed that of a regular Ethernet connection, which is 100Mbps. And in my testing, it was about as fast as a 100Mbps connection could be, averaging about 11.3MBps (or 90.4Mbps).

While the PWR511K01 kit wasn't the fastest on the market, some 60Mbps slower than the Netgear XAV5501, for example, it wasn't the slowest Powerline AV500 adapter either. The Trendnet TPL-401E2K kit, which is much bigger, scored just 79Mbps in the same test. In fact, it's faster than most typical Ethernet connections, which are generally around 80Mbps. Note, however, that the actual performance of the kit depends on the condition of a home's electrical wiring and the distance between adapters. I tested the kit with the two adapters about 15 feet apart.

In addition to its decent speed, the Actiontec PWR511K01 was compatible with other power-line adapters in my trials, including those made for previous HomePlug AV power-line standards. For the adapters to work with one another, you need to use them without the encryption option, however.

CNET Labs tested power-line adapter performance (in Mbps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Throughput  
Actiontec PWR511K01
90.32 
Reference 802.11N 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
20 

Conclusion
The Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit is the most compact and affordable power-line adapter kit I've seen yet on the market, which is more than enough to justify its regular-Ethernet-based data speeds, and will make a great buy for those wanting to create a power-line connection at home.

DSC_0336.jpg
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Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit (PWR511K01)

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Performance 7Support 8
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