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

If you're looking for a quick way to extend your home network (for both wired and Wi-Fi clients) to that far corner of your home, the Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit might be just what you need.

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.
Dong Ngo
6 min read

The Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit (retail model PWR51WK01) is a sure, and easy way to extend your network, both wired and wireless. It's a good fit for a large home with concrete walls, or separate households in an apartment building that want to share a single Internet connection.


Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit (PWR51WK01)

The Good

The <b>Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit</b> quickly extends a home network for both wired and Wi-Fi clients. It's easy to use and more effective than traditional Wi-Fi range extenders.

The Bad

The kit uses slow Ethernet and Wi-Fi standards, and there's no instruction on how to customize the default Wi-Fi network. One of the adapters is very bulky.

The Bottom Line

The Actiontec gets the job done for those who want to quickly extend their home network without much concern about performance.

It's far from perfect, however. The kit uses slow Wi-Fi and Ethernet standards and hence provides connection speeds only fast enough for casual Internet sharing and mild file sharing. Additionally, the included adapters don't come with a pass-through power socket, and one of them is very bulky.

In all, if you're looking for a quick and effective way to extend your home network, at the current street price of around $90, the PWR51WK01 is a very good buy. For more choices on power-line products, check out this list.

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Actiontec kit with a WPB3000 adapter
The new Actiontec kit comes with a very large WPB3000 adapter which has a built-in Wi-Fi access point. Dong Ngo/CNET

Bulky design, easy to setup
The kit includes two power-line adapters of different models. One of them is the compact, adapter PWR500 model , and the other is a new WPB3000 model that's about five times its physical size. The former is a traditional adapter with a single LAN port; the latter has two LAN ports and a built-in Wi-Fi access point.

As is the kit's intention, you connect the PWR500 to your existing router using a network cable (one short cable is included with the kit), and place the WPB3000 at the far corner. When you plug both of them into their power socket, the two will connect to each other using the home's electrical wiring. Now you can add two wired clients, such as two desktop computers, to the network using the two LAN ports on the WPB3000. On top of that, you can also add many Wi-Fi clients to the network by connecting them to the WPB3000's built-in Wi-Fi network.

The above is also exactly how you set the kit up. Included in the box is a sticker with the default Wi-Fi network (network name and password) printed on it. With that information, there's nothing else you need to do to start using the kit. The fact that you can place the two adapters far away from each other, up to about 1,000 feet in terms of power wiring length, means the kit is a lot more effective than traditional Wi-Fi range extenders.

Note, however, that both adapters take the shape of a two-prong snap-on power adapter, and neither has a pass-though power socket. While this is OK for the PWR500 since it's very compact, for the other, this is a terribly bulky design. When used, it will for sure crowd the wall socket and block access to adjacent receptacles. And since that power-line adapters require to be plugged directly into the wall (and not on a power strip or protector) to work well, make sure you have multiple power sockets at the far corner where you intended to plug the WPB3000 in.

Also note that power-line adapters tend to come in a kit of two because you need at least two adapters to create the first power-line connection. After that you only need one adapter per additional connection. That said, you should buy the PWR51WK01 kit only if you don't already have any power-line adapters, otherwise, just the WPB3000, or alternatively the ZyXel PLA4231, is needed for the Wi-Fi extending purpose.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.


Actiontec Wireless Network Extender Plus Powerline Network Adapter 500 Kit (PWR51WK01)

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 8Performance 7Support 5