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Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter review: Pricey, but super-fast

Comtrend's first G.hn-certified power line adapter, the PG-9172, is super-fast, but is it worth the cost? Here's CNET's full review.

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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

The Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter is both fast and expensive.

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8.0

Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter

The Good

The Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter has top performance and is easy to use.

The Bad

The suggested retail price is high and the relatively bulky adapter might obstruct adjacent wall sockets. It doesn't have a pass-through power socket, either.

The Bottom Line

The Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter has near-Gigabit performance but the suggested price is too high for what it has to offer.

The new adapter in fact replaces replaces the ZyXel PLA5206KIT as the fastest power line adapter I've seen, albeit by just a small margin. Unfortunately, at $130 for a kit of two or $70 for a single unit, it's also currently among the most expensive of its type, costing twice the price of its contender. (Pricing for UK and Australia will be announced at a later date.)

To make up for that, the Comtrend PG-9172 is very easily to use. With two units, you can quickly turns existing electrical wiring of a home into a network cable, hence conveniently extends a wired network to a far corner of the home. With speed several times faster than regular Ethernet, the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn is an excellent fix when you need to bring Internet to a place where Wi-Fi signal can't reach, such as the basement.

All things considered, there's not much to complain about the new adapter, other than the cost. Comtrend does say that the street price will likely be lower so you should wait a while before getting your own. In the meantime, if you need a power line solution right away, consider one of these other excellent choices on this list of top power line adapters.

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The Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter is rather bulky and has no pass-through power socket.

Josh Miller/CNET

Design and setup

Similar to many power line adapters on the market, the Comtrend PG-9172 uses a traditional snap-in design, meaning it looks like a three-prong power adapter of a small electronic and you can easily plug it into any wall socket.

Measuring 3.7 inches by 2.4 inches by 1.4 inches (93mm x 59.6mm x 35mm), the PG-9172 is not huge but it's not exactly compact, either. In my trial, the adapter could easily block an adjacent wall socket. This, plus the fact it doesn't have a pass-through socket means you might have problem finding a suitable socket to plug it in. This is a rather common problem with power line adapters of this design and is made worse by the fact that in order to function optimally they all need to be plugged directly into the wall, and not via a power strip or surge protector.

On one side, the PG-9172 adapter has a Gigabit network port and on top it has three indicator lights for the connection strength, network status and security. Near the network port, there's a configuration button to turn on the adapter's security feature.

Similar to existing power line adapters, setting up the PG-9172 is a simple and easy process, but if you need help, there's a clearly illustrated instruction poster included. First you hook up one of the adapters to your existing router (or switch) using a network cable (a short cable included with the adapter). Then connect a second adapter to an Ethernet-ready device, such as a computer, a printer or even a Wi-Fi access point. Then plug each adapter into a power socket and you're done. The adapters now use the electrical wiring in between the two sockets as a network cable.

Note that in order to create the first power line connection, which allows you to add one wired device to the existing network, you need two adapters. After that you need just one more adapter for each additional device. The general rule of power line networking is you buy a number of power line adapters equal to the number of wired clients (computers, printer, game consoles and so on) plus one. The extra unit connects to the existing router (or switch) and brings the network to the rest of other adapters. With the PG-9172, you can add up to 16 devices a power line network, which is generally the case with most power line adapters.

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You can get the adapter as a kit of two units, which is necessary to create the first powerline connection.

Josh Miller/CNET

Features

The Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter is the first adapter I've seen that is G.hn-certified. The G.hn designation is a specification for existing-wire home networking, including power line, telephone line and coaxial cable. This means the adapter is certified to work well in a mixed environment. As a power line adapter, however, it's equivalent to the HomePlug AV2 standard and has a cap speed of up to 1Gbps.

The adapter is backward compatible with existing power line adapters. It supports a voltage of between 110V and 240V and has an idle power consumption of just 0.5W. It also has a built-in QoS feature that automatically prioritizes video streaming and VoIP over other type of traffic.

For security, the adapter features AES 128-bit encryption. To turn the security on, you just need to press and hold the configuration button, while the adapter is plugged in, for 3 seconds, on each of the adapters in the network. Note that the security feature is only necessary when you use the adapter in a multiple-unit building. If you live in a single home, there's no need for that since the adapter won't work cross power breakers. Also note that in my testing, once the the security feature is turned on, the PG-9172 stopped working with other power line adapters, but only with other PG-9172 units.

Performance

I've never seen any powerline adapters that lives up to the advertised speed and it was the same with the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn which didn't deliver true Gigabit data rate. It was however still the fastest adapter I've seen.

In testing with two units, the PG-9172 registered the sustained real-world copy speed of more than 330Mbps (some 41MBps). This is about half of the average real-world speed of a Gigabit connection and about four times the speed of a traditional Ethernet (100Mbps) connection. It was even about 25Mbps faster than the once-fastest ZyXel PLA5206KIT.

CNET Labs' power line networking performance

Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn 330.72ZyXel PLA5206K 304Trendnet TPL-408E 266.48Linksys PLEK500 249.6ZyXel PLA4205 213.2Netgear XAV5501 160.8D-Link DHP-540 147.68D-Link DHP-501AV 141.2ActionTech PWR511K01 90.32ZyXel PLA4231 90.3Trendnet TPL-406E 90TrendNet TPL-401E2K 79.2Netgear XAVNB2001 56.2D-Link DHP-1320 45.8Western Digital LiveWire 40Linksys PLK300 32.5Netgear XAV2001 22.9Reference 802.11N 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi 20
Note: Measured in megabits per second

In all, the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn is clearly the fastest power line adapter I've seen and faster than most Wi-Fi connections, especially on the 2.4GHz band. On top of that, a power line connection is generally more reliable than a wireless connection with less latency. I used a pair of the the PG-9172s continuously for days and never had any problems with the connection.

Conclusion

A power line connection is basically an alternative using a network cable between a router and an Ethernet-ready device and a pair of the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn adapter is an excellent example of how well this works. Pricing aside, the adapter will save you a lot of time and hassle from having to run the actual network cable itself.

That said, like I mentioned at the beginning, the cost is the main reason I can't recommend this adapter just yet. This is because the ZyXel PLA5206KIT currently costs just $70 for a kit of two, effectively half the price, and has very similar performance. You can also get the Trendnet TPL-408E2K or the Actiontec PWR511K01 which are also quite fast for much less. On top of that with the upcoming AV2 2000 adapter, such as the recently-available D-Link DHP-701AV, the Comtrend's top spot on the performance chart will likely be short-lived.

To be fair, the ZyXel PLA5206KIT kit actually cost $160 when it first came out some seven months ago so my guess is that a few months from now, the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn's price will be significantly less. If you can wait until then, there'll be no reason why you won't be happy with it.

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8.0

Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 9
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