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With real-world data speeds of close to four times that of a regular Ethernet connection, the new ZyXel Homeplug AV2 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kit (model PLA5206KIT) is one of the fastest ways to extend your Internet connection to a place that a cable or your Wi-Fi network won't reach. It's also very easy to use, taking less than a minute to get it up and running, out of the box.
Costing some $160 (with two adapters included,) however, the PLA5206KIT kit is rather expensive. (ZyXel has not yet announced pricing in the UK or Australia.) But that aside, if you're looking for a quick and reliable way to extend your network to a home corner where Wi-Fi signal can't reach, the PLA5206KIT remains an excellent choice.
For more affordable options, however, check out this list of top powerline adapters on the market.
Like all powerline adapters, the PLA5206KIT includes two identical adapters (both model PLA5206) to create the first powerline connection for a single device. After that, you need just one more adapter for each additional device, and the PLA5206 is also available as a single unit for about $85. The general rule of powerline networking is you buy a number of powerline 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. Generally, for optimal performance, you can use up to 16 devices via a powerline network.
The PLA5206 adapter itself uses a traditional snap-in design, looking like the power adapter of a small electronic device but with a network port at one end. Measuring 2.4 x 3.66 x 1.26 inches (61 x 93 x 32 mm), it's relatively large. This means that when in use, it might block access to adjacent wall sockets. Since the adapter doesn't feature a pass-through socket, it can't be used at a place where there's only one power socket, either. Note that in order to work well, powerline adapters need to be plugged directly into the wall, not via a power strip or surge protector.
Similar to most of the power-line adapters I've reviewed, the PLA5206KIT is very easy to set up. First you hook up one of the adapters to the existing router (or switch) using a network cable (two short cables are included with the kit). Then you connect the second adapter to an Ethernet-ready device, such as a printer at, say, the far end of the house. 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.
Generally speaking, a powerline connection is basically an alternative to running a long network cable between a router and an Ethernet-ready device. In most cases, a pair of powerline adapters is actually much cheaper than the total cost of installing a network cable, which involves the cable itself and and the two network wall ports, and it takes much less time to install.
The PLA5206 sports the latest HomePlug AV2 powerline standard, which is capable of delivering up to 1,000Mbps. Its network port supports Gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mbps), which is a very important feature because it allows the adapter to provide the highest possible speed. A lot of other adapters of the same powerline standard come with a regular Ethernet (100Mbps) network port, which means the port is a bottleneck that slows down the powerline connection.
Near the network port, the PLA5206 has a button that can be used to create or reset the encryption between two units. You just need to press and hold the button for about two seconds at one unit, then, within two minutes, do the same at the other to create a secure connection between the two of them. ZyXel says data transmission through the PLA5206 is protected by 128-bit advanced encryption security (AES). You only need to use the encryption if you live in a building with multiple units and don't want others to tap into your home network by using a powerline adapter of their own.
On top the adapter has three LED lights that show the statuses of power, the powerline connection, and the network port. The powerline connection light changes its color to indicate the quality of the connection (green means best, amber equals good, and red indicates low quality or no signal at all).
ZyXel says the PLA5206 has a green feature that makes the adapter go into green mode after 60 seconds of no activity. When in this mode it uses only 0.5W compared with 4W when it's in operation. In my testing this seemed to be the case and the adapters awoke quickly from sleep mode, without any delay. The adapter also comes with a built-in QoS feature that automatically prioritizes video streaming and VoIP over other type of traffic.
In my experience, powerline adapters never live up to their advertised speed. That was true of the PLA5206KIT, which never delivered even close to its promised speed of 1,000Mbps. That aside, it is the fastest powerline adapter I've seen.
In my testing the included pair of PLA5206 adapters registered the sustained real-world copy speed of 304Mbps, which is about half the real-world speed of Gigabit Ethernet and almost four times the speed of regular Ethernet. In comparison, it beat the runner-up kit, the Trendnet TPL-408E2K , by some 40Mbps.
It's safe to say that, at this speed, the ZyXel PLA5206KIT is faster than most Wi-Fi connections. And powerline is much more stable than Wi-Fi with lower latency, thanks to the fact that it's using physical wires.
The ZyXel Homeplug AV2 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kit is an excellent way to extend your wired network within your home, especially to a place where your Wi-Fi signal can't penetrate, such as behind a thick concrete wall or in the basement. The kit works basically the same as other powerline kits I've reviewed but at much faster speed, which makes it worth the higher price in my opinion.
That said, if you're looking to simply share an Internet connection, a cheaper kit, such as the Trendnet TPL-408E2K or the Actiontec PWR511K01 , will get the job done. But if you want to get the highest data rates out of your home's electrical wiring, the PLA5206KIT is the fastest for now. This might soon change, however, with more HomePlug AV2 adapters being released to the market.