Top five power line adapters: When Wi-Fi fails you

CNET editor Dong Ngo briefly explains power line networking and picks his top power line adapters. These offer great performance for those who need to quickly expand their network, particularly to the spots where Wi-Fi signals can't reach.

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
3 min read

In home networking, the fastest way -- in terms of data speed -- to connect devices together is via network cables. However, running cables properly, which involves making networking ports and connector heads, is no easy task. This is part of the reason the wireless network (Wi-Fi) has become so popular. But chances are, there's a spot in your home that the Wi-Fi signal can't reach, because of distance or thick walls. This is when a power line connection can be a useful alternative.

Power line adapters basically turn the electrical wiring of a home into network cables for a computer network. You need at least two power line adapters to form the first power line connection. The first adapter is connected to the router and the second to the Ethernet-ready device at the far end. After the first connection, you just need one more adapter to add another Ethernet-ready device. With the lastest power line standard, which is the Powerline AV2 (or HomePlug AV2), you can connect up to 16 devices to an existing network using your home's electrical wiring. This new standard can also offer the speed of around half that of a true wired Gigabit connection, meaning it's many times faster than a regular Ethernet (10/100) connection.

All power line adapters have a security button to create a private network between those of the same standard and vendor. Josh Miller/CNET

In a single-family home, using power line adapters is as easy as plugging them in to the wall sockets and connecting their network port to the existing router or the devices you want to add to the network. In a multiple-family building, such as a condo, however, you will need to turn on the security feature. All adapters have a button for you to quickly do this. The security feature creates a private network between adapters of the same standard (and vendors) and prevent others from tapping into your network by using their own compatible adapters.

Apart from the ability to bridge the network through thick walls, power line connections are also a lot more stable than Wi-Fi signals and have almost as low latency as a regular Ethernet wired connections. Note that power line adapters can't work through a breaker and perform the better the shorter the length of the electrical wiring in between them. The max supported length is 985 feet (about 300 meters). They also need to be plugged directly into the wall socket (not not via a power-strip or surge protector) to work well.

The following is the list of top five fastest power line adapters on the market. This list is sorted by the review date, starting with the most recently reviewed, which also happens to be the order of the performance starting with the fastest.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Extollo LANSocket 1500 Powerline Adapter Kit

With the sustained speed of some 405Mbps, the Extollo LANSocket 1500 Powerline Adapter Kit currently has the top power line speed, though by just a small margin. The kit's best feature is the pass-through socket that allows the adapters to share the outlet they occupy with another device. Most importantly, at just $90, it's also one of the most affordable kits around. Read the full review of the Extollo LANSocket 1500 Powerline Adapter Kit.

Dong Ngo/CNET

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Extender Kit (model DHP-701AV)

Supporting the Powerline AV2 2000, the D-Link model DHP-701AV has a real-world speed of close to 400Mbps, which is very impressive. Unfortunately, the kit's two adapters are bulky, and it's expensive, costing somewhere between $130 and and $155. Read the full review of the D-Link DHP-701AV.

Josh Miller/CNET

Netgear Powerline 1200 kit (model PL1200-100PAS)

The Netgear PL1200-100PAS has a top speed of close to 390Mbps and it's quite compact for a high-end power line kit. It also has friendly pricing of just $80. Read the full review of the Netgear PL1200-100PAS.

Josh Miller/CNET

Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn Powerline Adapter

Comtrend is a brand-new name in networking but the PG-9172 G.hn is a quite impressive power line adapter with the sustained speed of more than 330Mbps. The adapter is slated to cost around $45 per adapter (or $90 for a kit of two.) Read the full review of the Comtrend PG-9172 G.hn.

Josh Miller/CNET

ZyXel Homeplug AV2 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kit (model PLA5206KIT)

The XyZel PLA5206KIT is a great bargain, currently costing just $60 for a kit of two units, and its peformance is great, too, with the sustained speed of 304Mbps. It's one of the first adapters to show that the performance of power line networking can be many times faster than traditional Ethernet (10/100) wired connection. Read the full review of the ZyXel PLA5206KIT.