Who this is for
A powerline networking kit is a great way to extend your home network to the distant reaches of your house using your existing electrical wiring. A powerline kit contains two adapters, each with at least one Ethernet port and an electrical plug. One adapter plugs into an outlet near your router and connects to it with an included Ethernet cable. Plug in the other where you need an Internet connection and hook it up to your device with the other Ethernet cable. You can extend your powerline network by buying more adapters, either individually or in kits—it's usually cheaper to buy a two-adapter kit, even if you need only one more. To add rooms to your powerline network, you just need adapters in those rooms; you can use the same router-side adapter for your entire network. All of the adapters we tested claim support for up to 16 adapters on the same powerline network.
Although powerline is like Ethernet in that it uses actual wires to deliver its signal, its signal still degrades over distance like Wi-Fi, especially if the adapters are on different electrical circuits. Despite its limitations, powerline is a useful way to extend your network to areas where Wi-Fi doesn't reach and running an Ethernet cord would be impractical (like a garage, attic, or faraway bedroom).
Wi-Fi extenders are another option for extending the range of your network. These let you bring signal to any device with Wi-Fi, and almost all extenders have at least one Ethernet port. However, they tend to be more expensive than powerline kits and can interfere with your existing Wi-Fi signal (causing slowness or signal drops). If your home has issues with powerline networking and you can't run a physical Ethernet cable, extenders are a good option.
How we picked and tested
This year's powerline kits are faster than last year's, but much bulkier. Left to right: the TP-Link TL-PA9020 kit, Zyxel PLA5456KIT, D-Link DHP-701AV, and Zyxel PLA5405KIT. Photo: Nathan Edwards
Powerline networking adapters provide a network connection in places where it's impractical to use Ethernet or Wi-Fi, so speed is the most important factor in deciding between them. The AV2 2000 kits we tested this year were twice as fast as last year's fastest models. If you're starting from scratch, we recommend getting the latest-generation kits because your network is only as fast as its slowest component.
Every kit we've tested in the last two years except for one has a claimed data rate above 1 Gbps and complies with the latest HomePlug AV2 standard. AV2 compliance is important because it guarantees better speed, security, and reliability compared with older versions. The standard requires that every adapter have a Gigabit Ethernet port to avoid bottlenecking the connection, plus push-button AES 128-bit encryption to secure your network traffic from neighbors who might share your electrical wiring. AV2 also allows each adapter to act as a repeater. If the device you need to connect to your router is so far away (either in physical distance or in the number of electrical circuits the signal needs to traverse) that even your powerline signal is weak, you can put another powerline adapter midway between the two to extend the signal. For more on how we picked, see our full guide.
We tested two new AV2 2000 kits, the Zyxel PLA5456KIT and TP-Link TL-PA9020KIT, against two of the fastest adapters from last year, the Zyxel PLA5405KIT and the D-Link DHP-701AV.
We connected one adapter from each kit to an Asus RT-AC66U AC1750 dual-band wireless Gigabit router, and the other adapter to a Lenovo ThinkPad T460 laptop. A desktop PC with an Intel 82579V Gigabit NIC connected to the router was our iPerf server.
We benchmarked all four powerline kits, plus 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, using iPerf 3.1.3 at three different points in a two-story, 2,400-square-foot house built in 1979. To learn more about the house's layout and our test setup, see our full guide.
Many factors influence the speeds of powerline network adapters. Your mileage will vary for a number of reasons, covered in the Who this is for section of our full guide.
The TP-Link TL-PA9020P was the fastest kit we tested, and it has dual Ethernet ports and a handy management utility. Photo: Nathan Edwards
The TP-Link TL-PA9020P kit is the best powerline adapter kit for most people because it was the fastest in our tests and had the best software, too. Along with the runner-up Zyxel PLA5456KIT, it's the fastest kit we've ever tested. It has a passthrough AC power outlet, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a two-year warranty, and it comes with two 78-inch Ethernet cables. It's bulky enough to partially block the outlet above it, but all the smaller adapters we tested were much slower.
The TP-Link offered the fastest performance in all the most important locations. In the two test locations farthest from the router, the TP-Link kit had average speeds between 80 and 90 Mbps. That's not as fast as the Ethernet or the Wi-Fi—again, you should use those options if you can—but it was enough to beat the Zyxel PLA5456KIT, and more than twice as fast as the two fastest kits from last year (Zyxel's PLA5405KIT and D-Link's DHP-701AV). It's more than fast enough to run several 4K video streams at the same time, and faster than the Internet connections most people in the US have.
Runner-up: Zyxel PLA5456KIT
Zyxel's PLA5456KIT is almost identical to the TP-Link kit in size, speed, and price, though its included Ethernet cables are shorter and its optional management utility is clunkier. Photo: Nathan Edwards
If the TP-Link is sold out or too expensive, get the Zyxel PLA5456KIT. It's nearly identical to the TP-Link in size, speed, specs, and price. It's a little bit slower in some tests, but it's still twice as fast as any powerline kit we tested last year. It's AV2 2000-rated, has a passthrough AC power outlet, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and it's bulky enough to partially block the outlet above it in a duplex socket.
The only real differences between the Zyxel and TP-Link kits are that the Zyxel's bundled Ethernet cables are a foot and a half shorter, its status lights are on the front rather than the side, and its management utility is clunkier, slower, and uglier, and has fewer features than the TP-Link's.
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