Is Wi-Fi too unreliable? Powerline networking may be what you need
Wi-Fi doesnt always work as expected, and its not your only networking option. Ethernet provides the best speeds but looks ugly draped from devices and running along floorboards. Thats where Powerline comes in.
In a nutshell, Powerline provides the best of both worlds by using the existing electrical wiring in a home or office. We explain what this networking solution does, along with its benefits and drawbacks.
What is Powerline networking?
Powerline networking is a technology that sits between wired and wireless. Rather than shoot network data into the air or through cables draped along baseboards, it uses the existing electrical wiring in a home or office. It also supports the longest distance of the three, though performance heavily depends on the overall electrical wiring and devices pulling power.
The concept isnt anything new. Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, uses existing telephone wire to bring internet connectivity to a home or office. This is accomplished by transmitting data at a higher frequency than the telephone service.
In the case of Powerline, AC power transfers at 50Hz or 60Hz, depending on your electrical system. Powerline transmits data between 2MHz and 86MHz but ignores the power-based frequencies.
The idea here is to provide network connectivity to devices outside the Wi-Fi range without draping Ethernet cables all through the home or office. The overall speed typically doesnt match wired networking, and in some cases, Wi-Fi connections. But what Powerline offers over wireless is stability and less latency given the technology isnt fighting with interfering signals.
Lets get technical
Most Powerline kits provide two adapters, each with an Ethernet port. One device connects to an electrical outlet and tethers to a modem or routers LAN port using an Ethernet cable. The second unit plugs into another electrical outlet near the device you want connecting to the network.
Without getting too technical with the hardware and software layers, the first adapter connected to your modem or router converts the Ethernet protocol (IEEE ) it receives to the HomePlug AV2 protocol. That data is then broadcasted across the electrical wires, similar to how routers convert and broadcast wireless connectivity (IEEE ). Instead of relying on antennas, adapters transmit through the Line and Neutral power connectors.
Previously, the Line and Neutral wires were only used for a single input and output (11). The HomePlug AV2 specification added the Ground wire, enabling MIMO transmissions and beamforming to support Ultra HD video transmissions. The adapter essentially transmits data using any two pairs, like Line and Ground or Line and Neutral (22).
All other adapters connected to the electrical system receive both power and data transmission. They filter out the latter, convert it all back to the Ethernet protocol, and push the network connection through the Ethernet port. Some Powerline adapters provide Wi-Fi connectivity too.
HomePlug AV2 is the best
Powerline networking works with all wired devices that can connect to the Internet all wireless if the adapter has Wi-Fi. All adapters synchronize and work together to create a digital map of discovered stations and their connections, for example, which is useful for network management.
Currently, HomePlug AV2 is the best Powerline protocol, a more flexible iteration of the older HomePlug standard thats designed to increase speeds, extend coverage, and provide a sleep mode to reduce power, among other notable features.
If youre shopping for Powerline adapters (more on this later), always remember to look for the latest protocol, because theres a large increase in quality between generations.
Why is it useful?
Since Wi-Fi is used across the world and throughout homes, businesses, and even street sidewalks, it obviously works. So, why do we need another way to connect to the internet? Because there are situations where Powerline connections are more useful. Here are the big benefits.
Save money on installations
Suppose you have a device say, a TV that can access the internet using a wired Ethernet connection, but it doesnt have Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, your router is on the other side of the room. You can run Ethernet cables through your walls, along baseboards, or under your carpet, but this takes time, looks ugly, and could require lots of cables. Purchasing a pair of Powerline adapters is a faster and often more affordable solution.
Solve Wi-Fi woes
There are some places that Wi-Fi cannot reach reliably. Heavy interference or extra-large houses may make it too difficult to use a wireless connection. In these cases, Powerline adapters can supplement Wi-Fi networks or help provide one-on-one solutions for devices that need a wired connection. This may also help with other problems, like spotty streaming or slow speeds that you would like to improve.
Powerline networking is easy to install. You can do it by yourself in just a few minutes. If there are only one or two devices in your home that need the Internet, Powerline may be the most consumer-friendly solution for you.
Is Powerline better than Wi-Fi?
You may be wondering why you even need Wi-Fi if Powerline has all these benefits. Is Powerline better? Thats a good question.
When compared to purchasing multiple Powerline adapters, a Wi-Fi router is probably the less expensive option. This, and the added flexibility of a wireless signal, are major reasons why Wi-Fi is the go-to service for millions of web users. With the advent of Wi-Fi 6 (which we discuss more below), Wi-Fis top speeds and advantages for mobile devices are also much more significant than Powerline.
Powerline supports distances up to feet, but adapters dont communicate in a straight line. Data must pass up and down walls and through the attic, adding unseen distance. Even more, if the electrical wiring in a home or office is too old or the Powerline adapters are spread too far apart, then youll likely see far less than the real-world maximum.
Powerline adapters have limitations, too:
- They must connect directly to an electrical outlet: Powerline adapters dont work properly when connected to surge protectors, power strips, or UPS units.
- Avoid power outlets managed by AFCI and GFCI breakers: Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) and Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breakers can reduce performance by up to 50%.
- They shouldnt share the same outlet with devices that produce electrical noise: These devices include chargers, fluorescent lights, and electric appliances.
Some Powerline adapters have pass-through power sockets so you dont lose an open power connection for other devices. You may also see adapters with built-in Wi-Fi to support smartphones and other wireless devices.
With all that said, investigate your home or office electrical layout, examine the circuit breaker box, and consider where Powerline adapters can safely connect before purchasing a kit. You should also consider the state of Powerline and how it compares to the newer Wi-Fi standards before committing.
Is Powerline obsolete?
Unfortunately, the HomePlug standard doesnt appear to be changing anytime soon. While Powerline adapters offer stability and less latency, they wont compete with routers based on the Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 and Wi-Fi 6/6e standards.
The previous comparisons we made are based on Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1, which, for now, is the more common networking solution in homes and offices. This standard boasts a theoretical maximum speed of Gbps, but again, youll rarely see that in real-world wireless connections. The Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 standard appeared in , increasing the maximum to Gbps. Wi-Fi 6 is the newer wireless standard that boasts theoretical speeds of up to Gbps.
You should now see where the Powerline versus Wi-Fi argument is going. Given youll only see a Mbps maximum on newer AV adapters, that may be slightly better than if standing next to a Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1 router. Both suffer speed loss due to range, though Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1 is worse given its maximum range is 98 feet.
However, in a recent benchmark of the TP-Link Archer AX Wi-Fi 6 router, real-world speeds reached Gbps at a distance of 5 feet but dropped to Mbps at a distance of 20 feet. Another benchmark saw the TP-Link Archer AX hit Gbps at a distance of 5 feet but dropped to Mbps at a distance of 75 feet. Thats significantly faster than Powerline.
But the big differentiator between Powerline and Wi-Fi is the actual physical connection. With Powerline, wired devices connect using a Gigabit Ethernet port and cables to create a stable connection speeding up to Mbps. Speeds on wireless devices depend on the range, interference with other devices, and the number of streams each device supports.
Is Powerline secure?
Electrical signals can be hacked, just like eavesdropping on a Wi-Fi signal. This is why its important to pick Powerline adapters with the best encryption technology available (currently bit AES). Adapters usually come with security buttons that, when activated, encrypt communications. Make sure these buttons are always on.
Top Powerline adapters
When shopping for Powerline adapter kits, pay close attention to the numbers in their labels. For instance, the TP-Link AV kit boasts up to 2,Mbps (or 2Gbps), though youll never see that maximum speed. Also, look in the specification and be sure the kit supplies Ethernet ports supporting up to 1Gbps, as anything less like Mbps will cap your connection regardless of the transfer speed through your electrical wiring.
High-performance: TP-Link TL-PAP
Based on the HomePlug AV2 protocol, this kit packs two identical adapters supporting up to 2,Mbps. In real-world scenarios, you may see up to Mbps.
Each unit provides a built-in power socket so you’re not losing a socket on your electrical outlet, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a one-touch pairing button that synchronizes with the other adapter(s). LEDs embedded on the side indicate strong (green) and weak (red) connections.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, the HomePlug AV2 protocol supports a 22 connection, which translates to two send streams and two receive streams. Other features include noise filtering, beamforming, and a power-saving mode.
Midrange: Netgear PLPAS
Netgear’s PLPAS kit boasts speeds of up to 1,Mbps, though real-world speeds may reach just above Mbps maximum. Keep in mind that this speed is based on the local network and will not improve your internet connection if you’re only paying for a Mbps subscription.
Unfortunately, this kit of two lacks built-in power sockets, so you’ll lose a socket in the walls electrical outlet. These two adapters only supply one Gigabit Ethernet port each as well, limiting your physical connections even more so on the model tethered to your modem or router.
Other notable features include a physical button to enforce encryption, connection health indicators, MIMO and beamforming connectivity, and a quick plug-and-play setup no additional software required.
Budget: TP-Link TL-PAP
Based on the HomePlug A2, this whole-home kit contains two adapters with pass-through power sockets and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Similar to the other kits on our list, each adapter comes with connection health indicators and an easy-pair button for your convenience.
The one problematic design flaw we noticed was that the location of the ethernet port on the top of the set instead of underneath. While some may like this placement choice, we thought it was counterintuitive. Still, this is an insignificant issue that doesn’t detract from the product’s overall quality.
Other noteworthy perks we like about this set are plug-and-play and a mode for automatic power-saving. Unfortunately, this system does not have Wi-Fi connectivity, so if you want it, you will need to pay $16 for an upgraded TL-WPA kit.
Powerline is here to make sure that you never have to deal with unreliable Wi-Fi or a mess of ethernet cables in your home ever again. These kits will give you everything you need for the best price, and all you need is the electrical wiring you already use at home or work. This system may have a few flaws, but it has even more benefits to cancel them out.
We tested MoCA adapters that let you use cable outlets, instead of power outlets, to extend your network; We recommend the Trendnet TMOC2K as a MoCA alternative to our powerline picks.
We tested MoCA adapters that let you use cable outlets, instead of power outlets, to extend your network; We recommend the Trendnet TMOC2K as a MoCA alternative to our powerline picks.
We’ve removed the budget pick TP-Link TL-PAP v2, as it has been discontinued by TP-Link.
If a traditional Wi-Fi or mesh network isn’t cutting it in your larger home, and you don’t want to (or can’t) drill holes and snake Ethernet cable through your walls, you’ve got more options: powerline networking and MoCA (multimedia over coaxial alliance). Powerline networking uses your home’s electrical wiring to share your internet connection, bypassing Wi-Fi and its limitations, while MoCA works similarly over the cable TV wiring in your home. After spending more than 45 hours testing 11 kits, we’ve found TP-Link’s TL-PAP to be the best powerline networking kit for most people.
TP-Link’s TL-PAP V3 is one of the fastest kits we’ve tested, is less expensive than competing adapters with the same speed ratings, and includes dual Ethernet jacks on each adapter so you can wire two nearby devices to your network—like a streaming box and a video game console. It’s a great way to add strong network connectivity to devices where Wi-Fi is impractical, and it comes with a two-year warranty.
The Netgear PLP is a good choice if our top pick is out of stock, and if you need the best possible performance—think online gaming and streaming 4K video. The speedy connection to any devices you plug into it should make a big difference compared with unstable Wi-Fi, but it won’t have as much impact on regular browsing on a so-so network. Netgear offers a shorter warranty than TP-Link, but this an excellent alternative, especially if it’s the same price.
The Trendnet TMOC2K uses the coaxial cables (aka cable TV) in your walls instead of running new Ethernet cables from the router to other rooms. MoCA performed faster than powerline networking in our tests. But you’ll need a cable TV outlet in each spot you use it, so it’s ultimately less flexible than powerline.
Why you should trust us
Before joining Wirecutter in , Joel Santo Domingo tested and wrote about PCs, networking, and personal tech for PCMag.com, Lifewire, HotHardware, and PC Magazine for more than 17 years. Prior to that, Joel was an IT tech and system administrator for small, medium-size, and large companies. Wirecutter has tested powerline networking kits since
Who this is for
Powerline network adapters extend your home network by using your home’s electrical wiring instead of an Ethernet cable. This makes powerline a great way to get a high-quality connection to distant parts of your house, which can also relieve stress on your Wi-Fi network.
MoCA network adapters do the same job, using the coaxial (cable TV) cables already in the walls of many homes. It’s a great way to reuse a resource that may be unused if you’ve already (figuratively) cut the cord—though there’s no guarantee that every cable TV drop in your home is connected to the others (unlike most power outlets). As long as there is a connection between the spots, MoCA adapters will work concurrently with cable TV or cable modem service. Some cable companies lease MoCA adapters to customers, but Wirecutter is a proponent of owning your networking equipment to avoid paying rental fees.
You should consider a powerline or MoCA kit if you have a router from the past year or two that covers most of your space well but doesn't get a reliable signal to somewhere that needs it, like a home office or an entertainment center on the opposite side of the house. Check to be sure your router supports the ac standard—if not you may want to replace it before getting a powerline kit. You should also only consider powerline networking if you have a relatively modern, midsize home—less than 2, square feet—since powerline performance can vary depending on the quality of your home’s electrical wiring. If your home is larger or older, or if your router is due for an upgrade anyway, you should probably consider a mesh networking kit instead.
With very few exceptions, a wired connection will be faster than Wi-Fi.
A single pair of wired adapters will typically provide much lower latency—the time between when you try to do something online, and when your device actually starts doing it—than a device would achieve on a busy Wi-Fi network. This makes an adapter kit potentially a better option for a gamer who complains about “lag” on their Wi-Fi connected console or PC but doesn’t have an available Ethernet connection nearby. Powerline or MoCA can also serve as a bridge across walls or a foundation that kills Wi-Fi signals (like a basement or garage, for example).
What you should know before buying powerline
A powerline kit contains two identical devices: one adapter connected to your router that you then plug into a nearby electrical outlet; and a second adapter you plug in where you need an internet connection. MoCA works the same way, but use the cable TV connectors in your home instead of the power outlets. If you need more networking ports where you’re putting a powerline adapter, you can plug in a network switch and still get better performance and lower latency than using Wi-Fi to connect those gadgets. To add more rooms to your powerline network, you only need one more powerline adapter in each room—the same router-side adapter will service your entire powerline network.
Despite its limitations, powerline is a useful and affordable way to extend your network to areas where Wi-Fi doesn’t reach and running an Ethernet cord would be impractical. Powerline can bridge network connections throughout a multistory structure where building materials like brick, glass, or lath-and-plaster block Wi-Fi signals. However, powerline signal quality depends greatly on the quality of your electrical wiring, which can be a problem in older buildings. Conversely, MoCA connections will depend on whether the coaxial cable next to your router is connected within the walls to the cable TV outlet in the distant rooms.
Some powerline kits have Wi-Fi extenders built into one of the adapters. These can work better than traditional wireless extenders because they don’t rely on Wi-Fi for the connection between the router and extender. However, if powerline networking doesn’t work well with your house’s wiring, you’re better off upgrading to a Wi-Fi mesh kit.
While it’s possible to mix and match older powerline adapters, you really shouldn’t. They can slow the network speeds by two-thirds or more.
The good news is that powerline and MoCA don’t interfere with Wi-Fi, and vice-versa—walls that stop Wi-Fi cold or your neighbors’s Wi-Fi interference don’t matter to a wired connection. With very few exceptions, a wired connection will be faster than Wi-Fi. The network’s performance depends on the overall quality of the wiring in the house, followed by the electrical distance—not the straight line distance—between two adapters. Shoddy wiring can lower the bandwidth or drop the connection. Powerline and MoCA networking are expandable but can be subject to collision and congestion—the more adapters you have, the worse they’ll all perform.
You should also be careful to encrypt the connection between your powerline adapters, using the physical pairing button on each adapter, especially if you live in a multi-unit building. If you forget this step, you can end up merging your network and your neighbor’s. For a MoCA network, you may need to change a security setting on the adapter’s website, and you may need to install a PoE (point of entry) filter on the coaxial cable running outside your home to your neighbors, if your cable company forgot to place one when it installed your cable modem.
Other factors can affect powerline performance. You don’t want to connect a powerline adapter to a surge protector or power strip, or outlets that are behind AFCI circuit breakers. (These will be labeled as “AFCI” or “Arc Fault” in your breaker box.) SmallNetBuilder noted in its testing of powerline adapters that some brands of AFCI circuit breakers cut transmission rate in half, though others barely impacted throughput at all.
While it’s possible to mix and match older powerline adapters, you really shouldn’t. They can slow network speeds by two-thirds or more. Older powerline devices that use the AV standard are compatible with the AV2 standard devices we tested here, but that just means that they won’t completely break the network when plugged in at that same time. I ran into this situation when I neglected to remove a rogue powerline adapter left over from testing years ago. With an unpaired AV adapter plugged in, overall throughput on the newer gigabit AV2 adapters slowed to a crawl. AV and AV2 devices can’t be used at all with powerline adapters that use the competing G.hn standard, and we found the interference from the spare AV adapter slowed the G.hn network down as well.
MoCA also has defined standards: MoCA and are currently shipping, and both are compatible with each other. MoCA is nominally faster ( gigabit versus gigabit), but right now GbE internet connections are rare, so there isn’t a large advantage to using the faster standard, yet.
You don’t want to connect a powerline adapter to a surge protector or power strip, or outlets that are behind AFCI circuit breakers.
Powerline networking kits can be susceptible to interference from other devices (particularly poorly constructed phone or laptop power supplies) on the circuit. Appliances on the line can also interfere with powerline signals, so it may not be the solution for improving your internet connection on outlets near kitchens or laundry rooms. According to this knowledge base article from TP-Link, “Electrical equipments [sic] with electromotor, like washing machine/air-condition, can generate interference [and] may even cut off your powerline connection.”
It’s also possible, though somewhat unlikely, to get interference from a powerline kit showing up in other devices. In , we tested for interference from a floor lamp with a dimmer switch and three 13 W LED bulbs. We didn’t see any speed drops on any of the kits we tested then, but we did get a light show when we benchmarked a Zyxel PLAKIT with the lamp plugged into the same outlet and turned off at the dimmer switch.
How we picked
Much like any network connection, what we’re really looking for here is the most speed and reliability we can get for the best price. Unfortunately, just like Wi-Fi, the big numbers on the box can be misleading—you’ll never get the theoretical maximum of 2 Gbps out of a kit that uses the AV standard. And sometimes a product from one brand on the slower AV standard can actually perform better than a product from another brand that uses AV So we directly tested each kit, using the same techniques employed in our Wi-Fi router, Wi-Fi mesh, and Wi-Fi extender guides.
When deciding which devices to test, these were our criteria:
- Throughput, or speed: We measured how fast each powerline kit downloads files and streaming data. At a bare minimum, we’re looking for at least 25 Mbps, the speed you’d need for 4K video streaming to one device. If your home internet connection is slower than that and the cause of your problems, a powerline networking kit may not make a difference. We used AV2 throughput ratings as a guideline when picking which kits to test—those numbers aren’t always indicative of real-world performance, but newer and better kits do generally have higher throughput rates.
- Latency, or delay: This is the kind of speed that makes most of what you actually do on the internet—such as web browsing and game playing—seem fast or slow. It’s frustrating when you have to wait longer than a couple of seconds for a response from a website or an app’s servers
- Price: A pair of Ethernet-only powerline adapters shouldn’t be more than $; a kit with a Wi-Fi radio on the far end shouldn’t be more than $ Once you reach that price, you may be better off looking at a mesh networking kit or evaluate if you need to install wired Ethernet in your home.
- Wi-Fi capabilities: You’ll get the highest performance results from a powerline connection by plugging in an Ethernet cable, but many people really want to get good Wi-Fi coverage to another room.
- Extra Ethernet port(s): Having an extra Ethernet connection (or two) is a boon for smart homes. They come in handy if you need “just one more connection” and don’t want to bother with an additional network switch for a media streaming box and a desktop PC in the same room.
- Power passthrough: It’s not a dealbreaker, but we prefer powerline kits with V passthrough outlets on the front. Powerline adapters should always be plugged directly into the wall—not into a power strip—and kits without power passthrough will block one or both of your wall outlets.
- Warranty: It’s not the most important feature, but we gave extra points to powerline kits with two- or three-year warranties. Three contenders had only a single year of coverage.
We tested only current-generation powerline devices, and we don’t recommend older non-AV2 devices. The modern AV2 standard brings much faster real-world speeds, better reliability, and mandatory push-button encryption.
The AV2 standard (and the G.hn standard the Zyxel kit uses) requires modern, three-prong electrical wiring. If you only have two-prong outlets, powerline networking is probably not for you—but if you want to try it anyway, your best bet is the TP-Link AV Powerline Adapter Kit.
How we tested
To test coverage and performance, we connected each kit to a TP-Link Archer A7 (our current budget Wi-Fi router pick) in a challenging home environment. The three-story, 2,square-foot house we used is built into a hillside. The house has Wi-Fi–blocking interior materials, including interior glass panels, a masonry fireplace in the middle of the living room, and a metal-and-wood staircase in the center of the home.
The router and web server were located in a home office in the attic of the home. One powerline adapter was also plugged into a nearby outlet, with its Ethernet cable connected to a port on the router. Powerline adapters are paired automatically when you plug them in, but to ensure we had a secure connection, we tapped the pairing/encryption button on both units after they were plugged in. Note: Tor the MoCA testing during early , the adapters were placed in similar test locations as the powerline adapters, connected to a working coaxial cable outlet.
We picked two spots that would show each adapter’s capabilities: The downstairs bedroom has four interior walls and two ceilings between it and the router, which challenge Wi-Fi reception more than the 60 feet or so of straight-line distance. The second test spot in the attic is “easier” at about 25 feet distance, but it still has a pane of window glass in between it and the router. These are exactly the sort of places wired adapters are best-suited to reach.
Test device placement
All of our powerline and MoCA adapters offered wired Ethernet ports, and we tested those wired connections with an Intel gigabit network adapter on a Dell laptop. Placement of the actual laptop doesn’t really matter when you’re wired; we tested with a 3-foot Ethernet cable, which is just as challenging as a foot Ethernet cable.
For the kit that offered Wi-Fi connections on the remote adapter; we tested it using the same Dell laptop with a TP-Link T4U USB WI-Fi adapter, also about 3 feet from where the powerline adapter was plugged in.
We tested our powerline adapters using Netburn, an open-source tool that tests networks with the same HTTP protocol your browser uses to read web pages. This allows us to test the network the same way we actually use it and minimize the likelihood that we’ll pick a device that’s better in testing than it is in the home.
We used an Intel NUC mini PC running Linux and Apache as the back-end server for our tests. The NUC was plugged directly into a spare port on the Archer A7 in the home office, and the test laptops had to connect to it by way of the powerline adapters.
Each laptop was tested for download performance and for web browsing performance. The download test simply downloads a 1 MB file repeatedly as fast as possible. We also ran a version of the download test with a 16 MB file to stress the network further.
The web browsing test is considerably trickier; each web page consists of 16 side-by-side KB downloads, and the next web page can’t be downloaded until the last one finishes. Problems with the reliability of the connection—or the speed of the adapters’ CPU—get uncovered more quickly on the browsing test than they do with a simple full-speed download. We ran the tests on all the adapters with an Ethernet cable connected. In addition, for the Wi-Fi–capable TP-Link kit, we ran the same suite of tests again while connected to Wi-Fi. We also ran the test at each location with the laptop connected via Wi-Fi to a TP-Link T4U USB adapter.
Our pick: TP-Link TL-PAP V3
If your Wi-Fi can’t reach one or two devices like game consoles or streaming boxes, and you can’t run Ethernet wiring through your home (or just don’t want to), the TP-Link TL-PAP Kit is one of the best ways to extend your network where the Wi-Fi is spotty. It was among the top three fastest competitors in our download throughput and browsing tests, so you’re assured speedy wired connections in the room where you place the receiving adapter regardless of your router’s or your home’s construction.
A top powerline adapter like the TL-PAP improves speed (throughput) and responsiveness (latency) compared with Wi-Fi. For example, the adapter was faster than all the others in one of our six tests. At a closer distance of about 25 feet, throughput jumped from 78 Mbps on Wi-Fi to Mbps, an improvement of %. When we increased the distance, the gap narrowed and the TL-PAP placed third behind the Zyxel PLA and Netgear PLP, but the TP-Link adapter was still 76% faster than Wi-Fi at the same location.
In addition to performing well, the TL-PAP is a good value, generally about $10 to $20 less expensive than the Netgear PLP Both have dual Ethernet ports on each adapter, similar performance, passthrough power ports (you can still use the power outlet for other things), and both are easy to set up. Just plug the TL-PAP’s adapters in, and they will work right out of the box. If you live in a multiple-unit dwelling like an apartment building, you’ll want to activate the onboard bit-AES security by pressing the sync button on each adapter, but that’s a one-time process that takes seconds to implement.
The PAP comes with a two-year warranty, like the other TP-Link and Zyxel adapters, and double the single year of the D-Link and Netgear adapters. Only the TrendNet comes with a three-year warranty, but the TrendNet TPLE2K has other issues.
If you need to wire more than two devices to your network over a powerline adapter, you can also connect an inexpensive network switch to the PAP and have enough ports to hook up your entire entertainment center. Taking those (often bandwidth-hungry) devices off your network can be a double win. Your streaming box, smart TV, the desktop hooked up to your TV, and any other local devices will benefit from the stronger signal from a wired connection, and the rest of your wireless devices will be more responsive since they are on a now less-congested wireless network.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Plugged into the bottom outlet, the PAP covers the ground plug of the power outlet above it; you might be able to connect a two-prong plug to the top outlet, but most three-prong plugs won’t fit. Thankfully, there’s a passthrough adapter on the front, so you can plug a device directly into the PAP itself.
There’s no Wi-Fi built in, so you’ll need to connect a wired access point or Wi-Fi extender to the PAP if you want wireless networking at the far connection. Even with the extra complexity, that will likely be a faster system than the Wi-Fi–capable TP-Link WPA v2—the PAP absolutely trounced the former in our throughput tests.
Runner-up: Netgear PLP
Since it’s normally a little more expensive without offering a clear benefit, the Netgear PLP is only a good choice if the TP-Link TL-PAP is out of stock, or if you can find it at a lower price. Both powerline adapter kits excelled in our throughput tests, trading places for the top spots. The PLP was faster overall, but you’d need a calculator to see the difference between the two on most tests; on one test the difference was less than a percentage point.
The PLP kit placed a smidge higher than the TL-PAP on four of the six throughput and latency tests, meaning it is technically faster than our top pick. But the truth is that both powerline kits performed within a hair’s breadth of each other. With so many variables in play, you’re unlikely to notice the difference in day-to-day use around your home. And both options were over twice as fast the lowest performing kits—the TP-Link TL-WPA v2 and the TrendNet TPLE2K—at the long-distance tests. Either of the top kits will do just as well to extend your network where Wi-Fi is problematic.
Most of the time, the Netgear adapter is about $10 to $20 more than our top pick from TP-Link, and Netgear only offers a one-year warranty compared with TP-Link’s two-year coverage. Those two factors were the main reasons the PLP is only our runner-up pick. Aside from the similarities in speed, the overall design and feature set don’t differ in most meaningful ways. Both kits have two Ethernet ports per adapter, so you’ll be able to connect two devices in each location. And the PLP also includes a power passthrough, a benefit because the adapter’s bulk blocks the other outlet.
Also great: Trendnet TMOC2K
You’ll always have a power plug next to a spot where you want a better network connection, but if you have a cable TV outlet at the same location, a MoCA adapter like the Trendnet TMOC2K will transfer data much more quickly, according to our testing. MoCA adapters work similarly to powerline adapters, but use the coaxial (cable TV) wires installed in many homes to carry networking signals. Though MoCA adapters are measurably faster than powerline networking, they aren’t our top pick because electrical outlets are exponentially more prevalent in homes than coax hookups, which makes placing a powerline adapter much more convenient than MoCA adapters. In either case, cable TV viewers and cord cutting families alike can use the wires already in your home to transmit fast Ethernet-like signals from your router to other rooms in your home. It would be a lot less expensive to use the wires you already have in your walls, instead of hiring a contractor to run Ethernet cables from one side of the home to the other.
Connect the familiar coaxial connectors to your “Cable TV” outlet in your wall, then connect Ethernet to your desktop PC or streaming media box. The second coax connector is for your TV, if you still subscribe to cable TV. Photo: Sarah Kobos
The TMOC2K adapter is compact, shown next to a phone for comparison. Photo: Sarah Kobos
The front panel has a few LEDs for status, but otherwise it’s a plain black box. Photo: Sarah Kobos
When we tested the Trendnet TMOC2K and compared the results to our powerline picks, the MoCA adapters were twice as fast in the attic, and over four times as fast over foot distances to the bedroom test location. That translates into potentially faster response and a smoother picture from streaming services to your media streaming box with a built-in Ethernet connector.
The TMOC2K is potentially a better choice than powerline for connecting two distant rooms in your home, provided there is an intact coaxial cable connection between the two rooms (a big if). The Trendnet adapter kit has a few downsides: the TMOC2K kit only comes with the MoCA adapters and power plugs. The other three MoCA adapter kits we tested (see competition) had extra Ethernet cables, coaxial cables, splitters, and point of entry filters. You may already have all of these items to spare, but if not you’ll have to order them separately.
Any MoCA adapter also occupies a power outlet; the powerline adapters we recommend have pass-throughs so you can plug in other items like lamps or TVs without losing an outlet. The TMOC2K only has one Ethernet port, while our powerline picks each have two. And again for emphasis, there’s no guarantee that the coaxial cable outlet in your wall is hooked up to anything else in the home, especially if you’ve had coax removed after cancelling cable TV service or if you’ve never had cable service installed in the first place. Building codes ensure that there is a wired connection between power outlets.
An overview of the test results
Wired connections, like those of our seven powerline adapter kits, improve the stability and responsiveness of the network connection. So we concentrated on how fast each kit was able to transfer data. Overall, the best powerline kits were faster than Wi-Fi, especially as more obstacles were placed in between the router and the test laptop.
Our throughput test measures how much data can be transmitted through the network, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). For example, if you’re paying for Mbps internet service, you’ll be able to download files and stream media at Mbps to a laptop connected to the router via a wired Ethernet connection. Obstructions in your walls or electrical wire distance will degrade the Wi-Fi or powerline throughput, respectively.
Note that we’re testing these throughput speeds locally using a server: If your home has a 15 Mbps data plan, your connection to streaming services on the internet will be limited to 15 Mbps maximum, no matter how fast your router and adapters are.
As mentioned earlier, we tested throughput at two locations in our test home. The first site was in the attic about 25 feet from the router, but on the other side of a load-bearing wall and plate-glass window that decreased Wi-Fi signals. In general, the powerline transfer speed in an attic was quite fast, easily exceeding Wi-Fi over the same distance.
The other test location was in a bedroom two flights down, and on the other side of the home, a challenging foot distance for both Wi-Fi and electrical signals. At this location, the best powerline kits still managed rates that were twice as fast Wi-Fi–only performance, while the worst two kits were a bit slower than Wi-Fi.
For comparison, during our last router test session the TP-Link Archer A7 router had no trouble maintaining almost Mbps throughput to a similar laptop about 15 feet away, through a ceiling.
To challenge the network kits, we also ran the same test with a larger file for a shorter period to simulate a quick, massive burst of data that would really stress the network. Wi-Fi slowed a bit at both locations compared with the 1 MB file download tests, showing that the wireless network was becoming saturated at that point. However, the best performers, including the PLP and TL-PAP v3, managed to provide double the throughput at both test sites compared with Wi-Fi. They had the extra headroom and just kept going, while the Wi-Fi connection direct to the router was really starting to show its limits.
There wasn’t a lot of difference in throughput rates between the slowest and fastest MoCA adapters. But because powerline adapters vary so much, the MoCA adapters were anywhere from two to 22 times faster. The coaxial cables in your home are subject to a lot less interference than the power wires in your home, and they are likely to be shorter runs, since they don’t have to share wires with multiple outlets in each room.
The TL-WPA v2 (both wired and with a Wi-Fi connection) and the TrendNet TPLE2K were no better than the Wi-Fi connection in the first floor bedroom. Both were rated Powerline AV, which goes to show that you shouldn’t expect advertised speeds simply because the adapter is rated “up to 1, Mbps.”
One notable anecdote: The G.hn-compatible Zyxel PLA was fastest at long distance in the first-floor bedroom, but it was merely above average in the attic location. Therefore, we consider it a possible alternate if you need to cover a long distance or if our main pick and runner-up are out of stock.
TP-Link’s TL-PAP V2 was the budget pick in the previous version of this guide, but it has been discontinued. It’s still more than fast enough if you need to connect one wired device like a smart TV. If you find it in stock, it is a good choice for around $
The TP-Link WPA V2 was the pick in a previous version of this guide. However, after our latest round of tests in , it dropped from middle of the pack to the bottom of the performance charts. While it was the only kit we tested with Wi-Fi built in, it was simply too slow to recommend over the others here.
The Extollo LanPlug and Extollo Una were listed as also-great picks in the previous version of this guide. We tried to acquire these G.hn extenders from both the Extollo Communications website and on Amazon for our update. They are listed as sold out on the former, and unavailable on the latter. We tried to contact Extollo, to no avail. As they are no longer readily available, we are dismissing both adapters.
Our budget pick matched the features and performance of D-Link’s DHP-PAV, for half the price. It’s similar to the DHPAV we tested in but with the addition of a passthrough power jack.
TrendNet’s TPLE2K has a three-year warranty and a nice price, but its performance placed it last in the latest round of testing.
The Zyxel PLA also used Wave 2 G.hn technology instead of AV2, and topped our throughput tests at the longest distances, but its other performance numbers were just behind the top three. It might be an alternative if you need to cover a long distance or if our pick, runner-up, and budget pick are out of stock.
The Screenbeam (formerly Actiontec) ECBK02 is a MoCA adapter with a gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port. But it didn’t perform any faster in tests than the Trendnet adapter when we used our 1 gigabit Ethernet laptop and server. gigabit internet service is rare and expensive right now, most laptops and routers lack GbE, and the ECBK02 is twice the price of the Trendnet TMOC2K. One added bonus is that the kit comes with spare Ethernet cables, coaxial cables, coaxial splitters, and a point of entry filter, potentially saving you about $40 if you don’t already have spares lying around. It also has a short, one-year warranty compared with the Trendnet’s 3 years. Though you could buy the ECBK02 for future-proofing, we don’t think it’s worth the extra expense unless the price drops significantly.
Motorola’s MM is a MoCA adapter kit including two MM adapters, and the MM is an updated MoCA kit with a GbE port, containing two MM adapters. The MM was quite a bit slower than the powerline and MoCA kits on our latency test (it was the only adapter that was slower than ms), so we’re dismissing it. The MM was sufficiently speedy in our throughput and latency tests, but in addition to being more expensive than the Trendnet, it’s a brand-new product with zero third-party or consumer reviews. Like the Screenbeam, the Motorola kits come with extra Ethernet cables and coax connectors. We’ll keep our eye on the MM for future MoCA updates.
We tested all devices listed below—including our picks from —using new protocols in Any devices that we previously tested that aren’t listed here should be considered very inferior to anything listed, even down here in the Competition section—powerline networking has come a long way over the past several years.
TP-Link’s WPA is a decent kit but didn’t quite fit any of our pick categories. It offers Wi-Fi for less cost than our pick—but has no passthrough outlet, and provides only one Ethernet port per adapter and noticeably less performance. We didn’t think the money saved was worth it.
D-Link’s DHPAV, the first AV2 kit we tested (and one of the kits we retested in ), is only slightly faster than TP-Link’s AV and AV devices, and nowhere near as fast as TP-Link’s AV kit or Extollo’s G.hn kit. It has no passthrough outlet, doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, and is usually priced far too high.
Zyxel’s PLA kit is another AV kit that just doesn’t hit the mark. It costs a little less than the DHPAV, and it does offer a passthrough power outlet, but there’s still no Wi-Fi and it’s even slower than the D-Link kit.
Netgear’s PLWNAS offers Wi-Fi capabilities at a decent price, but there’s no passthrough outlet and only one Ethernet port, and the performance is nowhere near what it should be.
Jim Salter contributed to previous versions of this guide.
Dong Ngo, No Wi-Fi at that Corner? Get a Pair of Powerline Adapters!, Dong Knows Tech, March 28,
Powerline Charts, SmallNetBuilder
Tim Higgins, SmallNetBuilder's Powerline FAQ - , SmallNetBuilder, July 20,
Tim Higgins, How We Test Powerline Products, SmallNetBuilder, November 14,
Tim Higgins, How To Troubleshoot Your Powerline Network, SmallNetBuilder, July 6,
About your guide
Joel Santo Domingo is a senior staff writer covering networking and storage at Wirecutter. Previously he tested and reviewed more than a thousand PCs and tech devices for PCMag and other sites over 17 years. Joel became attracted to service journalism after answering many “What’s good?” questions while working as an IT manager and technician.
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