Best Powerline adapters of 2016

Looking for an Internet connection where your Wi-Fi won't reach? Look towards a Powerline adaptor. Here, we talk you through the different kinds of Powerline adaptor available, along with a selection of the best available in the UK.

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  • zyxel ZyXEL PLA4201 v2 500 Mbps Mini Powerline Ethernet Adapter
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Powerline adaptor buying advice: Which kind of Powerline adaptor should I buy?

So, you’ve set up a home office in the spare bedroom, or built yourself one in the garden. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new house with particularly thick walls. In any of those instances, Wi-Fi on its own probably won’t cut it. If your broadband router is in the living or dining room, or in the hall, getting a signal in an upstairs room or a cabin in the garden is going to be tricky. Even if you can get a signal, the chances are it will be weak and data transfer speeds will be reduced to a crawl.

The simplest solution is Powerline, also known as HomePlug – a standard which allows data to be transferred over the mains electricity circuit in your house or office. It works like this: you plug one Powerline adaptor into a power socket near your broadband modem router and connect an Ethernet cable between the Powerline adaptor and a LAN socket on your modem router. You then plug another Powerline adaptor into a plug socket near where you want to use your Mac.

From there you have three options. You can connect the Powerline adaptor directly to your Mac, if the Mac has an Ethernet port. But that’s rather inflexible and in any case, Macs with Ethernet ports are almost an endangered species. Another option is to buy a Powerline adaptor with a built-in wifi access point. That way you can connect to the local adaptor wirelessly, while data from the adaptor to your modem router travels over the power cable. The third option, which is both the most expensive and the most flexible, is to connect the Powerline adaptor by Ethernet to another wireless router and create a bridged wireless network in your office. By doing that you have more control over the bridged network, either by using AirPort Utility if the router is an Apple model, or from its web-based configuration page. You can also use the other LAN sockets on the router to hook up a NAS box, IP camera, or other network device that doesn’t have a wireless option.

The way you choose to set up your Powerline network will dictate which adaptors suit you best. If you go for options one or three, for example, you don’t need an adaptor with built-in Wi-Fi.

Read next: Which Apple Wi-Fi router should I buy?

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Next Prev powerline adaptor 1

So, you’ve set up a home office in the spare bedroom, or built yourself one in the garden. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new house with particularly thick walls. In any of those instances, Wi-Fi on its own probably won’t cut it. If your broadband router is in the living or dining room, or in the hall, getting a signal in an upstairs room or a cabin in the garden is going to be tricky. Even if you can get a signal, the chances are it will be weak and data transfer speeds will be reduced to a crawl.

The simplest solution is Powerline, also known as HomePlug – a standard which allows data to be transferred over the mains electricity circuit in your house or office. It works like this: you plug one Powerline adaptor into a power socket near your broadband modem router and connect an Ethernet cable between the Powerline adaptor and a LAN socket on your modem router. You then plug another Powerline adaptor into a plug socket near where you want to use your Mac.

From there you have three options. You can connect the Powerline adaptor directly to your Mac, if the Mac has an Ethernet port. But that’s rather inflexible and in any case, Macs with Ethernet ports are almost an endangered species. Another option is to buy a Powerline adaptor with a built-in wifi access point. That way you can connect to the local adaptor wirelessly, while data from the adaptor to your modem router travels over the power cable. The third option, which is both the most expensive and the most flexible, is to connect the Powerline adaptor by Ethernet to another wireless router and create a bridged wireless network in your office. By doing that you have more control over the bridged network, either by using AirPort Utility if the router is an Apple model, or from its web-based configuration page. You can also use the other LAN sockets on the router to hook up a NAS box, IP camera, or other network device that doesn’t have a wireless option.

The way you choose to set up your Powerline network will dictate which adaptors suit you best. If you go for options one or three, for example, you don’t need an adaptor with built-in Wi-Fi.

Read next: Which Apple Wi-Fi router should I buy?

 

Step 2 of 6: Powerline adaptor buying advice: Which kind of Powerline adaptor should I buy?

So, what other features should you look for in a Powerline adaptor? Data transfer rate is the obvious one. If you plan to stream video over the network you’ll want adaptors rated at at least 500Mbp. If you only plan to use the remote Mac for email and web browsing, lower-rated adaptors are fine, although you’ll struggle to find one rated at less than 500MBps these days.

If plug sockets are at a premium, as they often are, think about getting adaptors with pass-through plug sockets. That way you won’t lose a plug socket when you plug in the adaptor. It’s worth noting here that Powerline manufacturers recommend that you don’t plug their adaptors into multi-point power strips as it can cause problems with data transfer.

The only other thing to remember is that the first time you buy Powerline adaptors, you’ll need at least two, so it’s worth buying them in a kit. After that, you can add more as and when you need them – and they don’t have to be the same brand, because HomePlug is a standard supported by all manufacturers.

Read next: How to set up a NAS Drive

 

Step 3 of 6: Devolo dLAN 1200+ WiFi ac

Price: £159.99 from Amazon

If budget isn’t an issue and you want the fastest and most fully-featured Powerline kit, this one from Devolo fits the bill. It’s rated at 1200Mbps, the maximum the HomePlug 2 standard allows. Like all Powerline adaptors, however,  you won’t get anything like that in real world use. Expect somewhere between a quarter and a third of that speed. That’s still fast enough for streaming high definition video, however. 

The dLAN 1200+ uses what Devolo calls range+ technology, which uses all three wires in the mains circuit, instead of just two. Devolo claims this allows for longer range as well as faster transfer speeds. In addition to fast wired speeds, the dLAN 1200+ also packs the latest wifi tech; it has a built-in 802.11ac access point. That makes it a great option if you need to connect an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook to your broadband connection from somewhere its own wireless signal struggles to reach.

If you want the flexibility of being able to connect wired devices to the Powerline network, there’s good news on that front, too. One of the adaptors in the kit has two Gigabit Ethernet sockets. Use that one in the remote location, and you can hook up a NAS box or IP camera. Happily, the Ethernet sockets point upwards when the adaptor is plugged in, rather than downwards. That’s important because in adaptors with Ethernet ports pointing downwards, skirting boards can get in the way of trying to plug in the cable.

Yes, it’s expensive, but the Devolo dLAN 1200+ WiFi ac is among the best Powerline adaptors you can buy.

 

Step 4 of 6: Netgear Powerline 1200

Price: £64.99 from Amazon

Like the Devolo dLAN 1200+ WiFi ac, this Netgear has pass-through sockets, meaning you don’t sacrifice a power socket when you plug in the adaptor.

It shares a maximum theoretical throughput with the Devolo, too at 1200Mbps. As always, however, this really is a theoretical transfer rate and real world speeds are likely to be closer to 300-400Mbps – fast enough for everything you’re likely to want to do.

The Netgear doesn’t have a wifi access point, hence the significant price difference between it and the Devolo. And it has only one Ethernet port on each adaptor. They do, however, point upwards rather than at the floor. Both adaptors also have security buttons – you press the button on each adaptor to ‘pair’ them. This should eliminate any problems setting up the Powerline network.

The Powerline 1200 PLP1200-100UKS  does have handy indicator lights that change colour according to the health of your connection. If they’re green everything’s A-OK; amber, and the connection could be improved; red, and you have a problem. Place the adaptors too far away from each other, and the lights flash to warn you.

If you don’t need wireless access to your Powerline network, or you plan to hook one adaptor up to a wireless router in the remote location, the Netgear is a good, and reasonably-priced option.

 

Step 5 of 6: ZyXEL 500 Mbps Mini Powerline Adapter

Price: £31.70 from Amazon

At around £30 for a pair of adaptors, the ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps is excellent value for money. Choosing a budget option, however, doesn’t mean sacrificing a great deal of performance. Rated at 500Mbps, this Powerline set up will be fast enough to stream HD video and for almost everything else you might need to do. As with every other Powerline adaptor, the rated speed is a theoretical maximum and is much faster than real world speeds. This Zyxel has another limitation; the Ethernet sockets are 10/100 Base-T, meaning the ceiling on data transfer is 100Mbps. When Macworld’s sister site, PC Advisor reviewed this Zyxel kit, it achieved a maximum throughput of 94Mbps and an average of 68Mbps. That’s still faster than all but the speediest broadband Internet connections.

There are sacrifices to be made in terms of features, however. There’s no pass-through power socket, no wifi access point, and only one Ethernet port per adaptor. If, you plan to hook up a wifi router to the client adaptor (the one not connected to your broadband modem router), however, you won’t need additional Ethernet ports or a wifi access point.

On the plus side, the ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps is one of the smallest Powerline adaptors around and is remarkably neat, so it won’t stand out too much, nor cause problems by getting in the way of other plugs.

If you want a budget set up and don’t need the wifi access point or additional Ethernet ports, this Zyxel is ideal.

 

Step 6 of 6: BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit

Price: £64.99 from Amazon

The BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit is a mid-priced Powerline kit that is rated at 500Mbps. Like the ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps, it doesn’t achieve anything like 500Mbps in real world use and is limited by having Ethernet ports that have a maximum throughput of 100Mbps.

The  BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit scores highly in terms of features, however. It has a wifi access point and a pass-through socket on the adaptor that connects to your broadband modem router. That adaptor also has a second Ethernet port, so you can hook up a wired NAS, for example, as well as an IP camera or network printer. Both adaptors have status lights to confirm power and a data connection between the adaptors. The first adaptor also has a status light to confirm connection to your broadband router, while the second one as lights for each of its Ethernet ports and one for the wifi access point.

The second adaptor has two buttons on it – one for connection wireless devices using WPS and one for pairing the adaptors.

The most obvious downside of the BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit is the bizarre decision to make them black. This will ensure they stand out against white skirting boards rather than fit in as much as possible with the décor.

There is a mini version of the Kit, which won’t be as obtrusive but it doesn’t have the pass-through socket.

If you want Powerline adaptors with wifi and spare Ethernet sockets, the BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit is a good option.

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