Powerline Adaptors

I took a few minutes out the other day to make a hardware review video, and then promptly forgot about it until now.

I never do these, but I thought this was worth it as the item is so very VERY useful and I just geeked out about it.

It’s for the TP-Link Powerline range of adapter kits.

Here in the UK at the moment they’re on 50% reduction at Currys / PC World and you can just walk in and get a pair off the shelf for just £24.99 (~$40) or get them online on the Curry’s web site or their eBay store.

You might find them at similar prices in your country if don’t live in the UK.

A few years ago the Powerline technology was a bit flaky and unreliable and the adaptors were very expensive, but the prices have now come down a LOT and they’re also now very reliable.

What do they do?

They plug into a wall socket and use your house or office power wiring system to transmit data at 500mbps shared across all the adaptors you have plugged in.

Take careful note of my wording there.

Each adaptor has a single 100mbps ethernet port on it, so even though the adaptors talk to each other at 500mbps, each individual one communicates out to us at 100mbps. Remember that your network of adaptors operate at a *total* of 500mbps – I realise this might be a bit confusing.

To make this easier to understand, let me give you an example.

At home you might have four of them with one plugged into a wall socket upstairs, and another plugged into your cable modem / router and another in the living room and another one in your den or office…

The one in the living room and the one upstairs can talk to each other at 100mbps, as can the one in your office and the one in your router. Even if you maxed out the bandwidth between them one-way you’d only be using 200mbps available on the whole network.

In truth you could have say 20 of them plugged in all over the place, with them all talking to each other in total using the shared bandwith at 500mbps. Each adaptor then talks to the device it’s connected to at a maximum of 100mbps.

I *hope* that makes it a little clearer…

I bought them for two reasons.

a) To replace the wireless connection as our “blanket” connection.
b) To replace the cable I’d had to run through the house.

Here at my home office, I currently have one of them plugged into the wireless router out at the side of the house, and another plugged into a network switch here in the living room where I work during the day. I’m also reworking the box room upstairs to turn it back into a small office again as it’s currently full of junk.

I’ll plug another one of the adapators into the office up there and know I’ve got a rock steady and reliable 100mbps network connection.  :-)

Until a few months ago I was using a set up where I had several wireless access points throughout the house all set to repeater mode (it’s still in place now). This meant the whole house is blanketed in our wireless network and so we can wander around with a laptop, phone or tablet knowing that wherever we moved to in the building (and a little distance outside) that we’d have a strong signal without having to re-connect to different access points.

It had been pretty good for about 3-4 years and then in the middle of last year we started getting drop-outs in the living room, which was unusual because I’d rigged up a big aerial plugged into the access point to make sure we always had a good connection there.

Wondering what was going on, I scanned for local wireless access points, and over the 3 years or so since I’d checked it last it’s grown from 3 to 17 as all the ISPs had been routinely installing them in the neighbours houses.

No wonder we were having problems…

I first tried switching the wireless channel from 6 (default) to 11 (quietest one available for us) and while it was a little better, it didn’t make a huge amount of difference and we had to put up with losing our connection from time to time.

Very annoying when you’re trying to work.

In the end, just as the weather went cold and rainy here in September, I gave up on wireless and ran a very long 100mbps network cable from the router out in the utility, along the walls and through the kitchen and hall, and into the living room.

The connection went back to normal again, but now we had an unsightly cable tacked to the skirting, which I wasn’t happy with and it was my intention to run it outside the house and in through the outside wall when the weather warmed up again.

I don’t need to do that now.  ;-)

The cable is gone and we just have the two Powerline adaptors plugged in as I described above.

I have two more of these adaptors and I know that I can just plug one into the wall (or a power block) next to my laptop plug and then run a small ethernet cable to the laptop and I’m effectively plugged into the wired LAN.

If you’re in the same situation and you’ve been getting more and more wireless drop outs, or like I did you have network cable snaking around the house or office, then it’s well worth getting a few Powerline adaptors and improving your network.

You can still keep your wireless network like I did, but you won’t have to rely on it any more.

There’s a few other things worth noting before I sign off.

#1 – The Powerline system is an international standard. This means you can mix and match devices from different manufacturers and they *should* work with each other. I personally prefer to use the same manufacturer for my kit just to be on the safe side.

#2 – The adaptors talk to each other securely, and you can “pair” them up by pressing a button on the front. In practice I plugged four of them in and they all just started talking to each other immediately.

#3 – IF you plug them into a 4 or 6 gang power block, the block has to be non-power-surge protected. This is because the power surge protection filters out the communication signal between adaptors. (The block is only doing what it’s supposed to do.) So by all means plug your computer and other electronic kit into a power surge protected block (you *should* be doing that), but plug the adaptors into a different (unprotected) block.

#4 – They will talk to each other up to 300m (meters) away, but as far as I can tell from what people have said, the signal starts to drop off after about 50m. That’s still quite a long distance, and I can only imagine that you wouldn’t notice unless you were using a tool to monitor the throughput.

#5 – The adaptors need to be plugged into the same house or office circuit on the same RCD (Residual Current Device) in order to be able to talk to each other. So you can’t do things like plug one into your house and share the connection with your neighbour. Look upon this as a security feature as no-one can tap into your network from next door.  ;-)

#6 – There are some Powerline adaptors that are 1,000 mbps (1 tbps or 1 gigahertz) and others that also act as wireless access points. You will pay a higher premium for these. If you’re used to using a 100 mbps LAN then the ones I’ve described will work just fine.

#7 – Remember that the bottleneck in your LAN and out onto the internet will be your cable, fibre or ADSL connection. I subscribe to an “up to 120mbps” internet service but in practice I get 75mbps. That 75mbps is shared across the whole network. It’s more than fast enough for everything I want to do on the net.

#8 – Looking past the home office setup, you can also use these to connect any devices in your house such as game consoles, media players, Smart TVs etc. So that’s VERY cool!

In our house the kids (okay yeah, me too) are waiting for the Steam controllers to be released (supposedly April) and also the Steam boxes (supposedly September, although I’ll probably build one long before then).

I admit I’m quite looking forward to being chilled out of an evening in the utility while we use Steam in “Big Picture” mode.

And if you haven’t heard of Steam yet, you will, because my prediction is it’s set to demolish the console market over the next two years as everyone moves back to PCs again for their gaming, TV and movies.

You mark my words.  ;-)

-Frank Haywood


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2 Comments

  1. Hey Frank,

    Thanks for this review! I saw a similar gadget in our local department store here in NC, USA and thought to myself… that may be the way to go! But I didn’t have time to really read up on it at the store. Now I know for a fact I’m going to purchase this because my home is fairly large and like you I have to run cables and setup wireless access points.

    Question: Have you tried using one of these for a wireless access point?

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Roderick,

      Yep, the PC I was sitting at when I recorded that video (and where I am at the moment) is plugged into a 16-port network switch (sometimes there are lots of PCs plugged in here and cables trailing everywhere) which in turn is plugged into a wireless access point. The Powerline Adaptor is also plugged into the switch as is the PC next to me, and the Powerline Adaptor communicates with its brother a few rooms away and then through another wireless access point and into the cable modem and out onto the net.

      All the wireless stuff like phones, tablets and laptops are mainly connected to the wireless access point in here now, but will switch to others as we move through the house.

      As this wireless access point supports up to 64 wireless connections, then we could in theory have 80 networked devices connected through a single Powerline Adaptor and then across the building and out onto the net through the other adaptor.

      Upstairs is a similar setup but on a smaller scale.

      The great thing is, once everything is plugged in and turned on it just works. ;-)

      -Frank

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