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TP-Link Powerline Adapter Comparison: 200Mbps vs. 500Mbps

By January 11, 2014 11 Comments

This week I was sent a pair of TP Link TL-PA551KIT 500Mbps Powerline Adapters so I thought I’d put them through their paces and compare them to the cheaper 200Mbps TL-PA211KIT Powerline Adapters which I’ve had in place for the last 2 years or so.

I’ve been a big fan of Powerline adapters since I bought my first pair over 2 years ago. If you’re not sure what they are, they use your home’s existing electrical wiring to send your network, internet etc. from room to room so it’s a great alternative (or addition to) WiFi – especially if you have hard-to-reach areas or a home office where you have a switch and several devices that all need connecting.

I like powerline adapters because they take all of about 30 seconds to install and set up and they give you (nearly) as good performance as you’d get by running actual ethernet cable around your house, but without any drilling, painting and redecorating required! Plus they’re completely portable so if you rearrange your house all you need to do is unplug and move them – you can’t say that about hardwired network cables! OK, you obviously won’t get anywhere near Gigabit speeds but for the majority of home setups they more than suffice. I generally use 3; one in my living room into which I plug my Virgin Media SuperHub2, one in my office upstairs into which I plug a Netgear Gigabit switch, and one at the bottom of my garden in the summerhouse, into which I plug another wireless router to give full strength wireless at the bottom of the garden (great for music at BBQs, working from home in the summer etc.)

In the 2+ years I’ve been using Powerline Adapters, I can honestly say I’ve been able to plug them in and just forget about them. I’ve only ever used TP-LINK ones as these always seem to be the most popular online. I use Netgear kit for other things such as switches and my NAS, but I’ve read that Netgear powerline adapters seem to be problematic and need lots of attention, rebooting etc. – I’ve never had any issues like this with my TP-LINKs.

The main difference between the 200Mbps adapters which I had in place and the better 500Mbps models is obviously the (claimed) speed increase, along with the AC passthrough feature. This is useful if you’ve not got many plug sockets in your house and you’d rather not lose a socket to a powerline adapter. This also means that it’s easier to place the powerline adapter in a socket which uses better wiring (as there’s no reason not to – your other stuff can still plug in!) so that may also help you to get better speeds. The PA551 also includes a Gigabit ethernet port rather than a 10/100Mbps port – you might be tempted by the cheaper PA451 set but I’d avoid these as they don’t have a gigabit port. Obviously you won’t get a gigabit connection, but why restrict yourself all the way down to 100Mbps?

The first thing I noticed is that they’re MASSIVE! Look at this photo comparing the 500Mbps Passthrough model to the 200Mbps mini adapters!

The 500Mbps Powerline Adapters with AC Passthrough are much bigger than their 200Mbps non-passthrough counterparts

The 500Mbps Powerline Adapters with AC Passthrough are much bigger than their 200Mbps non-passthrough counterparts

Test 1: Internet Speedtest Without Powerline Adapter, and with 200Mbps and 500Mbps models

Most people using Powerline Adapters will be doing so simply to give wired internet access to a room in their house where WiFi doesn’t reach well. At home, I subscribe to Virgin Media’s 60Mbps package, and this is the speed I get if I connect directly (wired) into the SuperHub:

Internet Speedtest without Powerline Adapter

Internet Speedtest without Powerline Adapter

Not bad speed as you can see! So how much speed is lost when we connect through Powerline Adapters? Look at the results below…

With 200Mbps Powerline Adapter With 500Mbps Powerline Adapter
Internet Speedtest with 200Mbps Powerline Adapter

Not a bad speed, but as you can see the Powerline Adapters and my home’s wiring does drop the speed from 63Mbps down to just under 43Mbps.

Internet Speedtest with 500Mbps Powerline Adapter

Still a drop in speed, but a significant speed increase when using the 500Mbps Powerline Adapters and the same plug sockets.

As you can see, the faster Powerline Adapters do provide a faster internet speed and also a slightly faster ping. (These tests were done at different times, but in terms of network usage they were all done when the direct speed was giving around 63Mbps, to make it as fair a test as possible.)

Test 2: Local Area Network speed performance with and without Powerline Adapters

The next thing to test was how fast file transfers around the network with the faster powerline adapters. For this I used LAN Speedtest and tested the write speeds when writing a 10MB file to my NAS. The hard drives in my NAS aren’t the fastest of drives, but as it was to the same directory on the same hardware each time, it’s a fair test. I also made sure to use the same laptop (which doesn’t have a gigabit ethernet port) for all tests, rather than using my better desktop which does have gigabit ethernet.

200Mbps - upstairs on laptop writing file to NAS

LAN Speedtest Without Powerline Adapter

So, the speed to beat on my laptop is 81Mbps… let’s see how both the 200Mbps and 500Mbps Powerline Adapters do:

With 200Mbps Powerline Adapter With 500Mbps Powerline Adapter
200Mbps - downstairs on laptop writing file to NAS

With the 200Mbps powerline adapters, write speed across the network to my NAS drops down to only 36Mbps.

500Mbps - downstairs on laptop writing file to NAS

With the 500Mbps powerline adapters, although the write speed still drops considerably, it’s only down to 41Mbps which is a decent improvement over the 200Mbps models.

Test 3: Streaming HD video from NAS over Powerline Adapters

This test is harder to quantify, but anecdotal evidence is that when streaming HD video to my Samsung Smart TV from my NAS (with 200Mbps Powerline Adapters in between) I generally had to give up and not bother. So far, with the HD videos that I’ve tried streaming, performance has been generally good with only one minor stutter noticed so far (previously it was almost unwatchable) so I’d say that’s a pretty good result.

Conclusion: Which to buy, 200Mbps or 500Mbps?

It’s a no-brainer really, unless you’re on a really tight budget and you’re sure that you only need lower speeds. Get the 500Mbps models and make sure you get the ones with gigabit ports (you might as well, and they’re only a tiny bit more expensive). I’ve not been sent any Netgear adapters to test (yet?) so I can’t personally vouch for them, but these TP-LINK ones have performed excellently so far so I’d have no hesitation in recommending them!

Items reviewed in this blogpost:

Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul (@paulfp) is the main presenter of the award-winning Switched On Network YouTube Channel, which covers a variety of interesting topics usually relating to his love of technology and all things geeky. He also founded and runs Innobella Media, where he leads in all aspects of video production, video editing, sound & lighting. A father of 3 children including twins, his hobbies used to include photography, playing the drums and cycling. With a degree in Modern European Languages, Paul speaks French, Spanish and a little bit of Italian, and holds dual British & Irish citizenship.

11 Comments

  • kiooo says:

    Hi, i don’t know which powerline to choose. A 200mbps with gigabit ethernet port powerline or a 500mbps with fast ethernet port powerline. Which one is better?

    Thanks

  • Nathan says:

    the 500 is just like cabled connection the Combs is a tad slower but if you do a lot of downloads get the 500 the 200 is good for general serfing

  • Victor says:

    Thanks Paul. I use TPLink 500Mbps between my desktops in the study (upstairs) to the smart tv downstairs. The spark fibre tech will be moving me to UFB so the question is where to set up the ONT ? (near the tv) or in the study. By installing the OTN and the fibre modem on the Study, would mean my HD streaming on the TV would be impacted?
    your thoughts please.
    thanks

  • damiano migani says:

    Great article..
    I just got a TP-Link powerline adapter with wifi (TL-WPA4220KIT).
    it claims it has 500Mbps speed and 300Mbps via wifi.
    While checking in the specs the ethernet port provided is 10/100 (up to 100Mbps). I don’t understand what’s the point of offering any speed above 100 if ethernet can physically only reach that?
    Also I checked the speed to the furthest room in the house where i need signal, and the transfer speed is a mere 25Mbps (it takes around 6 minutes to transfer a 1GB file). while this might be ok for browsing, it’s quite slow for streaming HD video from one side of the house to the other..
    quite disappointing performance! any advice on how to improve the speed?
    Thanks!!

  • ray says:

    appreciate the post, easy to follow, good tests really helped make up my mind

  • Derek says:

    Hi, a very useful analysis, thanks. I have 3x Tp-link 200mbps in use. Will they interoperate with Tp-link 500mbps units? (I would use the faster speed unit for the router but appreciate that the speed would increase from the 200mbps units)

  • Derek says:

    Sorry, I meant the speed of the 200 mbps units would obviously NOT increase

    • Hi Derek,

      If you use a slower powerline adaptor anywhere in your network, all adaptors will drop to the speed of the lowest. So yes they will, but the 500mbps adaptor will drop to run at 200mbps. (And even if you have 2x 500mbps on a network which also has 200s, the 500s will talk to each other at 200, AFAIK.)

      Paul

  • Raj says:

    Thanks Mate. That was a detailed explanation and much appreciated.

  • Przemek says:

    Good article.
    Just one comment.
    In mixed environment adapters communicate with each other at maximum rate:
    – 200 {-} 500 – max speed 200
    – 200 {-} 200 – max speed 200
    – 500 {-} 500 – max speed 500

    Also in my house (3 years old, copper wires) I find 200 models more reliable. Especially these with dedicated socket.
    My favourite model is Hercules eplug 200 with 3 fast Ethernet ports.
    Speeds are up to 40mbps.
    I have already tested different configurations and models (Tp-Link, Sagem, Devolo, Hercules).

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