Powerline technology appears to have made some progress in five years. In a 2009 Tom's Guide article titled "Powerline Networking Nearly Fails Our Tests," the results showed in tests similar to those performed in this review such as the directory copy peaked at around 47 Mb/s. In this review, a comparable directory copy speed yielded double that throughput!
With Trendnet, ZyXEL and D-Link, we'd have a tough time recommending one over the others. They shifted positions frequently in our middle-performance tier. From an advanced configuration perspective, I'd lean toward Trendnet and D-Link, since ZyXEL's configuration utility software was more difficult to navigate. And if you have to choose between those two, based on a head-to-head performance battle, Trendnet takes second place more often than D-Link.
But our clear winner in every performance test is TP-Link. No matter where I moved the TL-PA6010KIT, throughput was highest through those powerline adapters.
D-Link DHP-600 AV
D-Link DHP-600 AV
To take a measure of powerline adapters, we have to realize that marketing numbers like 200, 500 and 600 Mb/s are really just theoretical maximums based on how each manufacturer implements the HomePlug AV specification. And those are PHY rates too, meaning that actual throughput falls in a much lower range.
Armed with this knowledge, we can more accurately gauge where we'd want to place powerline adapters in a home. The back of most powerline product guides typically recommend placing them in front of gaming consoles, smart TVs and other bandwidth-intensive devices. Watching a Netflix HD stream, according to the company's Internet Connection Speed Recommendations, takes 5Mb/s. Powerline adapters satisfy that requirement. And, based on the numbers we generated, these adapters can handle multiple HD streams at once. If I want to increase my Wi-Fi throughput, I can purchase powerline adapters to feed my gaming consoles and smart TVs so I can watch a Netflix HD stream on my tablet without downgrading or buffering.
So, where do we go from here? What if I want to send a 3D stream from my network-attached storage from one room in the house and watch it in another room? What if I want to watch 4K content on Netflix? Fear not. As the industry moves to reach one gigabit per second of throughput, we should begin seeing devices promising such speeds sometime in 2015. When that time comes, check back. There's a good chance we'll be doing another powerline adapter round-up. Until then, feel free to pass along your own feedback in the comments section below.
Matthew Matchen is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.