Need a better connection in an outside office or back bedroom? Make it easy with the best powerline adapters
The best powerline adapters are a must-have in 2024. After all, slow or inconsistent Wi-Fi is one of modern life’s most annoying minor problems, especially now that more of us work from home. Sure, you can get a great signal when you’re right next to the router, but what if it’s in a hallway or living room and you need Wi-Fi in a distant upstairs bedroom or an office in the loft or garden?
There are several options to explore, ranging from mesh setups that can spread coverage more evenly around the home, to upgrading to the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology for better performance at long range. However, the first isn’t always the most effective way to target a particular room or area, while the latter doesn’t work so well if the smartphones, TVs and other devices that you’re using only support the older Wi-Fi 4 and 5 standards.
This is where Powerline (or HomePlug) networking comes in, using the electrical wiring in your house as a conduit for your network. All you need is two or more adapters, one plugged into your router, the other plugged in anywhere else in your home where you need an Ethernet connection or a Wi-Fi signal. You might not get the speeds of a direct connection, but it will be fine for work and entertainment – even gaming – and you can expand the network as you go.
Best powerline adaptor: At a glance
|Best budget powerline kit
|TP-Link TL-PA7017 (~£25)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best value powerline Wi-Fi kit
|TP-Link TL-WPA8631P (~£90)
|Check price at John Lewis
|Best cheap whole-home powerline kit
|Devolo Magic 1 WiFi 5 (~£90)
|Check price at Amazon
|Fastest powerline and mesh Wi-Fi kit
|Devolo Magic 2 WiFi 6 (~£220)
|Check price at Amazon
How to choose the best powerline adapter for you
What are the different types of powerline adapter and what do the different standards mean?
Powerline adapters and HomePlug standards have evolved over the past ten years or so, and there are now several different communication standards promising different levels of performance. The most basic one you’ll find these days is HomePlug AV500, which streams data over the live and neutral wiring in your home at speeds of up to 500Mbits/sec, though these speeds are theoretical, to say the least.
More advanced models support the AV2 600, 1000, 1200 and 2000 standards, which use all three power cables (live, ground and neutral) to boost bandwidth to the maximum speeds indicated (which are also, needless to say, only theoretical).
Beyond that there’s one more standard – G.hn – with speeds of between 1,200Mbits/sec and 2,500Mbits/sec. G.Hn should be both faster and more stable, but has yet to become the industry standard, with some manufacturers sticking with AV1200 and AV2000.
Don’t get too hung up about the different standards; they’re all backwards-compatible and different adapters from different manufacturers will work together. However, mixing and matching can impact speeds and there’s no guarantee that a TP-Link adaptor will work seamlessly with one from, say, TRENDnet or Devolo. It’s safer to stick with one make where you can.
How fast do I need to go?
The transfer speeds detailed above may sound impressive, but they refer to theoretical capabilities, not real-world performance. The state of your home electric cabling, the type of cabling used, the design of the circuit, the distance between your adapters and interference from other appliances will all impact performance. In practice, you won’t get anywhere near the advertised data rates.
That being the case, it’s tempting to go for the fastest adapters you can get. But, as our reviews below indicate, different speed ratings don’t always translate to real-world performance benefits. If performance isn’t critical, you won’t lose a lot by saving some cash and going for a mid-range package.
What else should I look out for?
Basic powerline adaptors typically come with a single Ethernet port, but pricier models may have two or three, which can be very handy for kitting out a home office. Check that the ports run at Gigabit speeds – the powerline connection won’t give you the full benefit of all that bandwidth, but older models may only have 100Mbits/sec ports and that could bottleneck your connection.
Some adapters also include a built-in Wi-Fi access point, but – again – check the connection speed. Some HomePlug AV adaptors only support the older 802.11n/Wi-Fi 4 standard rather than the newer, faster 802.11ac/Wi-Fi 5. At the time of writing, no powerline adaptors support the latest 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 standard.
One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is security: the vast majority of powerline adapters use 128-bit AES encryption to ensure no one can snoop on the data packets travelling around your home. It’s worth checking to see if this is enabled by default, though.
Should I buy a powerline adapter, a Wi-Fi extender or a mesh Wi-Fi system?
Powerline used to be the most effective way to reach the more remote corners of your home, but there are now some very fast Wi-Fi extenders available that beat any powerline adapter we’ve seen for real-world speeds, and much the same goes for the faster mesh Wi-Fi systems. It’s also likely that, as support for Wi-Fi 6 becomes more common in smartphones, tablets and laptops – not to mention USB adapters – it might be smarter to invest in a new Wi-Fi 6 router, with a longer reach and faster speeds.
However, powerline still wins when you need to reach somewhere where a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system really isn’t practical. Much will depend on the materials and layout of your home, but if you’re trying to get an Internet connection in a loft, garage, basement or outdoor office, then Powerline could still be the simplest and most cost-effective way to do it.
How we test powerline adapters
We tested all the powerline adapters and wi-fi extender kits within the same three-bedroom detached home, using one adapter or extender unit upstairs and one downstairs, and running tests with a laptop and a desktop PC. The laptop has a built-in 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi 6 wireless adapter and Gigabit Ethernet, while the desktop PC has a 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi 6 adapter and Gigabit Ethernet on the motherboard.
We also moved one powerline adapter to an outside office and tested using a second desktop PC in order to check powerline performance in extreme conditions, where the home Wi-Fi network could not reach.
To test, we used a Western Digital NAS appliance connected by Ethernet to the router, then ran file transfer tests to measure maximum connection speeds. After the initial testing was completed, we continued to use the adapter or extender kit for a week or more in order to check network management and software features, and get a feel for overall reliability.
The best powerline adapters and kits you can buy in 2024
1. TP-Link TL-PA7017: Best budget powerline networking kit
Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at AmazonIt’s not always easy to find space for a chunky powerline adapter in your sockets, especially if you’re having to work around power adapters or 3-way or 4-way expansion sockets. Luckily, TP-Link’s nano-sized adaptors are genuinely tiny, yet the fastest version – the TL-PA7017 kit – still meets the AV2 1000 standard. This kit is easy to use, with the adaptors pre-paired, and basically plug and play. Adding new units is also simple, as TP-Link has stuck the Pair button right on the front.
Speeds are excellent, reaching 191Mbits/sec downstream and 183Mbits/sec upstream in the closer of our two test sockets, and 168Mbits/sec (both up- and downstream) with the connection stretched right across the house. That’s faster than we’ve seen from some more expensive kits, making this pint-sized duo look even more impressive.
Key specs – HomePlug standard: AV2 1000; Ports on the first adapter: 1 x Gigabit Ethernet; Ports on the second adapter: 1 x Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi: No; Mains passthrough: No
2. TP-Link TL-PA9020P: Best mid-range powerline kit
Price when reviewed: £80 | Check price at John LewisThe Homeplug AV2 2000 specification promises lightning-fast connections at up to 2,000Mbits/sec – but don’t get too excited. In our tests, this TP-Link kit actually delivered unremarkable top speeds of 103Mbits/sec upstream and 115Mbits/sec downstream.
Still, that’s plenty of performance for most file-transfer and streaming purposes, and the plugs themselves are nicely designed, with mains passthrough sockets, twin Ethernet ports and an upward orientation that provides easy access and won’t conflict with the skirting board. We also like the activity LEDs, which are discreet but clearly visible when you need them. And the whole thing just works, with zero setup needed – powerline networking doesn’t get much more straightforward or effective than this.
Key specs – HomePlug standard: AV2 2000; Ports on the first adapter: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet; Ports on the second adapter: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi: No; Mains passthrough: Yes
3. TP-Link TL-WPA8631P: Best-value powerline Wi-Fi kit
Price when reviewed: £80 | Check price at Amazon If you’re looking to extend your wireless network to a distant room or outbuilding, TP-Link’s TL-WPA8631P kit has you covered. It combines HomePlug AV2 1300 Powerline with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, for speeds of up to 867Mbits/sec on the 5Ghz band and up to 300Mbits/sec on 2.4Ghz. The adapters come pre-paired as a kit and can be paired easily with existing HomePlug AV2 equipment, while setting up the Wi-Fi is as simple as pressing the WPS button on your router then a button on the side of the adapter. The wireless unit also contains three Gigabit Ethernet ports, so it’s great for a home office or a PC or console gaming den.
We found speeds impressive, too, maxing out at 170Mbits/sec downstream and 201Mbits/sec upstream in the closer of our test locations, with 155Mbits/sec and 144Mbits/sec in the more distant room. The maximum Wi-Fi speed was 167Mbits/sec upstream and downstream, which should cover everything from 4K video streaming to large-scale backups to a NAS. And the icing on the cake? If you have one of TP-Link’s OneMesh routers, this kit can join the Mesh, meaning you can roam from one end of your property to the other without having to reconnect your device.
Key specs – HomePlug standard: AV2 1300; Ports on the first adapter: 1 x Gigabit Ethernet; Ports on the second adapter: 3 x Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi: 802.11ac; Mains passthrough: Yes
4. Devolo Magic 2 WiFi 6: The fastest powerline and mesh Wi-Fi kit
Price when reviewed: £220 | Check price at Amazon It’s certainly not cheap, but the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi 6 lives up to its name by providing a hybrid powerline/Wi-Fi 6 approach that should cover every nook and cranny of your home.
In the kit, you’re getting an Ethernet-to-powerline adapter, as well as one or more powerline-to-Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6 extenders. These work like a mesh system using powerline as the backhaul with data rates running at up to 2,400Mbits/sec over your mains and 1,800Mbits/sec dual-band over Wi-Fi 6. Of course, those are theoretical maximums, but you’ll still be getting far faster speeds than with any previous-generation (Wi-Fi 5) devices.
In our tests, we received well over double the download speeds in hard-to-reach areas with the Devolo kit. For instance, we usually get just 13Mbits/sec in the kitchen, which was boosted to 29Mbits/sec. That’s impressive, although much will depend on the quality and layout of your wiring.
The units themselves are chunky white plastic affairs, but each of them has a mains passthrough and setting them up is as easy as pressing a button, if you’re happy to go with the default passcode. Meanwhile, despite feeling rather dated, Devolo’s Cockpit app will help you find the best position for your extenders and even lets you set parental restrictions.
If you’re willing to look past that sky-high price, nothing will stretch your Wi-Fi further than the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi 6, especially if you have lots of think walls or an unusual layout.
Read our full Devolo Magic 2 WiFi 6 review
Key specs – HomePlug standard: G.hn 2400; Ports on the first adapter: 1 x Gigabit Ethernet; Ports on the other adapters: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi: 802.11ax; Mains passthrough: Yes
5. Devolo Magic 1 WiFi 5: A cheaper whole-home powerline kit
Price when reviewed: £120 | Check price at Amazon If funds can’t quite stretch to the full-strength Magic WiFi kit, Devolo offers a cut-down version costing considerably less. Instead of the fast 2,400Mbits/sec G.hn standard, the Magic 1 transfers data at G.hn 1,200Mbits/sec speeds.
Other than that, though, it works in pretty much the same way, combining the reliability of powerline network speeds with the flexibility of wireless access points and the bonus that all network devices benefit from the speed boost.
If your home isn’t particularly Wi-Fi friendly and you don’t have pots of cash to spend, the Devolo Magic 1 WiFi is well worth considering.
Key specs – HomePlug standard: G.hn 1200; Ports on the first adapter: 1 x Gigabit Ethernet;Ports on the second adapter: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi: 802.11ac; Mains passthrough: Yes