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Zyxel PLA4201 Powerline Ethernet Adapter

Zyxel PLA4201 Powerline Ethernet Adapter Article Author : Ian
Date : 04-17-2013
 

Testing:

In this article, we’re using four PLA4201s with a maximum distance between the furthest adapters of ~10m (although internal wiring route could be double this). One is connected to a QNAP NAS, two connect PCs and the final adapter connects to a PS3. Before using powerline adapters, WiFi would provide an intermittent signal to the furthest PC and would make it impossible to play any form of online gaming.

The wiring in the house is fairly new and electrical equipment was operating as normal during the test (TVs, washing machine, etc…). As the signal piggybacks onto the internal wiring there will be a huge variation in performance between different setups, but this review should give a good indication of how the device will perform in a typical house. We used Totusoft's LAN Speed Test 1.2 to measure file transfer performance across the network.

An interesting point to note is that the transfer speeds didn’t vary too much throughout the house. When testing all of the powerline connections, the average file transfer speed was approximately 52.55 mbps (~6.5MB/s), which is much slower than the headline “500mbps” that users may assume is achievable. This is mainly because we’re already limited by the 100mbps network port on the adapter, but mainly because the 500mbps is a theoretical maximum derived from the IEEE 1901 specifications – which has no basis in realistic performance expectations. It is quite misleading for Zyxel to market these adapters in such a way (as it simply isn’t possible to achieve this speed in this implementation), but it appears to be common across many other powerline brands.

Ping times varied from 3ms to 7ms from powerline to powerline devices, so there’s very little latency introduced. Online gaming, video streaming and reliable file transfers were all possible now, whereas the previous wireless network couldn’t manage any of these things.

Conclusion:

The Zyxel PLA4201’s are very reasonably priced and have proven over months of use to be very reliable. The performance will be nowhere near that of a CAT5 wired setup, but as an alternative to expensive cabling solutions or limited WiFi, it does the job well. For general internet, streaming and moderate file transfer tasks, these adapters work very well. The only caution would be to not expect anywhere near the 500mpbs headline rate that you may have thought you would be able to achieve. If you’re out of options but need a cost effective way of creating a network of a large distance, these are an effective and reliable method.


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