Tag Archives: Wi-Fi

Best Powerline Adapters 2017

Powerline is a simple-to-install digital home technology that gets you faster speeds than Wi-Fi for connecting devices to your network, regardless of whether or not they’re in the same room as your router. It uses your home’s power lines to create a network that’s faster than Wi-Fi, and can create new Wi-Fi hotspots to boost your home’s wireless speeds.

Powerline adapters are usually a better bet than mere Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters that merely push an already weak signal further around a house.

Simply plug one powerline adapter into a power socket near your router and attach it to the router with an ethernet cable (usually supplied with the adapter kit). Then go to the room where you want to hook up a device, plug the second adapter into a nearby power socket, and connect another ethernet cable from that to the device you want to get online.

That’s it. It really is plug and play.

Some powerline adapters also have wireless functionality so they create a new Wi-Fi hotspot in that second room, too – so you get much faster Wi-Fi for your laptop, smartphone or tablet.

You should also consider adapters that have an integrated “pass-through” power socket and therefore don’t take up a valuable wall socket.

The cheapest powerline adapters are usually rated at 200Mbps, the middle-performing are around 500Mbps, and the fastest can go as high as 2,000Mbps.

You won’t actually achieve these speeds as they’re theoretical maximums, but they’re an easy way to gauge which models are fastest.

PC Advisor actually speed tests powerline adapters in real-world environments so check out our list below for our group test results and recommendations, along with links to our full reviews for speed scores and feature explanations.

For more information on powerline speed myths, tips and recommendations read our powerline FAQ.

Powerline house plan

Powerline adapter reviews

1.

TP-Link AV2000 2-Port Gigabit Passthrough Powerline

TP-Link AV2000 2-Port Gigabit Passthrough Powerline

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 14 July 16
  • RRP: £99.99, US$119.99

We were impressed by the real-world performance of the TP-Link AV2000 (TL-PA9020P KIT), which scored as high as we’ve seen in our tests. The inclusion of pass-through sockets and two Gigabit Ethernet ports per adapter are also welcomed. There’s no extra Wi-Fi hotspot function but if your house Wi-Fi is acceptable this isn’t the worst omission. If you want a fast Powerline starter kit with more than one Ethernet port plus pass-through this is highly recommended.

2.

TrendNet Powerline 500AV2 Adapter Kit

TrendNet Powerline 500AV2 Adapter Kit

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 5 July 15
  • RRP: £48, US$59.99

The TrendNet Powerline 500 AV2 Adapter Kit features some of the fastest Powerline adapters we’ve tested so far, and the Wireless Access Point option adds super-fast Wi-Fi for good measure. Of course we like the speed, which is the whole point of Powerline, but we were also impressed that the standard adapter had Gigabit Ethernet – although more than one port per adapter would have been nice. It might be basic in its single port and lack of pass-through socket and it’s a shame that the Wireless adapter kit, which does have two ports, is limited by the use of 10/100 Ethernet but you simply can’t argue with the impressive speed scores and we’ve seen the Wireless Starter Kit sell for under £50 so is incredibly good value.

3.

TP-LINK AV1200 Gigabit Powerline Adapter

TP-LINK AV1200 Gigabit Powerline Adapter

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 14 July 16
  • RRP: £79.99, US$96.99

The TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kits (TL-PA8010 KIT, TL-PA8010P KIT, TL-PA8030P KIT, or TL-WPA8630P KIT) match their rival Gigabit Powerline adapter sets in our real-world speed tests. We prefer the only slightly more expensive TL-PA8030P as it boasts three Gigabit Ethernet ports, compared to the TL-PA8010P’s single port adapters. If your house suffers from weak Wi-Fi consider the WPA8630P that includes functionality to add a new Wi-Fi hotspot in your house. If your Wi-Fi signal is acceptable you can live without a new hotspot, and the TL-PA8030P especially represents great Powerline value.

4.

Solwise SmartLink 1200AV2 HomePlug Powerline Adapter

Solwise SmartLink 1200AV2 HomePlug Powerline Adapter

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 10 January 15
  • RRP: £40.49 per adapter; £80.98 for required two

The Solwise SmartLink PL1200AV2 Passthrough PIGGY (why PIGGY??) HomePlug Adapter might have an over-long name but it is one of the fastest Powerline adapters we’ve ever tested. In a straight fight with its nearest competitor, the better-looking but bigger Devolo 1200+, it aced the speed tests by a whisker. It features two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a Passthrough socket just like the Devolo, but is a third cheaper. There’s no Wi-Fi model but pound for pound it’s hard to fault this super-speedy Powerline adapter. Don’t forget that you need two to make a network, and can add extra if you want to network other rooms, too.

5.

Devolo 1200+ Powerline Adapter

Devolo 1200+ Powerline Adapter

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 12 December 14
  • RRP: £119.99

The Devolo dLan 1200+ is one of the fastest Powerline adapters we’ve tested to date. It might not reach the dizzying speeds that it claims, but that’s true of all Powerline adapters out there. Its integrated electrical pass-through power socket is a real bonus, and the model with Wi-Fi and two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the second unit, if a little pricy, pretty much has it all.

6.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 5 September 16
  • RRP: £159.99

The Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender performed well in our real-world wired speed tests, but less so from a Wi-Fi point of view despite its unique external antennae that suggested it would be a wireless champ; Asus claims they will improve signal strength at greater distances than adapters with built-in antennae. This second adapter is also pretty large and therefore is less discreet than most adapters we’ve tested. At £156 the PL-AC56 is expensive (about the same as the Devolo 1200+ Wi-Fi but more than the TP-Link WPA8630P), but does boast all the bells and whistles (three Gigabit Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi, and a pass-through socket on the base adapter) of the latest 1200-rated Powerline starter kits, and so suits the top-end networking market well.

7.

Devolo dLAN 500AV Wireless+ Starter Kit

Devolo dLAN 500AV Wireless+ Starter Kit

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 21 November 13
  • RRP: £129

This Devolo powerline/wireless system is simple to set up – real plug and play. The best-case speeds reached over powerline were far from the claimed 500Mbps, but this is true of all powerline adaptors as much as Wi-Fi underperformance. The speed of this device will in part be determined by the unique wiring of your house, but our tests prove that speeds will likely be at least three times what you’d expect of your standard Wi-Fi when a few rooms from your router. The Devolo dLAN 500AV Wireless+ will be of particular use if you want to hardwire more than one ethernet-enabled device such as TV or Sky+ box, as it boasts three ethernet ports. Its wireless function means we still prefer the 500AV to the newer and faster 650+ Powerlines from Devolo.

8.

TP-Link AV500 Passthrough Powerline WiFi kit

TP-Link AV500 Passthrough Powerline WiFi kit

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 13 December 14
  • RRP: £89.99

The TP-Link AV500 Passthrough Powerline WiFi kit is a nicely priced, and speedy set of fully featured Powerline adapters. We like the number of Ethernet ports, integrated power socket and Wi-Fi hotspot. Our only word of warning is that these aren’t best designed for houses with low to the floor power sockets because of the placement of the second adapter’s Ethernet ports. Otherwise it’s a good choice.

9.

Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5221)

Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5221)

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 5 July 15
  • RRP: £29.99

While it lacks certain handy functions, such as the ability to add a new Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as features (more than one Ethernet port per adapter, for instance, and a Passthrough socket) the Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5221) is inexpensive, simple to set up, and performs adequately for most home uses. If you want faster speeds and all the bells and whistles look elsewhere, but we rate this starter kit as great value.

10.

D-Link AV2 1000 HD Powerline adapters

D-Link AV2 1000 HD Powerline adapters

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 20 August 15
  • RRP: £45

Both the D-Link AV 500 HD Mini and D-Link AV2 1000 HD Powerline adapters are well built, and discreet – you’ll hardly notice them. The AV 500 adapters were a little slow in our tests but about acceptable for most needs – and they are super tiny! The AV2 1000 HD adapters are a bit larger but were blazingly fast when tested, even beating a 1,200Mbps set of Powerline adapters! You don’t get extra Wi-Fi or pass-through power sockets but at these prices the D-Link Powerline adapters are great value, and will certainly speed up your home network.

11.

ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps

ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 November 13
  • RRP: £35.33

The ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps is a great-value set of Powerline adapters that performed excellently in our real-world speed tests. It’s the smallest Powerline adapter we’ve seen, and will blend into any home environment. It lacks Wi-Fi and has only one ethernet port on each adapter but it’s a real bargain that performs well.

12.

Netgear PowerLINE WiFi 1000

Netgear PowerLINE WiFi 1000

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 15 November 16
  • RRP: £99.99, US$99.99

The Netgear PowerLINE WiFi 1000 lacks multiple Ethernet ports on each adapter and doesn’t have handy pass-through power sockets. But it performed well in our real-world speed tests, especially with its second-room new WiFi hotspot. The base unit is nicely compact, and the second adapter looks the part with its two antennae. The price is reasonable for a Powerline with extra WiFi, but you can get cheaper (but not quite as fast) with a 500Mbps Powerline. If you don’t need more than one Ethernet port per adapter but do want to improve your house WiFi speeds the Netgear PowerLINE WiFi 1000 is certainly worth considering.

13.

Trendnet Powerline 1200 AV2 Adapter Kit (TPL-420E2K, TPL-421E2K)

Trendnet Powerline 1200 AV2 Adapter Kit (TPL-420E2K, TPL-421E2K)

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 7 November 15
  • RRP: £79.99, From US$59.99

Powerlines create fast home networks with the minimum of fuss, and the Trendnet Powerline 1200 AV2 Adapter Kit is one of the fastest we’ve tested. It is rather limited by its no-frills features, though: one Ethernet port per adapter and lack of wireless, but if you want just the basics at top speeds you will surely love this Powerline kit. It is available in two model: the entry-level TPL-420E2K, and the slightly larger TPL-421E2K, which features the handy pass-through sockets on each adapter.

14.

Netgear Powerline 1200 (PL1200 and PLP1200)

Netgear Powerline 1200 (PL1200 and PLP1200)

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 5 July 15
  • RRP: £69.99, From US$79.99

Powerline adapters are brilliant for making fast and simple home networks, and the Netgear Powerline 1200 models passed our speed and set up tests with ease. Of the two models we think paying extra for the PLP1200 with PassThrough sockets is worth the additional expense compared to the cheaper PL1200. Sadly both are rather limited by their no-frills features, though: one Ethernet port per adapter and lack of wireless mean these are relatively basic but will still make a huge difference to your home network and PC/entertainment download speeds.

15.

BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit

BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 15 April 15
  • RRP: £59.99

The BT Wi-Fi Home Hotspot 500 Kit performs brilliantly, offering the some of the fastest Powerline speeds over ethernet and Wi-Fi in our tests. There are faster 1,200Mbps-rated Powerline kits out there, but this is near the top of the 500Mbps-rated Adapter charts. It’s simple to install, is up and running in minutes, and both models offer two (non-Gigabit) Ethernet ports. Our only problem with it is its bulk and obtrusive black design (bachelor pad, anyone?), which may not appeal in your living room. The dinkier BT Mini Home Hotspot 500 Kit is much smaller but still black.

16.

TP-LINK 300Mbps AV500 WiFi Powerline Extender

TP-LINK 300Mbps AV500 WiFi Powerline Extender

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 22 April 15
  • RRP: £89.99

The TP-Link 300Mbps AV500 WiFi Powerline Extender is one of the fastest sets of Powerline adapters we tested. It’s not too big but offers both Wi-Fi and more than one Ethernet port, which is good for the prices we’ve seen it on sale for online.

17.

Devolo dLAN 550 Wifi

Devolo dLAN 550 Wifi

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 16 November 16
  • RRP: £99.99, US$129.95

The £99 dLAN 550 WiFi and £109 550+ WiFi add speed and range, plus a pass-through socket, to the older dLAN 500. In real-world tests they proved to be fast, and not so far off the top-of-the-range 1200+ model (£159). Adding a second Wi-Fi hotspot in your home is a welcome addition to the much faster wired speeds you’ll enjoy when downloading HD movies or playing games over the Internet. It isn’t at the cheap end of Powerline, though. If you can find it cheaper online, then it becomes a more compelling purchase. Also consider the less expensive £69 dLAN 550 duo+ Starter kit, which omits the extra Wi-Fi but boasts dual Ethernet ports and pass-through sockets on both adapters.

18.

Devolo dLAN 500 WiFi Network Kit

Devolo dLAN 500 WiFi Network Kit

  • Rating: ratingsratingsratingsratingsratings
  • Reviewed on: 21 November 13
  • RRP: £79.99

The Devolo dLAN 500 WiFi Network Kit is marketed as user friendly, and it’s certainly that. Set up is simplicity itself, and you’ll be up and running in minutes. The adaptors are unobtrusive and fit in well with the look of most homes. The Wi-Fi function is a real boon – doubling the Wi-Fi signal in our test house. The app and parental controls are also worthwhile features. While we never expected 500Mbps speeds the Devolo dLAN 500 WiFi wasn’t the fastest Powerline system we tested but it should be fast enough for most purposes. You can buy one set with the base unit plus one adapter for £79.99 or another with the base unit plus two adaptors for £124.99.

BT Smart Hub review

The new BT Smart Hub isn’t your run-of-the-mill ISP router offering. No, this is a major upgrade from its predecessor, the Home Hub 5, that’s a compelling reason for BT customers to recontract. Here’s our BT Smart Hub review.

See also: Best 802.11ac routers to buy

BT Smart Hub review: Price

Here’s the good part. The Smart Hub is free. Or at least it is if you’re a new BT customer: you’ll get a free Smart Hub included in your broadband package. If you’re an existing customer on BT Infinity 2, 3 or 4 and out of contract, all you need to do is recontract for 12 months you can get one free. However, as a reader has pointed out, you’ll only be eligible if you’re paying full price. If you have any discount for BT TV, Caller Display or anything else, you will have to pay £50, plus £8 delivery.

If you’re in contract but still want to upgrade, the Smart Hub will cost you the same (but this time reasonable) £50 plus postage, a huge £79.99 discount on the standard price of £129.99 that non-BT customers will pay. However, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will ever pay full price, as the Smart Hub only works with BT broadband, so you can’t buy it and use it with TalkTalk or any other ISP.

 

BT Smart Hub review: Features and design

The big upgrade Wi-Fi. Although the Home Hub 5 has 802.11ac, the Smart Hub (which really should be called the Home Hub 6) has the latest version of 802.11ac which BT calls ‘wave 2’.

Without getting too bogged down with the technicalities, BT has brought its router up to date by adopting the Wi-Fi tech that’s also offered by the main players in the home router world such as Linksys, D-Link and others.

BT Smart Hub review 

The Smart Hub has more antennae – seven to be precise – which generate better Wi-Fi coverage – and it also supports MU-MIMO. Unfortunately this isn’t switched on yet, but will be in a future software update.

 

Those updates are installed automatically, and only when you’re not using the internet. So MU-MIMO will be enabled without you having to do anything. It’s worth noting that there aren’t all that many devices which support MU-MIMO, but it will be a standard feature soon. The Nexus 5X, Galaxy S7, Nexus 6P and the Microsoft Lumia 950 (and XL) all have MU-MIMO compatible Wi-Fi, and you’ll really see a benefit when using multiple these simultaneously.

 

You may think the Smart Hub’s styling is bland, but plenty of thought has gone into the design. For one thing, it has the same upright form factor as its predecessors. This is ideal for placing on a shelf or table as it has a small footprint. It also has ports and connectors in the same places as the previous few Hubs, so you can easily upgrade – the Hub 5’s power supply is the same so swapping over takes less than a minute.

 

Since no user details are needed, the hub will automatically connect to BT’s servers and you’ll have Internet access a couple of minutes later. (As mentioned above, you can’t use the Smart Hub with other providers: it’s preset for BT’s services.)

 

The thin design also means the package should fit through your letterbox, and while we wouldn’t usually mention packaging in a review, the Smart Hub’s box is recyclable and has instructions for fitting your old hub in it, and includes an address label so you can post your Hub 4 or 5 back to BT for recycling totally free.

 BT Smart Hub review

Around the back you have a quartet of Gigabit Ethernet and, a USB 3 port for printers, storage or even power for other USB gadgets, and an RJ11 socket for broadband. Naturally, the Smart Hub supports VSDL for BT Infinity. The WAN port from the Hub 5 has gone, but few people will notice as virtually no-one will need it. (You can use one of the network ports as a WAN port if you do need it.)

 

As before, there’s a removable card with the Hub’s Wi-Fi network details and admin password. It’s good that every BT router uses different details, rather than some ISP routers which still ship with the same default username and password for admin access. 

Usefully, the button – for Wi-Fi setup using WPS – is on the opposite side to the removable card so you won’t accidentally press it when taking out the card.

If you do need to change any settings (there’s certainly one we recommend) then the user interface is easy to use. It has been improved since the Hub 5, with the main screen showing a series of purple boxes giving you a handy at-a-glance overview of broadband status, Wi-Fi status, connected devices and quick options for the router’s LED, which can be dimmed or turned off on a schedule – a thoughtful inclusion.

 BT Smart Hub review

The Broadband performance test button is a bit misleading as it simply links through to BT’s website rather than offering an immediate option to test your connection speed.

 

Clicking on any box gives you a more detailed breakdown, and you’ll need to enter the password to change anything in the Advanced settings section.

BT Smart Hub review

If you don’t fancy changing the Wi-Fi password on the phones, tablets and other Wi-Fi gadgets in your home to connect to the new router, it’s easy enough to change the Smart Hub’s SSID and password to match your old router: most devices will reconnect without any problems.

As well as the router, BT bundles in a few extras including parental controls, antivirus and at least 100GB of free cloud storage. Each time a new device connects the Smart Setup automatically kicks in – it’s easy to disable this from the router’s home screen in your web browser.

Although the settings aren’t as extensive as some routers, there’s still enough here for people who like to tweak. Most people will never need to change any settings, but you can assign specific IP addresses to devices, such as a NAS drive or network printer.

We recommend you go into the Wi-Fi settings and toggle the ‘Separate bands’ button. By default, the Smart Hub gives both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks the same name, so you never know which one your device is using. Although the Hub has an improved smart channel selection, it can be better to choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz yourself, especially if you’re having problems.

BT Smart Hub review

BT Smart Hub review:  Performance

It’s unlikely that you will, though, as the Smart Hub has by far the best Wi-Fi performance of any Home Hub – and most likely any current ISP router. Even without MU-MIMO enabled, we saw superb speeds in our tests, particularly using 802.11ac.

On 2.4GHz, we saw 85Mbit/s at 2m, and 28Mbit/sec two floors above the router. By comparison, the Hub 5 could only manage 34- and 21Mbit/s respectively.

In our long range test, through two walls and 30m away, the Hub 5’s speed dropped to 10.8Mbit/s and the signal was very weak. The Smart Hub’s signal was still pretty good, and it still achieved 21.4Mbit/s at this range.

Switching to 5GHz, the Smart Hub maxed out out Acer laptop’s Wi-Fi capabilities, so we installed a TP-Link 802.11ac USB adaptor. At 2m, the Smart Hub sped up to 239.5Mbit/s and was still delivering 220Mbit/s two floors up. Highly impressive. (The Hub 5’s speeds were 88.9- and 19.3Mbit/s.)

At long range, the Hub 6 was able to transfer at 31Mbit/s compared with the Hub 5’s 8.3Mbit/s.

While we didn’t extensively test the USB port’s capabilities, it’s worth noting that there’s no security for any devices connected: if you give someone your Wi-Fi password they would be able to access the contents of a USB hard drive. It’s a shame there’s no separate guest network, although as with all BT routers, there is the separate Fon network which guests can sign into using their own BT username and password.

Read next: How to improve Wi-Fi in your home

BT Smart Hub: Specs

  • Wireless protocols: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Radio bands: 2.4 & 5 GHz
  • Antennae: 7 internal
  • Modem: ADSL, ADSL2+, VSDL
  • WAN port: None
  • LAN port: 4x Gigabit
  • USB: 1 x USB 3.0
  • Wireless protocols: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Radio bands: 2.4 & 5 GHz
  • Antennae: 7 internal
  • Modem: ADSL, ADSL2+, VSDL
  • WAN port: None
  • LAN port: 4x Gigabit
  • USB: 1 x USB 3.0

OUR VERDICT

Upgrading to the Smart Hub is a no brainer, especially if you’re out of contract and aren’t planning to move to another broadband provider as it’s free. While it may struggle to provide a strong Wi-Fi signal in the largest houses with thick stone walls, it will fix Wi-Fi blackspots in the majority of normal-sized homes without having to resort to Wi-Fi range extenders or power line adapters. It’s still easy to recommend at £50 for BT customers already in a contract.

Synology RT1900ac review

For technology enthusiasts the name Synology is, aptly, synonymous with Network Attached Storage. The company has offered a string of well regarded NAS drives for many years. What it’s not known for, however, is routers, but with the RT1900ac it’s clearly looking to change that.

Also see: Best Black Friday Deals

One of the strengths of Synology’s NAS drives has always been its software, so that’s one area that we hope is carried over into this new arena. As its name suggests, the Synology router offers a maximum theoretical throughput of 1900Mb/s – 1300Mb/s at 802.11ac 5GHz, and up to 600MHz at 802.11n 2GHz. Of course, real-world speeds are much lower than this, but for an AC1900 router the Synology is one of the less expensive in its class. But is it a performance bargain?

See also: Best routers to buy now

Synology RT1900ac review: Price

You can buy the RT1900ac for £125 from Box.co.uk. It’s by no means the cheapest 802.11ac router – try the TP-Link Archer C7 for under £80 – but the RT1900ac isn’t your average router, as we’ll see. Just remember that it doesn’t have a built-in modem, so it won’t connect directly to a phone line for ADSL broadband. 

Synology RT1900ac review: Design

Taking the Synology out of the box, the first thing that we noticed is that it’s quite small, which is a pleasant change. So many routers these days are excessively large and will be conspicuous in many homes, but Synology’s RT1900ac is pleasingly compact. At the rear there are the standard four Ethernet connections and a single WAN socket for hooking up to your modem – this doesn’t have one built in so you’ll need to supply your own. The router supplied by your ISP will normally do.

Synology RT1900ac review

On the right of the Synology there’s a single USB 3.0 port and a SD card slot providing on-board storage for media playback over the network. On the other side there’s a button for enabling WPS – so you can connect to devices such as Wi-Fi enabled printers without having to mess around with passwords and there’s also a switch for turning Wi-Fi on or off, without having to delve into the interface.

There are three small antennas at the rear – a modest number these days, reflecting its specification as a 3×3 MIMO dual-band router. In standard mode it offers up to one single SSID to the user and automatically assigns a device to a band, but you can separate them out if you wish, which is what we did for testing.

Synology RT1900ac review

Synology RT1900ac review: Interface

Set up on the Synology proved straightforward, and when you login you’re rewarded with an interface called the Synology Router Manager (SRM). This is essentially a mini-OS for your router contained within a browser. It’s clean, simple looking but powerful, with many features. It is also very easy to use.

Synology RT1900ac review

The status page on the router displays graphs that let you see your upload and download activity and from here you can perform the regular functions you’d expect such as port forwarding and setting up your SSIDs. These can be separated out into 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, which we did for testing, or combined into one SSD with the router automatically assigning devices to the most suitable frequency depending on their capabilities.

There are parental controls built in that let you set a safe search level providing filtering of web content. You can also set network access times on a per device basis, so you can apply these filters to your children’s devices without it affecting yours. You can also easily ban devices from the network.

Synology RT1900ac review

From the same interface you can enable ‘Beamforming’, an 802.11ac feature that will direct Wi-Fi signals directly from the router to where a device is located, enhancing signal strength and performance, but only to compatible devices over 5GHz.

We also appreciated small touches such as being able to turn off the LEDs should you not wish to be distracted by the many (too many)  lights on the front.

The real power of the SRM is that it enables you to download apps or ‘packages’ – essentially small programs that run directly on the router. These include a Download Station, so you can download P2P files directly to the device and a DLNA compatible Media Server package, so you can store content on USB or SD card and play it over the network without even having to attach an external hard disk or NAS drive. A USB drive connected to the router will appear as a ‘Synologyrouter’ network share in Windows and you can even set privileges for access to files and folders over the network. It all works very well.

Synology RT1900ac review

Other packages available enable you to turn your router into a DNS server, a VPN server or use it to access files remotely using Cloud station.

We were impressed by the Synology’s SRM software and it all ran smoothly thanks to the ARM cortex A9 processor that powers the router.  We would expect functionality to be further enhanced over time, and during our testing there were two firmware updates made available.

Synology RT1900ac review: Performance

Initially we were disappointed by the performance results from the Synology, but fortunately after a firmware update things seemed to sort themselves out and we achieved much better results.

We tested with the network tool Jperf to drive as much traffic as we could through the network using 10 streams at once with a 512Kb buffer. Our first test was from a laptop acting as the server to a desktop PC equipped with a 4×4 MIMO radio in the form of the Asus PCE-AC88.

With this set up at 5 GHz we saw a maximum average of 680 Mb/s, faster than the TP-Link Archer VR2600 and second only to the very expensive, and large, Linksys EA9500, which hit 729Mb/s.  At 2.4 GHz the performance was less impressive  at just 124Mb /s.

With the PC switched to the be server and moving around with a laptop as the client we tested both with the integrated 2×2 Wi-Fi and a D-Link DWA-192 3×3 MIMO USB adaptor, in order to maximise performance. With the latter at 5 GHz achieved 534 MB/s, compared to  317 Mb/s from the integrated chip . This is less however than we’ve seen from other routers to the 2×2 integrated chip.

Surprisingly, when we moved upstairs we saw an improved performance – 259 Mb/s at 2.4GHZ and 408 MHz at 5 GHz. However, when we tested with the D-Link the performance dropped to unexpectedly poor levels.

This was indicative of slightly inconsistent performance we saw from the Synology over our testing time. Most of the time it was very fast, but on occasion it would slow up unexpectedly – and we did find that the 5 GHz network would drop out occasionally so we’d have to manually switch to 2.4 GHz to get back online.

These were untypical however, and most of the time the Synology proved a speedy network tool. Running LAN Speed Test we saw a decent 161 Mb/s to a USB 3.0 drive connected to the router.

Synology RT1900ac: Specs

  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 1900ac router
  • Dual-band 3×3 MIMO
  • Dual-core 1GHz
  • 256MB DDR3 RAM
  • External antennae x3
  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1x USB 3.0, 1x SD card
  • Dimensions: 206 x 160 x 66mm
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 1900ac router
  • Dual-band 3×3 MIMO
  • Dual-core 1GHz
  • 256MB DDR3 RAM
  • External antennae x3
  • 4x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1x USB 3.0, 1x SD card
  • Dimensions: 206 x 160 x 66mm

OUR VERDICT

The Synology RT1900ac is a very good router marred slightly by occasionally inconsistent performance and occasional 5 GHz dropouts. That aside, performance is very good, which is impressive considering its compact size. It doesn’t feature cutting-edge tech such as MU-MIMO, but that’s still a work in progress and there are still very few phones and other Wi-Fi devices that can take advantage of it. Its reasonable price also works in its favour. But if you want to share files across the network, and even access them remotely, without forking out on a NAS, then the Synology RT1900ac will do the job. 

TP-Link Talon AD7200 Review: The first 802.11ad router

Not everyone has migrated to 802.11ac Wi-Fi yet, but the pace of technological change is sufficiently relentless that 802.11ad is already upon us.

First out of the starting blocks is TP-Link with the Talon AD7200 router, a design that is backwards compatible with the existing 802.11ac technology that you’ll find in our round-up of the best routers, but also supporting the new ultra-high speed 802.11ad mode.

What is 802.11ad?

Before we get into the details of the TP-Link Talon AD7200, it’s important to understand what 802.11ad offers above and beyond existing 802.11ac.

Where its predecessor delivered dual channel operations on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, 802.11ad now adds the 60GHz frequency range, enabling potentially triple channel connections along with MU-MIMO.

What you, the owner of a dual-band router, may have already realised is that where 5GHz gives you speed, 2.4GHz has greater range. Continuing that trend graph, 60GHz delivers even greater speeds than 5GHz, sacrificing even more range to do so.

So here’s the bad news: 802.11ad’s range is just 30ft and you need to be much closer than that if you want the very best speeds.

The signal doesn’t like travelling through solid objects (or air, to be honest), so this is a technology that’s essentially bound to a single room.

That limitation makes home use a better fit than the office, where distance and obstructions are a more commonplace challenge.

The most often quoted use is to stream 4K video to an 802.11ad enabled TV. Though, it’s worth pointing out that very few TV have it, and unless it’s uncompressed 4K video (there isn’t much of that around unless you recorded it yourself) the bandwidth available in 802.11ac is more than enough to achieve that feat at short range.

In this tortoise-and-hare race, 802.11ad is blinding quick at the start, but utterly exhausted before the first bend.

TP-Link Talon AD7200: UK Price and Availability

Being the first 802.11ad router has made the Talon very desirable. The pricing strongly reflects that, being high and likely to remain so until those with a new technology obsession have been fully satiated.

You can buy the Talon for £329.99 from Amazon UK, and from Amazon US for $349.99.

TP-Link Talon AD7200: Features and Design

TP-Link Talon AD7200

On the outside the Talon AD7200 is almost identical to TP-Link’s AC5400 model, resembling Darth Vader’s favourite coat hanger.

There are no fewer than eight folding antennae positioned around its edge. Being 23cm square and 4.5cm high, this isn’t a router you can easily hide or even have the option to try.

Along the front are a series of blue LEDs that indicate what services are functional along with WPS and Wi-Fi disable buttons. At the back are all four gigabit Ethernet ports, single WAN and two USB 3.0 ports, leaving the sides entirely unused.

Currently, the Talon AD7200 comes exclusively as a cable router that requires a separate ADSL modem for those with those connections.

TP-Link Talon AD7200

Setting up the router is relatively painless. Once you’ve connected it to the cable modem and powered up, three distinct SIDs appear. One for each frequency range. Depending on the SID you choose, you can get 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, 1733Mbps on the 5GHz band, and 4600Mbps on the new 60GHz band, according to TP-Link.

That makes the Talon AC2600 spec, for 802.11ac clients, but the real magic is the huge amount of bandwidth available to the 60GHz range, should you be lucky enough to have an 802.11ad network adapter.

On 60GHz there are only three channels, though because of the relatively poor range, finding any channel already occupied is highly unlikely.

As router firmware goes, the Talon’s does just enough for the majority of users without being overly complicated. A nice feature is that you can define guest SIDs on 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, avoiding the need to change the standard password or provide it to your guests.

TP-Link Talon AD7200 review

TP-Link Talon AD7200: Performance

TP-Link makes much of the headline 7.2Gbps performance on tap, but it doesn’t take much effort to burst that bubble. Specifically, where is that 7.2Gbps per second data coming from?

The four gigabit Ethernet ports don’t add up to that much, and including the performance of the two USB 3.0 ports doesn’t inject that missing bandwidth. The router also doesn’t support bonding Ethernet ports, in any case.

Two 802.11ad clients could talk, but then they’d each be getting a slice of the 4.6Gbps that the 60GHz channels deliver of the total 7.2Gbps package, delivering a maximum of 2.3Gbps each.

Channel bonding 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 60GHz together is theoretically possible, should the client’s 802.11ad Wi-Fi adaptor support that. The test environment provided by TP-Link didn’t, leaving that as just a theory.

While 60GHz data transfers are undoubtedly better than anything 802.11ac could achieve in specific situations, that is only when the client is alongside the router. Sitting an 802.11ad-equipped laptop beside the router, the adaptor can report a whopping 3.0Gb/s link, but retreating 2m drops that to 2.3Gb/s, and by 5m it’s down to just 385Mb/s.

Go much beyond 5m or behind any physical obstruction and the 60GHz connection ceases, entirely. The strategy should be that as you move away from the router is would automatically downgrade you to 5GHz and then eventually to 2.4GHz.

At the point where 802.11ad dropped to 385Mb/s, an 802.11ac adaptor was reporting a 780Mb/s connection with the Talon. Therefore, frequency hops should ideally take place long before the 60GHz connection is broken, with the perfect transition being close to 15ft.

However, these are connection speeds reported by the wireless adapter, but testing actual throughput is an even more sobering experience.

Transferring a 2.3GB file (2,347,879,238 bytes) from the SSD drive of a PC (connected to the router via Gigabit Ethernet) to a laptop equipped with 802.11ad took 22 seconds, or roughly 834Mb/s (104MB/s). That value is so close to the maximum achievable by Gigabit Ethernet that it’s most likely what we’re seeing, and not what the Talon 802.11ad could truly transfer.

Eliminating that by using the Talon’s USB 3.0 ports and a mobile SSD drive as the source didn’t result in any improvement, but a slight decline. A read speed of more than 100MB/s for the USB 3.0 port is decent by router port standards, though only a third of what the connected SSD was capable.

It transpired that only way to see the speed that the Talon can truly do is to use the iperf, a tool for measuring throughput, generated exclusively between the router and the client.

By using this methodology, it is possible to see 1,800Mb/s or even higher speeds if the client is within 1m of the router.

And that’s the caveat here. Because the only realistic means to see true 802.11ad performance is by connecting two Wi-Fi clients across the 60GHz band, as there isn’t enough bandwidth in any other configuration.

For those not exclusively committed to 802.11ad, the Talon is thankfully of the best 802.11ac routers around. It achieved excellent scores on both multi-client MU-MIMO and singly connected 5GHz devices, comparable with the best AC2600 routers available.

Therefore, adding 802.11ad hasn’t made the Talon poor at 802.11ac connectivity, as the two are effectively segmented.

While this is desirable, the Talon is almost double what a decent AC2600 spec cable router costs, and therefore buying one to use it for 802.11ac is very poor value for money.

TP-Link Talon AD7200: Specs

  • Wireless protocols: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ad
    Radio bands: 2.4, 5 & 60 GHz
    Claimed speeds: 60GHz: Up to 4600Mbps, 5GHz: Up to 1733Mbps, 2.4GHz: Up to 800Mbps
    Modem: None
    WAN port: 1x Gigabit
    LAN port: 4x Gigabit
    USB: 1 x USB 3.0
  • Wireless protocols: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ad
    Radio bands: 2.4, 5 & 60 GHz
    Claimed speeds: 60GHz: Up to 4600Mbps, 5GHz: Up to 1733Mbps, 2.4GHz: Up to 800Mbps
    Modem: None
    WAN port: 1x Gigabit
    LAN port: 4x Gigabit
    USB: 1 x USB 3.0

OUR VERDICT

With almost no 802.11ad devices available, and their very limited uses when they do turn up, the cynical might wonder if this Wi-Fi tail is wagging the digital networking dog.
While this isn’t quite the Pre-N rush for the sales buffet, the market isn’t remotely ready for widespread adaptation of this technology or even agreed what the practical use arguments are.
Most Talon owners will be on 802.11ac connections initially, and therefore this is an expensive way to get that functionality or to be simply one of the first with 802.11ad technology.

Asus RT-AC87U review

This 4×4 MU-MIMO enabled wireless router delivers consistently strong performance. The interface is very good and there are plenty of settings for tinkerers to get their teeth into and – for the money – it’s an impressive router. Here’s our Asus RT-AC87U review. See also: What is MU-MIMO?

Also see: Best Black Friday Deals

The RT-AC87U has many claims to fame, Asus would be keen to tell you, including that it was the first router to offer a 4×4 antenna capability combined with MU-MIMO technology. What does that all mean? We’ll look at performance later but it indicates that the RT-87U should be fast, and very capable in homes with multiple wireless devices connected.

However, those devices will need MU-MIMO enabled Wi-Fi radios inside to take advantage of the feature. There are several new smartphones that support it, such as the Samsung S7, Nexus 5X, and Lumia 950, and several laptops from Acer, such as the Aspire V15 Nitro. No current Apple device includes it.

See also: Best wireless routers

Asus RT-AC87U review: Price

The fact that it’s been out for a while is good thing too, as it means that it has dropped in price. You can buy the RT-AC87U from Amazon for £159.99. It’s by no means the cheapest router, but this is a decent price for a second-generation 802.11ac router. Just remember that there’s no built-in modem, so you can’t connect it directly to your phone line – it’s best suited for cable broadband packages such as Virgin’s.

Asus RT-AC87U review: Features and design

The Asus RT-AC87U has a sleek angular appearance, thicker at the back before tapering down to a thinner edge at the front, which contains an array of flashing blue LED lights. A large button on the underside turns these off, which is useful if you don’t want the distraction of the disco effect. Be careful when you do, though, as next to this is another button that turns of the radios, thus switching off the Wi-Fi – it’s very easy to accidently press the wrong one – we did a couple of times.

Asus RT-AC87U review

There are four antenna sticking out of the rear (one for each stream of its 4×4 array), which indicates it means business, but subtle it is not. At the back are five Gigabit Ethernet ports, one of which is a WAN port to connect to your modem – there’s no internal modem here.

Overall, it’s a slick, futuristic-looking device which we didn’t mind having on show. The build does have a light, slightly flimsy feel to it, and one of the four antenna refused to stay at an angle and tended to droop, even after tightening.

Two USB ports are present – USB 2.0 on the rear and a USB 3.0 located under a flap at the front and the contents are shared over the network via DHCP. You can also gain remote access to these via Asus’ AiCloud smartphone app.

Asus RT-AC87U review: Interface

Delving into the interface and you’ll find a system that’s really superb. It’s well-featured but also very easy to use. Everything is clearly labelled and the whole thing is responsive – no doubt its 1GHz CPU system processor played its part.

You’ll find a Quality of Service settings, which enables you to give priority to a particular device on your network and it’s easy to order devices by drag and drop. And if you’re the type that likes to keep an eye on the data travelling over your network you’ll appreciate the information in the Traffic Analyzer section.

Asus RT-AC87U review

Enhanced security is provided by Trend Micro and alerts you to potential security vulnerabilities, though turning some of these off, such as DHCP, does mean you’ll limit the functionality of your router and we wouldn’t recommend it.

The advice about weak passwords was welcome. There’s also basic built-in Parental Controls, providing filtering for types of content and the ability to schedule when specific devices can access the network – perfect for stopping late night access to smartphone obsessed teens. Or spouses.

A link for the firmware setting appears at the top so you can go straight there and ensure you have the latest version running on your router. Other routers automatically update their firmware, though.

A supporting app is also available. It has a very different look and feel to the web interface but is easy to use.

Asus RT-AC87U review: Performance

To make sure we could see as much potential from the Asus we tested with a desktop PC equipped with the Asus PCE-AC88 – a PCIe Wi-Fi adaptor card with 4×4 MIMO capability. We used JPerf for Windows to generate data traffic. The Asus delivered with an average performance of 570 Mb/s over 5GHz and 150 Mb/s over 2.4GHz. We’d rate that as very good for real world performance, but we have seen even faster. It did comfortably outperform our standard Virgin Media Superhub 2ac router, which delivered an average of 416 Mb/s over 2.4GHz and 104 Mb/s over 2.4GHz.

We switched to a Macbook Pro Retina to test performance at a distance and saw an average over 5 GHz of 521 Mb/s at three metres – a very impressive figure, besting a much more expensive Linksys EA9500 and a TP-Link Archer VR2600. Moving to a floor upstairs saw average performance drop to 210 Mb/s over 5GHz– not quite as good as the 235 Mb/s we saw from the TP-Link Archer VR2600 but comfortably outperforming the Virgin Superhub 2ac.

At 2.4 GHz its result of 50 Mb/s was very good – if performance at a distance is important then this is a trump card.

To test MU-MIMO we lined up four laptops, each equipped with a MU-MIMO compatible Linksys WUSB6100M Max-Stream adaptor. Using this the most throughput we saw was 263.2Mb/s. For comparison we turned off MU-MIMO in the settings, and achieved 244Mb/s. In our tests then, MU-MIMO only delivered a 7.9 per cent increase. We ran the same test again with two devices connected and saw very similar performance. We got slightly better MU-MIMO from the TP-Link Archer 2600 and far more from the Linksys EA9500, which delivered 475 Mb/s. But it does also cost twice as much.

In the settings page, Asus has indicated that MU-MIMO technology is just in beta, so we’d suggest there is more work that could be done to improve its performance and as more powerful MU-MIMO enabled clients appear and firmware improves, this aspect will hopefully improve.

Asus RT-AC87U review: Benchmark results

Asus RT-AC87U: Specs

  • Model: RT-AC87U
    Type: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac router (dual-band)
    Antenna configuration (802.11ac): 4×4 MU-MIMO
    Modem: None
    Wired networking: 4x Gigabit Ethernet
    USB: 1x USB 3, 1x USB 2
    Antennae: External antennae
    Dimensions (WxHxD): 289.5 x 167.6 x 47.5mm
  • Model: RT-AC87U
    Type: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac router (dual-band)
    Antenna configuration (802.11ac): 4×4 MU-MIMO
    Modem: None
    Wired networking: 4x Gigabit Ethernet
    USB: 1x USB 3, 1x USB 2
    Antennae: External antennae
    Dimensions (WxHxD): 289.5 x 167.6 x 47.5mm

OUR VERDICT

The Asus RT-AC87U combines smart design with a simple to use but featured-packed interface. Performance impresses, especially over 5GHz and also at distance. From our tests the MU-MIMO feature currently only offers a small speed increase but as a package, for the money, this router is an excellent buy.

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review

Well-built and comprehensively featured, this second-gen 802.11ac wireless router puts in a good all round showing across both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz, making it a worthwhile upgrade over your ISP supplied router. Here’s our TP-Link Archer VR2600 review See also: Best wireless routers

Also see: Best Black Friday Deals

When it was first introduced 802.11ac introduced a significant increase in performance over the previous generation 802.11n. It’s now been standard for a while and the industry is moving rapidly on to what’s known as ‘Wave 2’ devices – those that support a new feature called MU-MIMO or Multi-User MIMO. It’s designed to make the most efficient use of the bandwidth that 802.11ac delivers, but enabling the routers to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. To take advantage of it client devices will need MU-MIMO enabled Wi-Fi radios inside them too. It can be found in several new smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, Nexus 5X, and Lumia 950, and several laptops from Acer, such as the Aspire V15 Nitro. However, no current Apple device includes it.

While rare as hen’s teeth not six months ago, there are now a good number of routers that offer MU-MIMO – including BT’s new Home Hub 5. If you’re looking for a branded alternative, then the TP-Link Archer VR2600 should be on your shortlist. It’s a 4×4 MU-MIMO router, claimed 1733 Mb/s of bandwidth at 5 GHz and 800 Mbps for 2.4GHz. It has a built-in ADSL and VDSL modem, making it compatible with BT Infinity, but it can also be used with Virgin Media cable connections, so you won’t be locked-in should you choose to switch broadband providers. Additionally, it’s compatible with 3G/4G dongles, should you be in an area without conventional wired broadband.

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review: Price

You can buy the Archer VR2600 for £174.99 from Amazon. If your broadband is supplied by BT, it’s well worth checking out its new Smart Hub, though – not least because most BT customers can get it for free. 

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review: Features and design

It’s a smart device, in both technology and aesthetic terms. The top half is housed in shiny black plastic that looks great to us, though dust will inevitably collect on it. A light strip runs down the bottom half of the centre, and above this, icons light up to indicate relevant connections.

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review

Down the side there are two buttons to activate/deactivate the 2.4 GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi networks and a USB 3.0 port sits on either side. Four antennae protrude from the rear.

Set up was easy and the interface has a stripped down minimalist look to it but everything we needed was easily accessible. From here you can enable guest networks – one for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz and choose whether to allow guests access to content on USB port connected devices and the local network.

A basic access control feature lets you whitelist or blacklist devices on your network and under the Parental Controls section you can schedule when those devices can be active on the network via an easy to use GUI.

Oddly we could see no way of auto-updating the firmware from inside the web interface but we could do so via the supporting smartphone Tether app – this indicated that we were running the latest firmware.

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review: Performance

Performance-wise the Archer 2600 left us impressed. We tested by hooking it up to a desktop PC equipped with an Asus PCE-AC88 – a PCIe Wi-Fi adaptor that offer full 4×4 antenna capability – and used JPerf for Windows to generate data traffic at a distance of 3m from the router. We saw average throughput of 597 Mb/s, which we’d rate as very good – though we’ve seen even faster. At 2.4GHz the result of 201.7 Mb/s was excellent, faster than the same test on an Asus RT-AC87U and a much more expensive Linksys EA9500, which got 82.1 Mb/s and 79.6 Mb/s respectively.

We then ran the same test at 2.4GHz 3m from the router on a Macbook Pro Retina using its built in Wi-Fi chip. Not as powerful as the Asus card, performance dropped to 114 Mb/s – still faster though than the Asus and Linksys. At 5 GHz the average throughput was 438 Mb/s.

Moving upstairs in our test house, performance dropped out quite dramatically to just 35.5Mb/s average at 2.4GHz, but the 5 GHz result of 235 Mb/s was faster again than the Asus and Linksys.

To test MU-MIMO we used four laptops, each equipped with a MU-MIMO compatible Linksys WUSB6100M Max-Stream adaptor. This gave us combined average throughput of 285.4 Mb/s. There is no option in the settings to deactivate MU-MIMO making it difficult to directly evaluate its effectiveness. To give you some comparison, the result though was a bit faster than an Asus RT-AC87U which gave 263.2 MB/s in MU-MIMO mode, and near double what we saw from the same four-laptop test from a non-MU-MIMO capable Virgin Superhub 2ac router. However, the Linksys EA9500 managed 475 Mb/s in the same test.

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review

TP-Link Archer VR2600 review: Benchmark results

TP-Link VR2600: Specs

  • Type: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac modem router (dual-band)
  • Antenna configuration (802.11ac): 4×4 MU-MIMO
  • Modem: ADSL 2+ / VDSL
  • Networking: 4x Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB: 2x USB 3
  • Antennae: External antennae
  • Dimensions (WxHxD) 263.8 x 197.8 x 37.3 mm
  • Type: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac modem router (dual-band)
  • Antenna configuration (802.11ac): 4×4 MU-MIMO
  • Modem: ADSL 2+ / VDSL
  • Networking: 4x Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB: 2x USB 3
  • Antennae: External antennae
  • Dimensions (WxHxD) 263.8 x 197.8 x 37.3 mm

OUR VERDICT

We hope MU-MIMO performance can also be improved further and 2.4 GHz performance at a distance was middling. Aside from these caveats we were impressed with the TP-Link Archer VR2600. If you can stick with 5 GHz channels all the better but if not, you’ll still have a very strong all-round performer. If you’re looking for a one-box solution to replace a BT Home Hub we’d recommend the Archer VR2600.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline starter kit review

The Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 is one of the latest generation of Powerline adapters that can be used to speed up TV/movie streaming and downloading, internet gaming, and other smart home entertainment and download devices in the home.

Powerline is a great, easy-to-use technology that creates a wired home network by using the electrical cables in your house. For more read What Is Powerline?

Read our Best Powerline Adapters round up to see how other Powerline starter kits compare against each other in terms of speed, functionality and design.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 review: hardware

The Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender is a fast 1,200Mbps (megabits per second) starter kit, with a smallish base unit that is connected to your Internet router, and a frankly giant (151-x-80-43mm) second-room adapter that you’ll connect to your Internet-hungry devices elsewhere in the house.

Remember that you won’t actually get speeds as fast as 1,200Mbps, as that is only a theoretical maximum speed. All Powerlines are rated at this maximum, but you’ll get nowhere near that speed. In your second room it will be faster than your current Wi-Fi you rely on, though.

The latest 1,200Mbps-rated Powerline adapters are a significant upgrade on the older 500Mbps Powerlines, and should also use Gigabit Ethernet rather than the limited 10/100 Ethernet that pegs back possible speeds to 100Mbps.

That second Asus PL-AC56 adapter looks like no other Powerline adapters we’ve seen. The second adapter has side-mounted external antennae that you screw in. These are to improve the Wi-Fi signals and range, and give it the look of one of the imperial cruisers from the opening scene in Star Wars.

This adapter boasts an impressive three Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections, plus a dual-band 2.4GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi hotspot.

The base adapter (with just the one Ethernet port) features a handy pass-through power socket so you won’t lose a wall power socket when you install the adapter near your router. It’s a shame that the second adapter doesn’t have a pass-through socket, too.

Asus PL-AC56 Wi-Fi Powerline

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 review: set up

As with nearly all Powerline starter kits set up is really easy – a real plug-and-play solution. Just plug the base unit (PL-E56P) into a wall socket near your Internet router and connect it with the router by one of the included Ethernet cables.

Then take the larger second adapter (PL-AC56) to a wall socket near your smart TV, games console, Sky box, Tivo, PC, etc that will benefit from the fast Internet connection made possible by Powerline. Where you place this adapter is also going to benefit from the new wireless hotspot it can create. The password for the Wi-Fi is printed on the back of the adapter so remember to make a note of it before you plug it in.

You easily can “clone” this new hotspot to your existing wireless network so it just seems to be part of the Wi-Fi you’re used to, but much faster, of course, as the signal comes from the Powerline adapter rather than far away in another room from your wireless router.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 review: speed tests

In our real-world testing environment we make three performance tests.

The first isn’t really a realistic setup as we place the two adapters next to each other in a dual wall socket. This test shows us how fast it could reach without any pesky environmental limitations found in all houses, which limits speed depending on many factors.

In this test the Asus PL-AC56 scored a respectable 357Mbps, slightly faster than the Devolo 1200 Powerline kit..

The second test is the most important as we situate the second adapter in a room two floors down from the loft-based router. Here the PL-AC56 reached a speed of 109Mbps – again pretty good for a wired connection some distance from the router. It’s a long way from the 1,200Mbps claim, but it’s entirely typical for any Powerline. Your house will be different to ours so you’ll likely see different speeds. And even these will differ at various points of the day.

The important thing is that our tests demonstrate that the Asus PL-AC56 is at the faster end of the Powerline scale, and works well.

Now, how about the extra Wi-Fi hotspot it creates. Time for test 3. Despite its external antennae we were less impressed by the wireless speed, a mere 57Mbps compared to the Devolo’s 75Mbps. The external antennae should, however, give that signal greater range throughout the house so the connection and speed advantages could be greater than those shown in our standard wireless tests.

Asus also sells a lower-rated 500Mbps-rated Powerline starter kit, the PL-N12 AV500 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender, which we tested to see how it fared against the faster 1200-rated kit. As expected from a non-Gigabit Ethernet set the highest speed we got I the first test was 96Mbps, compared to the PL-AC56’s 357Mbps.

In the real-world house test the PL-N12 scored 73Mbps, which is pretty decent for a 500-rated Powerline, but not as fast as its big brother’s 109Mbps. If you want to wring every megabit out of your home network go for the 1200-rated PL-AC56. If you are prepared to wait for your movies or TV shows to download then the cheaper PL-N12 will certainly save you money.

The PL-N12 also boasts the extra Wi-Fi hotspot, and at 53Mbps it was pretty much the same as the PL-AC56. We’ve tested faster Wi-Fi on other similarly equipped Powerline adapters. If the extra wireless hotspot is important to you, our tests suggest that there’s not a big difference between the 1200-rated adapters and the 500Mbps Powerlines when Wi-Fi only is tested.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 review: price

The 1200-rated PL-AC56 starter kit is not a budget buy at £159.99, although we have seen it a little cheaper online. The Devolo 1200+ Wi-Fi Powerline starter kit is the same price, and close to the Asus in performance. The Asus second adapter boasts one more Ethernet port but lacks the handy pass-through socket found on the Devolo’s second adapter, so it’s swings and roundabouts on features between the Asus and the Devolo.

But both look pricy compared to similar wireless 1200-rated Powerlines that are a bit cheaper – for instance the TP-Link WPA8630P Powerline at £124.99. This boasts the same three Gigabit Ethernet slots and Wi-fi functionality as the Asus but at a more reasonable price. We’ve even seen it on Amazon UK for under £100. In the US there’s less of a discount; it costs $165 on Amazon.com, but the UK price is a bargain for the functionality.

The 500Mbps Asus PL-N12 starter kit costs a more reasonable £69.99 (£64.99 on Amazon UK), but won’t give you the wired straight-line speed of the 1200-rated PL-AC56.

Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender: Specs

  • 1,200Mbps rated Powerline
  • three Gigabit Ethernet adapters on second adapter
  • Wi-Fi functionality
  • pass-through socket on base adapter only.
  • 1,200Mbps rated Powerline
  • three Gigabit Ethernet adapters on second adapter
  • Wi-Fi functionality
  • pass-through socket on base adapter only.

OUR VERDICT

The Asus PL-AC56 AV2 1200 Wi-Fi Powerline Extender performed well in our real-world wired speed tests, but less so from a Wi-Fi point of view despite its unique external antennae that suggested it would be a wireless champ; Asus claims they will improve signal strength at greater distances than adapters with built-in antennae. This second adapter is also pretty large and therefore is less discreet than most adapters we’ve tested. At £156 the PL-AC56 is expensive (about the same as the Devolo 1200+ Wi-Fi but more than the TP-Link WPA8630P), but does boast all the bells and whistles (three Gigabit Ethernet ports, Wi-Fi, and a pass-through socket on the base adapter) of the latest 1200-rated Powerline starter kits, and so suits the top-end networking market well.

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review

Routers are getting better and better when it comes to Wi-Fi coverage and speed, but it’s unlikely you’re going to want to shell out hundreds of pounds on a super router like the Linksys EA9500 if you can buy a Wi-Fi repeater for £50 or less. And that’s the aim of the Devolo WiFi ac Repeater.

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Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review: Price

At £49.99 from Maplin this 802.11ac range extender is expensive. Sure, Devolo says it will support speeds up to a theoretical 1200Mb/s, but TP-Link’s 750Mb/s AC750 costs only £29.99 from Argos.

A basic Wi-Fi repeater can cost less than £20. 

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review: How does it work?

Here’s the thing about Wi-Fi repeaters, or at least those currently on sale: only one Wi-Fi device can “talk” at one time. It might seem that your router is able to stream YouTube or Netflix to several devices in your home at the same time, but in reality, it’s sending data to each device in turn, and until both router and devices support MU-MIMO, that’s the way it will remain.

Wi-Fi repeaters are also limited in this respect. Because they have to receive the signal from your router, then retransmit it on the same frequency, they start with – at best – a 50 percent loss of speed.

Powerline network adaptors don’t have this limitation because they use your home’s mains wiring to take the signal from your router’s wired network ports to another room. Powerline kits which also include Wi-Fi create a new Wi-Fi network at that point: they’re not retransmitting a Wi-Fi signal from your router.

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review: Setup

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review

Like most of its rivals, the Devolo is very easy to set up. In theory, at least. You plug it in somewhere close to your router, and press the WPS button on both devices. On the Devolo, this means holding the button for 3-9 seconds. They automatically pair and you can then turn off the repeater and plug it in further away – ideally half way between the router and the room in which you need a better Wi-Fi signal.

The problem comes if your router doesn’t support WPS, or you can’t get the WPS setup to work, as we couldn’t. Pressing the WPS button for 1-2 seconds allows it to connect to a phone or tablet, although that didn’t work for us either, and we found it impossible to get to the setup page even after connecting to the repeater’s own Wi-Fi network on an iPhone running iOS 10.

In the end, we resorted to connecting to the repeater using a laptop and could at last browse to http://devolo.wifi (don’t forget the http://) to get to the configuration screen. Here you can choose between repeater and access point mode, although the latter creates its own new network and it’s hard to see why you would want this, having bought a Wi-Fi repeater to increase Wi-Fi coverage.

If your router is dual band and has both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, you can choose to repeat one or both of them. You can also opt to repeat with the same network name, or choose a different one. We went for the latter so we knew we were connected to the repeater and not the router for testing purposes.

You’ll need the manual to understand the flashing lights, but once set up, the five LEDs show signal strength. Confusingly, you’re aiming to have only three lit up as this is the “optimal” position for the repeater.

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater review: Performance

We set the repeater to re-broadcast the signal from a BT Smart Hub, positioning it around 10m away from the router in a different room at the back of the house. We then carried out testing a further 20m down the garden to see how the repeater fared.

The Smart Hub is a particularly good router, so it wasn’t too surprising that it outperformed the Devolo repeater, even though it was 10m closer.

Without the repeater, we saw speeds of 16.8Mb/s over 2.4GHz and 59.4Mb/s in the long-range test position. When we turned on and connected to the repeater, we saw a speed of 14.6Mb/s over 2.4GHz, but our laptop was unable to even see the 5GHz network. Understandably, that was very disappointing.

Devolo WiFi ac Repeater: Specs

  • Wi-Fi: 802.11ac/n/g/b dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Claimed speed: up to 1200Mb/s
  • 1x gigabit Ethernet port
  • Dimensions: WxHxD 59 x 91 x 38 mm
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11ac/n/g/b dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Claimed speed: up to 1200Mb/s
  • 1x gigabit Ethernet port
  • Dimensions: WxHxD 59 x 91 x 38 mm

OUR VERDICT

By their nature, Wi-Fi repeaters are hobbled on performance. However, they can give you a usable Wi-Fi signal where you previously had none. Should you buy the Devolo WiFi ac Repeater though? It’s hard to justify the £49.99 price when other repeaters will do a similar job for around half this price. So in short, unless you can find it a lot cheaper, go with something like the TP-Link TL-WA860RE which can be found for less than £20.

Devolo Gigagate review

After years of trying to sell us all on super-fast routers that were actually faster than most of us would ever need (especially given the woeful state of broadband here in the UK) manufacturers have now realised that reliability is the real priority for homes where multiple PCs, smartphones, and other devices are all competing for a slice of your precious bandwidth.

Netgear got the ‘mesh network’ ball rolling with its eye-catching Orbi system, but Devolo’s new Gigagate starter kit sticks with the more traditional bridge network approach.

At first glance, the Gigagate seems like a direct competitor to the Netgear Orbi, as both systems consist of a base station that connects to your existing broadband router, along with a secondary satellite that you can place in another room to extend your network coverage.

Devolo Gigagate review: Price

However, there are a number of key differences that set the two systems apart – not the least of which is price. You can buy the Gigagate for £219.99 from Amazon and other online retailers, compared to more than £360 for the Orbi. If you want to extend the Gigagate system then additional satellites are available for £129.99 each.

Devolo Gigagate review: Features and design

The ‘mesh networking’ of the Orbi aims to extend its Wi-Fi network right across even the largest homes, but the Gigagate takes a more modest approach, claiming only to provide a high-speed ‘point-to-point’ connection between the base station and the room where the satellite is located. The idea is that you’d use the satellite in a bedroom, office, or perhaps a basement den that has all your internet-connected toys together in one main room.

The base station provides few features, and just focuses on speed. It has just one Gigabit Ethernet port that is used to connect it to your existing broadband router, but it then uses 4×4 MIMO technology to create a high-speed Wi-Fi link to the satellite, using 802.11ac Wi-Fi on the 5GHz frequency band. That 5GHz connection is reserved for the base station and satellite, so no other devices can slow down the Gigagate system down by grabbing any of that bandwidth.

The base station and satellite pair together automatically, so there’s no set-up required, and we had a fast, reliable internet connection running in just the 60 seconds that the base station and satellite need to warm themselves up. But this is where the Gigagate differs quite drastically from the Orbi.

 Devolo Gigagate review

Rather than providing ‘whole home’ Wi-Fi coverage, the Gigagate’s satellite station is primarily designed for wired connections, and includes one Gigabit Ethernet and four 10/100 Ethernet ports for those connections. So if you’ve got an entertainment system that includes a laptop, gaming console, NAS drive, or set-top box for your TV then the Gigagate could be particularly suitable.

The satellite does have a Wi-Fi option – but this is slower 802.11n on the 2.4GHz band. However, the speed on offer should still be enough for web browsing and streaming HD video and music from Spotify to tablets and phones.

The emphasis on wired connections means that the set-up process is simple enough even for networking novices. You just plug in an Ethernet cable at each end, and you’re ready to go.

Those who want more can download Devolo’s Cockpit app, which provides more detailed configuration options and is available for Windows, Macs and Ubuntu.

The Android and iOS versions of Cockpit didn’t seem to have been updated to work with the Gigagate when we looked at them, but Devolo told us that they’re in the processing of updating those apps.

 

 

Devolo Gigagate review: Performance

As is often the case, the speeds quoted for the Gigagate are theoretical maximums, and Devolo told us that, in practice, the 5GHz connection between the base station and satellite will be closer to 1Gb/s

Our tests actually indicated a speed of 975Mb/s, but that’s still more than fast enough for streaming 4K video, online gaming and pretty much every other task you might throw at the Gigagate, even all at once.

The difference between the Orbi and the Gigagate – and the reason that the Gigagate is so much cheaper – is that the Gigagate doesn’t attempt to extend that high-speed Wi-Fi coverage throughout your home, and instead just concentrates on providing a reliable connection for the handful of wired devices that are connected to the satellite.

Devolo Gigagate: Specs

  • Wi-Fi bridge
  • Starter kit includes base station and wireless satellite
  • Base Station connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac (5GHz, 4×4 MIMO)
  • Satellite connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 4x 10/100 Gigabit, 802.11ac (5GHz, 4×4 MIMO), 802.11n (2.4GHz)
  • Dimensions (per unit) – 150x140x30mm
  • Wi-Fi bridge
  • Starter kit includes base station and wireless satellite
  • Base Station connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac (5GHz, 4×4 MIMO)
  • Satellite connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 4x 10/100 Gigabit, 802.11ac (5GHz, 4×4 MIMO), 802.11n (2.4GHz)
  • Dimensions (per unit) – 150x140x30mm

OUR VERDICT

If a particular room in your house has poor Wi-Fi reception, the Gigagate should give you a faster, more reliable connection for the wired and wireless devices in there. It’s also very useful for people who have a big entertainment system in a room well away from their router. But if you’re looking for a more comprehensive system that will provide fast Wi-Fi coverage throughout a large home, then you’ll need to look at more expensive mesh networking devices such as the Netgear Orbi or BT Whole Home Wi-Fi

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review

So-called mesh networks are the latest fashion in home networking. Instead of relying on one router to provide a strong, fast Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, mesh networks use multiple access points and a few nifty tricks besides. BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi is the latest mesh networking kit, and here’s our review. (See also: Best routers)

Note: Unlike BT’s routers, the Whole Home Wi-Fi will work with any router and with and ISP since it isn’t a router itself: it just replaces you’re existing Wi-Fi network.

 Price

You can buy the Whole Home Wi-Fi for £249 from Maplin or from BT directly for £299. That’s quite a lot, but for this you get three ‘discs’ which you can place around your home to get the best coverage.

Other similar kits we’ve seen contain only two modules, and you have to pay for extra units if you need more. The Netgear Orbi, for example, costs £370.

The Devolo Gigagate is a bit cheaper at £219.99, but BT’s works out cheaper per device and Devolo charges £129.99 for each extra box.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review: How it works

Unlike Netgear’s system which limits Wi-Fi devices to using only the 2.4GHz band, BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi works on both 2.4GHz or 5GHz.

This is much like most modern dual-band routers, but as with BT’s Home Hub router, the Whole Home Wi-Fi provides only one network name so you can’t manually connect to the 5GHz or 2.4GHz part.

For most people this is the best way to do it, as it’s simpler and the built-in ‘steering’ mechanism will help your phone, tablet, laptop or other Wi-Fi device to connect to the most appropriate frequency on the most appropriate disc as you move from room to room.

The discs don’t replace your router, just the Wi-Fi element. Each disc is essentially a 802.11ac router with 4×4 MIMO and communicates with the other discs to – in BT’s words – create an intelligent, self-configuring network.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review: Setup

First you should download the free BT WholeHome app which is available for Android and iPhone. This guides you through the whole process and also gives you some management controls once it’s set up.

It doesn’t take too long. You connect the first disc with the included cable to a free Ethernet port on your router. It also needs a mains socket as it requires a power brick just like your router.

The app then guides you through positioning the second disc, by first checking the signal strength from the first disc to your phone in the potential site. If you get a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ result, you can power up the second disc. If it’s too close or too far, you should find a more appropriate location.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review

It’s the same process with the final disc, but we found that instead of measuring the signal strength between the second disc and our phone, the app actually tests the signal back to the first disc and – in a loft room (with the router on the ground floor) it told us to move closer to the router.

This seems counterintuitive, but BT assures us that if one disc is placed on each floor of a three-storey home the discs will all communicate with each other to ensure the best signal.

In the event, the disc in the loft room did establish a connection and the blue LED lit up.

The final stage is to connect each of your devices to the new network: there’s a removable plastic card with the name and password on each disc. The app then recommends selecting your old Wi-Fi network on your phone and tapping the ‘Forget this network’ option to prevent it from re-connecting to the router’s Wi-Fi.

To us, this seems bizarre as it’s simpler to disable the router’s Wi-Fi. And doing this means the old Wi-Fi isn’t trying to compete with the new on the same frequencies.

If, like us, you have too many Wi-Fi devices to go around changing their Wi-Fi settings, you can change the Whole Home Wi-Fi settings in the app to make it the same as your router’s. Just make sure you enter your router’s SSID exactly (including upper and lower-case characters) and the same for the password. The Whole Home system will reboot and your devices will connect to it just as if it was your router.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review

In the app you can see which devices are connected to which disc and on which frequency. Most people won’t bother to look at this, but it was interesting to watch how quickly phones and tablets switched to a new disc when you take them into a different room. Sometimes it’s within a minute, and at other times they remain connected to the previous disc for a long while.

The app also gives you a button to update the firmware on all discs and even a button to ‘pause’ the Wi-Fi which BT says could be useful if you want everyone to stop using their devices and come and get their dinner. Unlike Google’s Wifi (a very similar system which is only on sale in the US at the moment) you can’t pause the connection for specific devices or groups of devices. 

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review

Perhaps the most useful is the ability to dim or turn off the discs’ LEDs completely, especially if one or more are in bedrooms.

You can use the app only when you’re connected to the Whole Home Wi-Fi as it won’t work remotely across the internet.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi review: Performance

The aim of the Whole Home Wi-Fi is the same as any other mesh network: to provide a good internet connection in all corners of your home. But as homes in the UK can vary from really rather small to very large, and their construction from plasterboard internal walls to thick stone walls, it’s impossible for us to say if it succeeds in its aim.

We tested in a typical semi-detached property with a loft conversion, with the router placed at the front of the house on the ground floor.

Prior to installing BT’s Smart Hub, we’d always had trouble getting a strong signal in the loft. But with the Whole Home Wi-Fi attached to a Home Hub 5, this was completely cured.

In the lounge, just 2m from the primary disc, we recorded a transfer speed of 515Mb/s. Clearly that’s using 802.11ac, and it’s about the best real-world performance you’ll see at the moment.

Moving up to the loft room, two floors above, the speed dropped to roughly half this at 264Mb/s. That remained unchanged when we’d turned off the disc on the middle floor, indicating that the furthermost disc was communicating directly with the primary disc and not getting a boost from the middle one.

Using the Home Hub 5’s Wi-Fi we saw just 19.3Mb/s in the loft, so it’s a massive improvement. However, it’s not such a big boost over the Smart Hub, which managed an impressive 220Mb/s. And since it’s unlikely your broadband is faster than 150Mb/s you won’t notice an improvement in speed by installing the Whole Home Wi-Fi except on the odd occasion you need to transfer large files wirelessely within your home network.

Don’t forget that you can extend your Wi-Fi by using powerline network adaptors, and it’s well worth investigating these before investing in a mesh network system as you could save money.

BT Whole Home Wi-Fi: Specs

  • Mesh networking kit
  • 3x discs
  • Each disc:
  • 1 x auto sensing Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Antennas:
  • 2.4GHz band – 4 transmit/receive
  • 5GHz band – 4 transmit/receive
  • Dimensions: 765 x 765 x 77mm
  • Mesh networking kit
  • 3x discs
  • Each disc:
  • 1 x auto sensing Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Antennas:
  • 2.4GHz band – 4 transmit/receive
  • 5GHz band – 4 transmit/receive
  • Dimensions: 765 x 765 x 77mm

OUR VERDICT

The Whole Home Wi-Fi does a great job in an average UK home and should eliminate any deadspots. It should also speed up the connection at the farthest points from the router, enabling HD video streaming in places where before you may have had a very weak signal.
However, upgrading an older 802.11n router to the latest 802.11ac router could have a similar effect and save a lot of money in the process, especially if you’re getting that router – such as BT’s own Smart Hub – free from your ISP.