Don’t buy HomePlug / Powerline ethernet adapters

(Post summary: The real-world throughput of current generation Homeplug AV 200 Mbit/s powerline ethernet adapters in a modern house is woefully inadequate. Even wireless is much to be preferred, and can be had for cheaper. Read below for why.)

Based on the superb price / performance ratio of the MSI ePower 200AV II kit as extolled by this comparative review (32 powerline adapters were tested), and especially the fact that in the test setup these adapters managed to attain 32 Mbit/s even in the bad case scenario (two different circuits, 100 metres of cable separating the two adapters), I purchased the MSI ePower 200AV+ II kit to replace a wireless link I currently have in my house between the second and third floors. Based on iperf measurements, the wireless link currently manages around 22Mbit/s of throughput. Because the two power sockets I was planning to use are on the same circuit, I thought that I could improve on this existing connection with the two powerline adapters. Little did I know…

The MSI ePower 200AV+ kit still nicely in its box.

After taking delivery of the new kit, I started testing with both adapters in the same room. One thing that can be said for this hardware, is that it’s really plug and play. One adapter in wall-socket and connected to first floor ethernet hub, second adapter in wall-socket and connected to my laptop, and my laptop was online. No mess no fuss.

The first nasty surprise appeared as I installed and started up up the software that came in the box (version 5.0). It claimed not to find any homeplug adapters on the network, although the laptop I was running it on was directly connected to one of the PLCs. So I downloaded version 6.0 of the software, only available in German, from MSI’s website and that did manage to see both adapters. At least now I was able to configure both the PLCs (in German…) and set the network name to something private for security’s sake.

After moving one of the adapters to my study on the third floor and connecting it to a Linux server there, I could start running iperf on the server and my laptop on the second floor for testing. The two PLC adapters were now in the same-circuit sockets I was intending to use. Below is the output of three runs of iperf:

C:\Users\cpbotha\Downloads>iperf -c
Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 8.00 KByte (default)
[148] local port 49921 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[148]  0.0-10.0 sec  10.7 MBytes  8.95 Mbits/sec

C:\Users\cpbotha\Downloads>iperf -c
Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 8.00 KByte (default)
[148] local port 49987 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[148]  0.0-10.0 sec  11.2 MBytes  9.41 Mbits/sec

C:\Users\cpbotha\Downloads>iperf -c
Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 8.00 KByte (default)
[148] local port 49988 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[148]  0.0-10.0 sec  10.4 MBytes  8.70 Mbits/sec

Yes ladies and gentlemen, that’s an absolutely miserable 9 Mbit/s (think 1 Mbyte/s…) between two MSI ePower 200AV+ II adapters on the same circuit, on different floors in a house that was built 5 years ago. For your reference, my wireless link (two Sitecom 300N X2 access points in Wireless Distribution Mode) easily manages 22 Mbit/s effective throughput right through a reinforced concrete floor.

MSI’s own utility claimed the following (I’ve cut out things that you don’t need to see):

Rate 18/39
Vendor Atheros
Firmware INT6400-MAC-4-0-4011-00-3430-20090501-FINAL-C
Übertragungsrate hoch 174.00
Übertragungsrate niedrig 15.00

… with its reported link speed varying between 17 and 35 Mbit/s.

I tried the third floor PLC adapter on various different sockets, the results were similarly depressing.

As if the miserable throughput was not reason enough to avoid powerline adapters, note the following mechanical issue:

When the adapter sits in a double socket, the only thing that’ll fit in the free socket is a really thin plug as the upper part of the adapter is flush with the socket and covers a fair part of the other hole.

As you can see in the caption, although the PLC has a socket of its own, it covers the neighbouring socket in a double-socket setup to such an extent that you can only fit a really thin plug in the neighbouring socket.

To conclude: Homeplugs perform really well in a test environment, even when different circuits are introduced and metres of extra cable are inserted. However, what the tests often fail to take into account, is the fact that people actually make use of other electrical devices besides homeplugs (!!) and that these all introduce noise into the home grid that apparently severely affect powerline ethernet performance. Perhaps in your house things work out differently, but my advice would be to steer clear of powerline adapters (unless you can borrow a pair to test with), opting of course for ethernet cables whenever this is possible and for wireless otherwise.

17 thoughts on “Don’t buy HomePlug / Powerline ethernet adapters”

  1. To be fair, the adapter design is probably the same one used throughout the world, and in much of the rest of the world double sockets sit side-by-side and not one above the other as in the US. That said, that thing looks bulky enough that it would still partially cover the next socket even it it were to the side of it.

  2. Your title seems unnecessarily generalised – shouldn’t it be more like “MSI powerline adaptors don’t live up to review speeds” ?

    I have seen other comparative reviews where (for example) the Netgear product underperformed the Devolo product by some margin.

    I suggest you contact MSI and tell them about the issue – if you don’t want to return your product to the vendor that is.

    If your product does not live up to its spec then the vendor should swap your unit either for a replacement (it might be a duff one-off) or that of a different manufacturer. I am sure the vendor will be grateful of real-world feedback; they might not want to stock items that do not perform well.

    It’s a pity these devices don’t have any diagnostic modes that might tell you more about why your particular wiring does not do well – but for the price, what can you expect ?

    1. Thanks for popping by!

      Actually I’d be willing to put money on the bet that my statement applies to all PowerLine adapters. That is, until I come across any review where the adapters are tested in a real-world home environment, with all kinds of other devices plugged in and operating on the same power grid. This was also the point of my post: Reviews test under unrealistically ideal conditions, and through this completely underestimate the effect of exactly those things that cause the most interference.

      The spec for PowerLine adapters is also known to be wildly overinflated, complaining won’t help, because all manufacturers are using the same terminology.

      I returned mine, and I’m happily back on wireless until I find the time and a large enough drill to put ethernet through my reinforced concrete floor. πŸ™‚

  3. Were the additional items that were plugged in close to the homeplugs filtered?

    I’ve noticed quite a big drop in speeds simply by plugging in a surge-protected four gang outlet serving a bunch of devices/PSUs in a socket next to or close to the homeplug.

    Make sure such adapters go through the pass through socket which should prevent it spewing noise into the network and reducing throughput.

    1. At one point I had the two homeplugs a few metres from each other, with nothing in between.

      Besides, having to go to that much effort (filtering all other devices or even having nothing in sockets, putting the homeplugs almost next to each other), completely defeats the purpose. πŸ™‚

  4. I can’t stand powerline set-ups. For some cases it costs less to run the cat 5 wiring (unless your in an apartment). There are many things to consider about the noise in electrical systems. Your neighbors electrical system can effect yours and in turn effect a powerline based set-up (x10, homeplug or most any PLC signal). Homeplug and most PLC set-ups are not overly popular for a reason IMO (at least here in the U.S.).

  5. I appreciate you taking the time to post this info but you are making a huge generalisation. In my flat (built in the 70s with poor wiring) I get 3-5 MB/s = 24-40 Mbit/s (3 when copying one file and 5 when two are done simultaneously) with my homeplugs.

    With wifi I struggle to get above 2MB/s and if I move around the room the speed can drop even lower. I could, using your logic, say that wifi is useless and that people should online use powerline adapters. Fact is each situation is different and sometimes wifi will be faster and sometimes homeplugs.

    Besieds, we all know the best idea is just to run an ethernet cable and get a gigabit hub if you want guaranteed decent speeds.

    1. That’s not by the same logic at all. πŸ™‚

      I measured my throughput on wireless with iperf with multiple window sizes and a number of repeats per window size. Please try the same for a more repeatable measurement of your setup.

      Also, you live in a flat, which could mean that you’re surrounded by access points. Have you double checked that your wireless-N access point is on the least occupied frequency band?

      Agreed on the ethernet, this is also how I concluded my post. I stand by my opinion that powerline *in general* will suck more than wireless, for the reasons I cite in my post, but also because there’s much more development going into wireless than into powerline.

  6. I find powerline networking to be finicky. Some applications work much better than others.

    Most of the powerline gear uses chips from one vendor. I’m not sure how much the vendors customize their designs. The management software varies too.

    In my case, my home entertainment center has a number of networkable devices that would otherwise need expensive wireless adapters. My badly wired house has three rooms on one circuit including the office and the family room. I cannot plug the stereo into that circuit, but the powerline adapters get good speed on it. I get worse speed in a bedroom. I get good speed in the garage with an adapter from another vendor.

  7. So I’ve been running Homeplug AV adapters in my house for a while. It’s freestanding and I own, so in theory I can install cat5, however the access through the required walls is very hard and costly. So there are always use cases for these things, but yeah only if cat5 is impractical.

    Generally I find the performance to be variable, but you can get decent performance with some fiddling. The utilities that come with them can give you the connection speed (not just throughput but actual sync speed).

    I find that it really depends on what is attached on or near the power points. On one power point I was getting about 5Mb/s in one configuration, but after changing around the connection order of devices on the nearby power strip, I managed to get 60Mbps (35Mbps unidirectional):

    [ ID] Interval Transfer Bandwidth
    [ 3] 0.0-10.0 sec 42.2 MBytes 35.3 Mbits/sec

    And from the very front room to the rear most power point in the garage at the back of the property (40m away past the garden) I get 80Mbps. In a different power point in the garage I get no sync at all.

    So the lesson is that if you have to use them, fiddle a bit with the ordering of other appliances in the sockets, and you will likely get a decent speed. Even using the other socket of a double socket powerpoint can give a difference.

  8. I got me a set of 500mbps HomePlugAV adaptors today, and I couldn’t agree more with the poster. This technology is totally worthless. Even with both adaptors in the same room (!) ping times are in excess of 2000ms, the connection shows lots of packet loss and throughput is in the dial-up range.

    What an utter waste of money and time. Probably the worst piece of equipment I’ve bought in my entire life. I’ll be returning those useless wall-warts right away!

    1. I’m sorry that it does not work for you. You must refrain from generalizing though. Two homeplugs in the same room says absolutely nothing. The two sockets involved can be on totally different circuits/groups (and performance can be very bad then).

      In my house, which is only 6 years old now, i generally have great connections (because sockets are in the same group) where throughput of two 500Mbit adapters is steady around 11 MB/s (yes, MB/s).
      On the other hand. The connection between my homeoffice and the living-room sucks at 1.5 MB/s as they are in different groups and the signal must pass the whole breaker-thingy.

      So, it depends. If you really have such bad ping times (2000ms+) then either your wiring is really bad, or you bought some cheap, useless homeplugs. I never ever go above 8ms.

      So don’t go about saying the technology sucks. It is very dependent on conditions beyond it’s control (wiring, other appliances causing interference).

      The Homeplugs with integrated sockets (pass-though) are always the best choice because the homeplug is then aware of the currents going through it and can use it’s inline filters to smoothen out the data-stream accordingly.

      1. Dear John Doe,

        Technology which relies on this many factors to work even remotely as well as it says on the box is clearly not very robust. (Your adapters claim 500Mbit/s and you’re happy with 11MB/s?!) When there are many alternatives which work far more reliably, I think it is fair to say that homeplug technology does suck. πŸ™‚ (that being said, I’m glad that you’re happy with yours πŸ™‚

        1. Maybe it is fair to say that homeplug technology sucks. But in that case, so does wireless.
          Connecting to my living room that’s 10 meters away (on the same floor) from the room where I have my router I get as a maximum value:
          ISP “generic cable router” @ 150Mbps = 3MB/s
          Linksys Router @ 300Mbps = 5.6 MB/s
          Homeplug connection @ 500 Mbps = 14 MB/s

          By your logic that 11 MB/s from a 500Mbps connection is something bad, that makes the wifi connection almost 2x as bad. Both are technologies that depend too much on “many factors”. And in many cases that I know, including mine, the powerline alternative provides better speed and latency.

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