Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point full review
The Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point (XWNB5201) kit is a Powerline adaptor kit rated by its makers for 500Mbps operation. It's simple to set up, unobtrusive and offers about average speeds for Powerline data transfer.
Powerline is a technology that lets you use your house's power lines to create a home network that's faster than Wi-Fi. You can then connect your smart TV, Sky+, Tivo, Apple TV or other set-top box to your network via ethernet wherever they are in the home and regardless of how far away from your internet router.
Set up is surprisngly easy and you should be up and running within a few minutes.
The two adaptors – one for near your router, the other in a remote room – are very small compared to comparable units we have tested from Devolo and TP-Link. The units may be more discreet but it also means there's no power space for a pass-through socket. Each unit therefore removes an available mains power socket from use. Some other Powerline kits – usually more expensive – include a pass-through socket so you can continue to connect other plugs in the same socket.See all Wi-Fi and Networking reviews.
The unit itself is a neutral white colour. Combined with its small size, it will be barely noticeable in most rooms. The unit feels well built, solid and functional. It ships with two ethernet cables – one for each end if you need ethernet in the second room. Visit: Group test: What's the best powerline adapter?
It features only one ethernet port, which might not suit you if you need to attach more than one ethernet cable to your TV or set-top box. If this is the case you should look for other Powerline kits that offer two or three ethernet ports, such as the more expensive but comparably rated £129 Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+.
There are many adaptors on the market that follow the HomePlug AV500 standard and it must be said that none of them are getting anywhere close to 500Mbps. This is for various reasons, and depends somewhat on your home's electrical set up, age of wiring and other environmental electrical limitations. Also as the ethernet port on the adapter is 10/100 ethernet the max speed is indeed throttled to 100Mbps.
So with our realistic heads on 40-100Mbps is what you can realistically expect from this class of device (so far) with the wiring in our testing setup. See also TP-Link AV500+ Gigabit Powerline Adaptor with AC Pass Through Starter Kit review.
As this unit provides both Powerline to ethernet and Powerline to Wi-Fi options we tested both independently to give a more complete picture of how this product performs.
Powerline testing procedure
We tested in two home environments.
House 1: We tested the Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point in a Victorian house with fairly old wiring and the usual array of electronic devices (TV, Sky+, Hi-Fi, lamps, microwave, computers, etc) plugged into the power lines. The Internet router was situated in the office on the second floor, and we used Powerline to test data speed on the ground floor.
If your house was built more recently you may well achieve faster speeds than we did, but we use this house to get consistent speeds for a proper Powerline comparison.
First we must emphasise that despite all the Powerline manufacturers claiming 200Mbps or 500Mbps speeds these are theoretical maximums, and you will never see such speeds via Powerline. You'll be lucky to get 100Mbps from a 500Mbps Powerline, but don't fret as this is well fast enough for most needs, such as watching catch-up TV or downloading fairly large files. And rest assured it's much, much faster than standard home Wi-Fi.
We got speeds up to 94Mbps but the house average was 58Mbps using Powerline and ethernet. This is sufficient for most users, and we downloaded HD TV with few pauses.
Using the Netgear's Wi-Fi function we created a new hotspot downstairs and achieved an average speed of 54Mbps – compared to the 16Mbps we could get through the home's standard Wi-Fi. It took around two and a half minutes to pass a 1GB file using the Powerline Wi-Fi, compared to over 8 minutes using the normal Wi-Fi.
However much we might moan about not getting the advertised 500Mbps (300Mbps claimed for Wi-Fi) there's no denying that an ethernet-wired average of 58Mbps and a Wi-Fi speed of 54Mbps is leagues faster than the 16MBps we had before when using Wi-Fi.
Again, you may see higher or lower speeds in your own house, but as a comparison to other available 500Mbps Powerline adaptors the Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point achieved an average, acceptable score.
House 2: First we tested the powerline adaptor using ethernet connections. The first and most challenging setup involved testing the bandwidth of the unit when connected across the building's wiring between two room on the same floor, with a 4m extension cable being used in each room.
Under these conditions the unit achieved 42Mbps throughput. We tried again with only one extension cable, and this resulted in a speed of 50Mbps.
The third test was performed between two adjacent rooms with no extension cables. Under these conditions the unit achieved a transfer speed of 47Mbps.
So for raw speed this unit does not deliver the best performance on the market, but certainly faster than 200Mbps Powerline or standard Wi-Fi..
It appears Netgear is aware the speed of HomePlugAV Powerline networking will never approach 500Mbps – it has only installed 10/100 ethernet ports. This means that even if Powerline was as quick as it promised, it would be impossible to get a transfer speed higher than 100Mbps over its ethernet connection. In its favour, this Netgear unit is priced lower (£70) than its Devolo counterpart (£80 for the Devolo dLAN 500 WiFi Network Kit), which was also slower than the Netgear.
To test the Wi-Fi speed of the unit we connected the unit directly to a router and measured the data throughput to a laptop placed in three different locations.
First the laptop was 1m from the router which produced a data throughput of 93Mbps. This actually good relative to many 2.4GHz 802.11n connections.
Next the laptop was placed at 5 metres in line of sight from the adaptor, and achieved a data throughput of 56Mbps. This is not fast but an acceptable figure for 2.4GHz.
Finally the laptop was placed 10m away in an occluded position around a corner where a concrete wall blocks the signal. In this setup the bandwidth fell to 19Mbps. This is on par with other mid-range Wi-Fi routers at 2.4GHz we've tested in the same location.
Check out all our Powerline adapter reviews and also our group test of the best Powerline adapters we've tested. You can get more information on Powerline including explanations of Powerline speed myths and lots of tips and trick in our feature What Is Powerline.
Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point: Specs
- Two units: XWN5001 (remote end) and XAV5201 (router end)
- HomePlug AV IEEE 1901
- 500 Mb/s rating, 10/100 ethernet port
- 2.4GHz 802.11n
- 2-year Warranty,