ZyXel AV2000 HomePlug AV2 (model PLA5456) powerline adapter review: Speedy hardware; dodgy marketing

ZyXEL’s newest and fastest powerline adapter kit, the HD Powerline Adapter 2000 (ZyXEL’s model number PLA5456), delivers the same super-speedy performance we’ve come to expect from HomePlug AV2 MIMO gear based on Broadcom’s chips. It also offers such useful extras as a pass-through electrical outlet (so you don’t lose use of the wall outlet you plug the adapter into) and dual ethernet ports (so you can use a single adapter to hardwire two devices to your network).

Buyers should be aware, however, that the PLA5456 is not certified by the HomePlug Alliance, despite the prominently displayed HomePlug AV2 MIMO label on its packaging. ZyXEL has not submitted this adapter for interoperability testing with other HomePlug Alliance-certified products, and that label does not come from the HomePlug Alliance.

ZyXEL makes no promises that its part will function with other brands of powerline adapters, although our experience indicates that it should work with other adapters that are based on Broadcom’s AV2 MIMO chipset.

If you’ve invested in ZyXEL’s previous AV2 MIMO product, the PLA5405 and try to add PLA5456 adapters to the mix, you might be disappointed with the result: The PLA5405 is based on chips from QualComm, and our tests showed that Qualcomm and Broadcom AV2 MIMO products generally don’t play well together. ZyXEL did not obtain HomePlug Alliance certification for its earlier product, either, but still put the same AV2 MIMO label on the packaging, which might lead buyers to think that the two models are compatible: They are not.

In short, the networking industry has made a mess out of the powerline networking market, with the HomePlug Alliance getting wrong pretty much everything the Wi-Fi Alliance got right. It seems it can’t even protect its own HomePlug branding. As a result, consumers have little or no assurance that different models of HomePlug AV2 MIMO products will work well together even if they’re from the same manufacturer.

As for the product in hand, ZyXEL’s PLA5456 is equally as fast as the Extollo LANSocket 1500, our reigning powerline speed champ, which is also based on Broadcom’s AV2 MIMO chips. Both adapters have a pass-through electrical outlet, but the ZyXEL offers one feature the Extollo does not: A second ethernet port. The $90 LANSocket 1500 kit is a little cheaper than the ZyXEL—which NewEgg is selling for $100—but that’s not an unreasonable premium for the utility of that second ethernet port. Be sure to shop around, though, as Amazon is charging $130 for the PLA5456.

The ZyXEL PLA5456 delivered TCP throughput of 350.3Mbps second in our JPerf benchmark tests, which is about 16Mbps slower than the Extollo; however, when I retested the Extollo on the same day as the ZyXEL, it delivered the very same average performance. I attribute the difference to the presence of noise on the electrical circuit during the second test. When I paired the Extollo with the ZyXEL, performance dropped by a negligible 6Mbps.

ZyXEL provides a single, rather skimpy 56-inch ethernet cable for each adapter—you’re on your own when it comes to using the second ethernet port (fortunately, CAT5E cables are very inexpensive). The units themselves are large and bulky, but designed so that if you plug them into the bottom socket of a typical duplex wall outlet, you should be able to insert a normal plug into the top socket.

The PLA5456’s speed, pass-through outlet, and second ethernet port make it well suited for use in your media center, especially if Wi-Fi isn’t getting the job done (think urban environments where multiple Wi-Fi networks are competing for bandwidth, or large homes where a Wi-Fi signal may not reach all rooms). If you can look past the marketing blarney and build out your network using all the same adapters, it’s a good buy.


Denny Arar

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