Netgear Powerline AV 500 Adapter Kit

  • Category: Networking
  • Review Date: 01/03/2012
  • Bottom line:

    Netgear’s Powerline AV 500 Adapter Kit uses your home’s existing electrical cabling to bring wired Gigabit Ethernet networking to any room in the house. Throughput speed is significantly better than what you get with Wi-Fi but the adapters tend to run a little on the hot side.

  • Pros:

    Simple setup. Relatively good throughput. One touch security.

  • Cons:

    Runs warm. User guide only available online.

Editor Rating: 4.00

By John R. Delaney

It's hard to beat the convenience of a home Wi-Fi network but it can't touch wired connectivity when it comes to throughput speed. Unfortunately, wiring your home with CAT-5 cabling can get expensive and messy if you don't know what you're doing. Enter Netgear's Powerline AV 500 Powerline Adapter Kit ($159.99 list), an incredibly easy to use solution that turns every power outlet in your home into a Gigabit wired Ethernet port. In my testing, the AV 500 delivered almost ten times the transfer speed of my Wi-Fi router. While that's less than a wired connection, it's just fine for streaming movies and transferring large data files and folders.

Features and Design
The AV 500 kit consists of two XAV5001 Powerline adapters, two 6.5 foot Ethernet cables, and a Resource CD containing a Powerline Utility and an Installation Guide. Unfortunately, the disc does not include a user manual; instead, it provides a link to an online manual, which may be inconvenient if you're having trouble getting the adapters to work for some reason. However, the odds of that happening are slim to none as Powerline technology is the epitome of plug and play.

Each adapter measures 3.3 by 2.5 by 1.5 inches (HWD) and weighs a little less than half a pound (0.4 pounds). The front of the housing has a glossy white finish and has the Netgear logo etched into the center and a blue Powerline AV 500 label at the bottom. At the top are three LED indicators; the power indicator glows a solid green when electrical power is on and blinks green when the adapter is starting up and running through the security setup process. An amber light indicates that the adapter has gone into power saving mode, which happens when the port is not linked for more than ten minutes. The Powerline indicator is solid green when a connection is made to the network, and it blinks when the adapter is receiving and sending data. It remains unlit if a compatible adapter with the same encryption key cannot be found, or if the adapter has been disabled via the Powerline Utility. This indicator also tells you how strong the link rate is for each electrical outlet. A green light means the link rate is better than 80 Mbps, amber means less than 80 Mbps but greater than 50 Mbps, and a red light means less than 50 Mbps.

On the right side of the adapter are a security button and a recessed factory reset button. The security button makes it easy to set a private encryption key that can be used across your entire Powerline network, and the reset button returns the adapter to its original factory defaults. On the bottom of the adapter is a single Ethernet port. Despite the vented casing designed to prevent the adapter from overheating while plugged in and running, the adapter was still quite warm to the touch after 15 minutes of use.

Powerline AV 500 installation is as easy as it gets as long as you follow a few simple rules of thumb. Always plug the adapter directly into the electrical socket; do not use extension cords, power strips, or surge protectors. Try to use an outlet that does not have power hungry appliances plugged into it, such as a washer, dryer, or refrigerator, and make sure that the outlets to be used are on the same circuit and use the same breaker box, otherwise they will not be able to communicate with each other. For this reason Powerline adapters may not work in large apartment complexes or office buildings. You'll also need an existing network and a router.

To bring a Gigabit Ethernet connection to any outlet in the house simply plug one adapter into an outlet close to your router and connect it to the router with one of the included cables. Then plug the second adapter into an outlet of your choice, wait for the power and Powerline LEDs to turn green, and connect the adapter to your PC or any other Ethernet device. If you want to enable the 128-bit AES encryption, press the security button on one adapter, hold it for two seconds until the power LED begins to blink, then repeat the process on the second adapter within two minutes. Both adapters will now share the same encryption key. If you are using more than two adapter, simply repeat the process with each adapter. Even if the adapters are unplugged they will retain their security key.

The Powerline utility is a handy tool that that detects all Powerline devices on the network and displays a connection diagram. Mousing over a device will launch a popup box showing the model number, MAC address, LED status, and firmware version of the device. It also shows you the transfer rate from point to point. Clicking on the device opens a box that lets you assign a name, turn off the adapter, enable/disable security settings, and reset the adapter to its factory defaults. Here you can also assign QoS (Quality of Service) settings to prioritize network traffic for specific applications. For example, if you are streaming video you can assign the destination adapter a high priority for multimedia files to ensure optimal performance.

For the most part, the AV 500 kit worked flawlessly. Using the utility I measured the adapter's point to point transfer rate at 185 Mbps, which falls short of the 240 Mbps rate listed in the spec sheet but is still quite good. The adapter to router speed came in at 500 Mbps, as advertised.

Transferring a 100 MB folder from my desktop PC to my laptop on the other side of the house took 15 seconds, while a 500MB folder transfer took 1 minute and 20 seconds. Making those transfers over my Wi-Fi N network took significantly longer; the 100MB folder needed 1 minute and 18 seconds to finish the move, and the 500MB folder needed 9 minutes and 25 seconds. I connected an adapter to my PS3 and watched several episodes of Phineas and Ferb on the Netflix video streaming service and they played smoothly with no lag or picture degradation. The same can't be said for my PS3's Wi-Fi, which is susceptible to interference from other devices and is a bit too far from the access point to provide the signal strength needed for clean, uninterrupted video.

The Netgear Powerline AV 500 Adapter Kit makes it easy to expand upon your existing home network. It not only provides network coverage to areas of the home that are out of range of your Wi-Fi router, it delivers the speedy transfer speeds needed for network backups, large file transfers, and streaming video. As with most Powerline adapters, the Netgear devices can get a little toasty, but not alarmingly so. That said, the AV 500 Adapter Kit is an excellent alternative to rewiring your home for Ethernet connectivity, and one well worth an Editors' Choice for networking.

More Networking Device Reviews:
Netgear Powerline AV 500 Adapter Kit (XAVB5001)
D-Link Powerline AV 500 4-Port gigabit Switch (DHP-540)
D-Link DHP501-AV Powerline AV 500 Adapter Starter Kit
Netgear Universal Internet Adapter for Home Entertainment-3D (XAVB5004)
SoMud 1.3.3

This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.

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