The ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter is a neat solution to the problem of streaming, downloading and transferring files via home Wi-Fi.
The ZyXEL PLA4201 uses incredibly simple Powerline technology that uses a house's power lines to transmit data as if they were etehrnet cables. You can effectively connect your router to anywhere in the house without having to snake ethernet cables all round your home.
Setting up a Powerline network is as easy as plugging in each adapter to a power socket. One attached to the router wherever that resides in your home. The other is set up in a room – maybe your study, office or living room – where it's most needed.
It's not just PCs and laptops that need fast network and internet access these days: smart TVs, Sky+, Tivo, Apple TV and other set-top boxes are often equipped with an ethernet port for fast wired connectivity.
The ZyXel HD Powerline Adapter is a set of two adapters – the minimum you need to create a home Powerline network – rated at 500Mbps speed. This 500Mbps is a theoretical speed and not one that any Powerline product can yet reach, so ignore the hype and be assured that this Zyxel product is one of the fastest we tested.
The two adapters are white and the smallest we had on test, and so won't ruin the look of your home. There's only one 10/100 ethernet port on each adapter so if you need to connect a smart TV and a set-top box at the same time, or occasionally want to connect yoru laptop via ethernet while watching iPlayer, this could be limiting. It's likely however that you'll only need one connection at one time so you can switch the etehrnet cable to whichever device you need.
Some Powerline products boast two or three ethernet ports, such as the £99 BT Home Hotspot 500 and £129 Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ powerline kits – which also have Wi-Fi functionality and pass-through sockets to keep your power options more open.
There are other Powerline products that have a wireless function in that they can create a new Wi-Fi hotspot in other rooms of the house. This Zyxel product doesn't have Wi-Fi, which is understandable given the price – one of the cheapest we've seen. Its RRP is £35 but we've seen it on sale for around £25.
Set up is so easy it's amazing, as is the case with most Powerline products. You'll have a home network set up in a matter of minutes.
Powerline testing procedure
We tested the Zyxel HD Powerline Adapter 500Mbps 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 caliming 500Mbps speeds these are theoretical maximums, and you will never see such speeds via Powerline. Indeed the 10/100 ethernet port limits the maximum speed to 100Mbps. 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 68Mbps using Powerline and ethernet. This was the fastest average speed we got in our comparison of Powerline over ethernet, and is sufficinet for most users, and we downloaded HD TV with few pauses.
For the price and at these speeds if you don't need to boost your home Wi-Fi or use more than one ethernet port in the second room at the same time the Zyxel HD Powerline is a bargain.
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.