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Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5201) Review

AVForums puts away the drill and takes a look at a very easy way of creating a wired network

by Greg Hook Nov 1, 2012


Home AV review

25

SRP: £50.00

Introduction

Like this reviewer, there's a good chance many of you have a copious amount of holes in the walls of your house. Why? Because you needed to get an internet or network connection to a non wireless capable device that is nowhere near your router. A Blu-ray player, for example, or an Internet Capable TV in another part of the house. Or even an upstairs PC that you want on a wired connection. Thanks to a very clever team at Cisco way back in the early days of the 21st Century we now have these fantastic devices called Homeplugs that you can just plug into an electrical outlet and instantly create Internet access and network connectivity in areas of the house that you previously thought impossible without resorting to a drill.

Several examples have already been reviewed on AVForums including the pricey but attractive looking Power Ethernet all-in-one wall sockets and the previous version of Netgear's Powerline 500 (XAVB5101). The very latest version from Netgear is the Powerline 500 (XAVB5201), which offers a twin pack of adapters with a gigabit ethernet port in each one, along with a 500 Mbps Powerline interface, HomePlug AV compatibility and two 2m ethernet cables. The specifications are very similar to the previous XAVB5101 but uses slightly smaller units and compared to the initial £80 retail price for the previous model, the new XAVB5201 can be had for less than £50. The question is, how well this new version actually perform in the real world and can it reach the speeds claimed? Let's find out.

Styling and Design

The Powerline 500 Nano (XAVB5201) adaptors are in keeping with the previous model's style and offer the same Netgear level of build quality and feel. Made from hard white plastic and clearly fitting the Nano name, these little adaptors are barely larger than a standard plug and as such will fit without obstruction on a standard double wall plug or 4 way socket extension. At the bottom we have the small pin hole for performing a factory reset and the single Gigabit Ethernet port, whilst on the left hand side is the security button for enabling the 128-bit encryption. At the top and bottom we have slots for ventilation, as these units do get slightly warm after extensive use, although not to any levels that should cause concern.


At the front of the adaptor we have three LED indicator lights - Power LED, Powerline LED and Ethernet LED. The first will light up green when connected to the power and in power saving mode, where it uses less than 0.5 Watts, it will light up amber. The second light will come on once the adaptor is connected to the Powerline network and this is where Netgear's Pick-a-Plug feature comes in very handy. It allows you to pick the electrical outlet with the strongest link rate, which is indicated by the Powerline LED being either Green, Amber or Red. Green indicates the best link, with a speed of over 80Mbps, followed by Amber with 50-80Mbps and then Red with under 50Mbps. This is an excellent feature, giving you an instant indication of where best to place the adaptors for optimal use. The final light is the Ethernet LED and it comes on when the adapter is connected via the Ethernet port to a powered-on device.

Setup

These Powerline 500 adaptors certainly live up to Netgear's Plug-and-Play promise. Literally within about 30 seconds or so of plugging each unit in, you can be up and running with a fully connected network. The first adaptor needs to be connected in the same location as your router and the second in the room nearest your device. Then just press the security button for 2 seconds on the first, run like crazy (well walk really, as you have up to 2 minutes) to the second device and press the button on that one for 2 seconds. Once the Power LED has stopped flashing, you will have enabled the 128-bit encryption and your new Powerline network will be fully secured. Adding a third or more Powerline adaptors is also a piece of cake as you just plug them in, press the security button and away you go! The Nano 500 adaptors are also fully compatible with Homeplug AV and previous Netgear Powerline AV products. It's worth mentioning that there were only two available for review, so we can't verify how the network performs with a third or more homeplugs connected.

Finding the best socket near your chosen device is probably the most thought you will have to put into setting up these adapters; it really couldn't be any simpler. In the package you also get two 2m Ethernet cables for connecting to your router and your chosen device, but should you require longer runs then clearly you can buy additional cables. That's all you need to do and your Powerline network is now fully setup and working. Gone are your days of ruining perfectly good walls to run cables to your non-wireless network devices!

Performance and Testing

Firstly with the performance it should be noted that the quoted 500 Mbps speed combines both the uplink and downlink speeds, so theoretically the maximum you should be able to get is 250 Mbps. As the Pick-a-Plug feature claims the best link rate to be greater than 80 Mbps, it would indicate that speeds of 250 Mbps are not really achievable in real world use. However, under testing the results were impressive. Using DUMeter software we can see that when downloading 1GB and above test files from the internet, the full speed available from our internet connection was achieved and no dropouts or failures were encountered. Clearly 42 Mbps is well within the capabilities of this device, but it is still good to see that it performs as promised here.


Now onto streaming and going by the results of the file downloads and the speeds received, no issues were expected here and none were found. BBC iPlayer HD started playing immediately and suffered no freezes; the DU Meter image below shows the level of about 3-4 Mbps that the BBC iPlayer HD seemed to require. Onto HD Netflix where we see that the Homeplugs coped well here and after the initial peak of 30 Mbps caching (with the film immediately playing) it continued at about 3 Mbps and like iPlayer suffered no stuttering or freezes.


Finally onto the file transfer testing. This should be where we would expect to see speeds well in excess of the pure download tests above. Using DU Meter again we can see a downlink peak speed of 78.4 Mbps and an uplink peak speed of 80.9 Mbps. Slightly disappointing as it is nowhere near the quoted 250 Mbps although 80 Mbps is more than enough to quickly transfer files. For example a 1GB file transferred to the host device in 2 minutes 21 seconds and from that same device in 2 minutes 9 seconds at roughly an average speed of 70 Mbps. Transferring 10 x 20MB files to the host device took just 20 seconds and from that device took 26 seconds with a slightly better speed in the range of 70-77 Mbps.

The main testing was done in a room upstairs from the router and various connection speeds were all within 70-80 Mbps for file transfer. Other speeds in various locations around the house were ranged from a maximum of 98.2 Mbps with the two Homeplugs connected right next to each other down to about 40 Mbps in the furthest part of the house from the router. We also noticed reductions of up to 10% in the speeds when using a high power device in an adjacent socket, such as a toaster for example, although still giving a stable connection, allowing you to transfer that important file whilst getting your breakfast ready! Netgear do say the range can cover a home of up to 5000 square feet, sadly we don't live in a mansion so could only test in a standard 4 bedroom house.


Netgear XAVB5201 Powerline Utility

The final point to mention is a free program available from Netgear's website called the Powerline Utility software. It can be run from any PC on the network regardless of whether it is directly connected to a Homeplug and gives a visual display of the Homeplug network and showing the current Uplink and Downlink connection speeds. It also allows you to rename each device should you have several Homeplugs, along with turning the LED lights off on a particular Homeplug (although that does appear to disable the device as well) and changing the security key if you wish.


Conclusion

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Setup in seconds
  • Price
  • Stylish and compact design

Cons

  • None

I own this 0
I want this 0
I had this 0

Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5201) Review

The Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5201) works so well, it's almost too good to be true, offering an incredibly simple way of creating a wired network. No installation of software is required, nor any time consuming configuration of settings, you just simply plug one device into an outlet near your router, then the other in a room of your choosing, a quick press of the security button on both devices which enables the 128-bit encryption and away you go. This easy process results in connectivity in areas of the house you previously thought impractical without some very long cable runs and the occasional hole drilled into your walls.

It should be noted that the 500 Mbps quoted speed includes both the Uplink and Downlink speeds so, therefore, the theoretical maximum is 250 Mbps. Whilst Netgear have fitted what they claim is a Gigabit Ethernet port, you obviously won't be getting speeds anywhere near that and you probably don't need anything like that anyway. During the testing the best speeds achieved were close to 100 Mbps with the two homeplugs right next to each other in the same wall outlet and the lowest in the confines of our testing location was 40 Mbps. Even at the lowest speed achieved this is more than enough for streaming HD from the likes of Netflix. In the main test area, with a stable speed of 70+ Mbps, a 1GB file takes a little over 2 minutes to transfer.

With Netgear's Pick-A-Plug LED feature you can easily identify the ideal electrical outlet to use, with a green LED meaning a link rate of above 80 Mbps. The speeds actually realised are often below what the Pick-A-Plug feature would have you believe and the actual download or transfer rate is often very different. You can see your actual link rate via the useful free Netgear Powerline Utility software and during testing the quoted 250 Mbps speed was in actual fact nearer a speed of 70-80 Mbps. Whilst it's a shame that you can't achieve anything near 250 Mbps, the Nano 500 is still capable of very impressive and stable speeds and you most likely wouldn't need a connection that fast anyway.

The Powerline 500 is Homeplug AV compatible and also backwards compatible with all previous Netgear Powerline products, meaning adding a third or more Homeplugs to your new Powerline network is hassle free. It's compatible with Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP and Mac OS X and with a quoted coverage of up to 5,000 square feet, Netgear are literally covering all their bases. Should your electrical outlets be at a premium, Netgear also do a similar product, the XAVB5601, with a power outlet on the front for convenience.
Since the Netgear Powerline 500 (XAVB5201) can typically be picked up for under £40 it represents excellent value which, along with its superb performance, makes it a worthy winner of a Highly Recommended badge.

Highly Recommended

The Rundown

8

0

Build Quality

7

Connectivity

7

Ease of Use

10

Connection Speed

0

Value for Money

9

Verdict

8

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges here.


    1. The News Bot

      The News Bot News Supplying Robot Staff Member

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      Reviewed by Greg Hook, 1st November 2012. Since the Netgear Powerline 500 (XABV5201) can typically be picked up for under £40 it represents excellent value which, along with its superb performance, makes it a worthy winner of a Highly Recommended badge.
      Read the full review...
    2. yocky

      yocky Member

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      Thanks. I don't suppose you could compare the performance of these to 200 Mbps rated plugs in your environment could you?

      My 200 setup gives me speeds approaching those that you achieved here and I'm intrigued to know how much more the 500s would offer.

      Also it's XAVB5201 not XABV5201....
    3. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      Got to love these catchy model numbers, thanks for spotting that, all corrected.
    4. Greg Hook

      Greg Hook Moderator & Reviewer

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      I only have the 500 Homeplugs for review so can't compare that unfortunately.
    5. michael.redfern

      michael.redfern Member

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      Can I ask where you're getting the info that the XAVB5201 is gigabit ethernet? All I can see on Netgear's website is the words "Fast ethernet", which I think is 100mbps.

      I can see that they state quite explicitly that the more expensive model, XAVB5101 that you also mention is gigabit, but not the XAVB5201.

      Are you sure they're gigabit?

      XAVB5201
      - states "One (1) Fast Ethernet ports each"

      XAVB5101
      - states "One (1) Gigabit Ethernet port each"
    6. enfant_teribl

      enfant_teribl Member

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      Sounds like these are getting really useful. How many can you run of these i.e. can i buy an extra one? Or do they need to be i n pairs?
    7. Greg Hook

      Greg Hook Moderator & Reviewer

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      They don't need to be in pairs (after the initial pair obviously). I'm not sure the maximum you can run and I only had two to test with, but Netgear's documentation seems to point that adding additional ones are very easy.
    8. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      I think from memory, Netgear claim you can add up to 30 adaptors to a network, I'm not sure whether that many would be feasible but you can certainly add quite a few.
    9. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      To be honest this is something of a moot point because as Greg proved in his review, you won't get 100Mbps over a powerline network, let alone 1Gbps.
    10. michael.redfern

      michael.redfern Member

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      It is if you're going to test the two products differently, and only use DU Meter on one of them, in different environments. There's no way whatsoever to be able to compare the two reviews.

      It definitely explains why Greg is not getting over 100mbps. I get 75 mbps with my 200 series Solwise, which also have a 100mbps ethernet in them. I would have imagined that in the same environment, switching to a 500 series product with a gigabit ethernet port should give me a better connection, but I will never know from this review.
    11. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      Well unfortunately different people reviewed the different products, so I'm afraid there isn't much we can do about that.

      The point I was making is that when it comes to powerline networks, the limiting factor tends to be the electrical circuit rather than what type of Ethernet port is on the adaptor. As Greg points out, despite the claims of 250Mbps speeds, in actual fact it was a lot less than that. My experiences and yours would seem to back that observation up.
    12. sarumbear

      sarumbear Member

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      An excellent review, but after reading it I feel cheated by Netgear. If it wasn't reviews like this you will never know how much of an exaggeration (I say, a lie) that 500 Mbps figure is.

      First you divide that 500 Mbps to two (but you don't do the same for wired Ethernet). Then you find that, 250 Mbps is 'theoretical' (whatever that means) and the device can at best achieve 100 Mbps (less than half of what is advertised) and only when the devices plugged next to each other (a scenario that makes no sense in real life whatsoever).

      How can a manufacturer markets a device that can never, EVER, be tested, even on a lab, to achieve 250 Mbps? This is at best a 100 Mbps device where in real life you expect to achieve about 70 Mbps.

      The speed you will get is less than the THIRD of what is advertised or a SEVENTH of what the figure on the box says. My comment to Netgear is: shame on you!

      I remember the boom-boxes of my youth, which run with a couple of D size batteries that had 1000 Watts written all over them -- as if! Audio manufacturers lied to us big time then until the regulatory requirement for using RMS power came and normality resumed. I think we need similar regulatory intervention on network equipment and we need that soon.
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      Last edited: Nov 3, 2012
    13. SPINO

      SPINO Member

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      Hi Guys , any idea where i could buy one of these ? Cant see to find one here in Ireland .. Thanks John
    14. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      Have you tried online John, I'm sure Amazon sell them.
    15. SPINO

      SPINO Member

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      Thanks Steve , Not one i normally think of .. Had a look , In stock so Just purchased one .. Cheers John
    16. Sniper Ash6

      Sniper Ash6 Well-Known Member

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      Ethernet, like anything, isn't 100% efficient. By the time you take overheads into account you do not get 100Mbps. It's very likely that the Fast Ethernet port is therefore the limitation because the powerline adapters can be communicating at faster speeds.

      What is the source that Netgear's advertised speed isn't a full duplex claim?
    17. Pecker

      Pecker Well-Known Member

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      Morning all - quick question.

      I'm not really up on the full technological terms, etc., so can someone decipher into English for me? :D

      I have a BT Home Hub router in the hall, a PC in the kitchen, a media player, sky box, and several NASs containing many TB of media in the lounge, and media players in two bedrooms. I currently have ugly CAT 5 cables running around the house, and SWMBO doesn't like them. Neither do I, but at least I can see the (current) necessity.

      Now I appreciate I won't be able to have multiple HD Video streams going on at once.

      But I think I want 6 of these (3 pairs). Number 1 for the router in the hall, Number 2 for the kitchen PC, Number 3 will go to a switch in the lounge, which will feed the media player and sky box, numbers 4 & 5 will feed the media players in the bedrooms, and Number 6 I want to connect a switch, and connect all my NASs to this switch - I can tuck this away somewhere then.

      In fact, every room with one of these would have a switch attached so that I could also plug in a laptop.

      Is that do-able? Or have I misunderstood how this works?

      Steve W
      Last edited: Dec 4, 2012
    18. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      Yes Steve that is do-able, theoretically you can add up to 30 to one network.

      I suspect you would struggle to run multiple devices simultaneously but as a quick, cheap, easy and tidy alternative to running Cat5 cables it definitely works.

      The best approach is to buy a pair and try them out and, assuming you're happy, gradually add more.
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    19. sarumbear

      sarumbear Member

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      Steve, the logical thing to do is to leave all your NAS connected to the switch in the lounge, next to the media player and Sky box. That way you will have wire speed at your main viewing location, and use one less Netgear unit.
      • Thanks Thanks x 1
    20. Pecker

      Pecker Well-Known Member

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      Cheers - I'd thought of that.

      The thing is, if I were to put the NAS elsewhere, that'd be a total of 6 units required, and they sell them in pairs.

      We really won't be using more than one media player at once. At most I think we'd have the media player streaming HD video from the NAS and someone else using t'internet in another room, but that'd be very basic surfing, not watching YouTube, or downloading. If this system can cope with that, then I suppose there's no reason not to add the NAS to another location. Of course, the big benefit with that is that I can hide the NAS away.

      As has been suggested, I'll order just one pair first and see how I get on. But it'd be interesting to hear from others who've already used this if they experienced any issues, and if so at what point.

      BTW, I'm in a new build house just 6 years old. Is the wiring any more or less likely to be good for this?

      Cheers.

      Steve W
    21. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers Assistant Editor

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      Well they worked in my cottage which has rather old and decidedly ropey wiring, so I think having new wiring will certainly help in terms of speed and creating a robust network.
      • Thanks Thanks x 1
    22. Greg Hook

      Greg Hook Moderator & Reviewer

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      Here's a response from Netgear that they have allowed me to publish. Hopefully it might answer some questions.

      • Thanks Thanks x 1
    23. Pecker

      Pecker Well-Known Member

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      Maximum bitrate for Blu-ray Disc is 54Mbps, which falls well within the maximum range for the XAVB5201.

      As long as whatever else you were doing didn't draw on the NAS, you could be watching a full HD video rip on two units (one at the NAS end - the other at the media player end), and as long as you were using two different units for whatever else you're doing (say one at the PC end and one at the router end) the two should have no impact on each other.

      The HD video would be more likely to conk out because of the limitation of the individual unit/interference rather than whatever else you were doing elsewhere in the house.

      That's if I understand the comments correctly.

      Steve W
    24. Pecker

      Pecker Well-Known Member

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      A couple of questions on usage.

      1 Does one have to attach to the router, or could I place (for example) one in the living room next to the NASs and the other in the bedroom?

      2 does it have to plug into a wall socket, or can you use a spare in on a 4-gang, or an extension lead?

      Cheers.

      Steve W
    25. Greg Hook

      Greg Hook Moderator & Reviewer

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      To answer this question, you can use it in a 4-gang extension no problem.
      • Thanks Thanks x 1
  • Features

    Maximum Data Transfer Rate 500 Mbps
    Data Encryption Features Yes
    Number of remote receivers 2

    Product Properties

    Width 67 mm
    Depth 34 mm
    Height 55 mm
    Weight 0.082 Kg

    Connections

    LAN Ports Cat5
    Cat6
    Cat7
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