Another of Netgear's offerings to hopefully make our lives easier
IntroductionWe've reviewed many products from the Netgear Powerline family recently, from the very affordable Powerline XAVB5201 set, the even cheaper WiFi Booster WN1000RP and the clever Powerline Music Extender XAUB2511. All of these do exactly what they say on the tin with the minimum of installation and setup. Minimum being the operative word here as they all install within minutes. Netgear's latest offering is the Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point set (XWNB5201) which includes a single 500Mbps Powerline adaptor XAV5201 and an XWN5001 500Mbps Powerline adaptor with a WiFi access point. This new set aims to offer all the benefits of a traditional Powerline network with the additional benefit of a wireless access point, meaning you should be able to get to all those hard to reach areas!
With all these Powerline products it is now extremely easy to fully integrate the whole of your house into your home network. Gone are the days of drilling holes everywhere or having unsightly cables running around the whole house to get the internet or a network connection to non-wireless capable devices. If like this reviewer you have lived in your house for many years, there won't be too many walls that haven't suffered from the cable butcher. With this XWNB5201 set you now simply install one adaptor near your router and another adaptor in a room of your choice and wired and wireless access to your home network will become instantly available. Priced at around the £110 mark (although we did find it as cheap as £75) this set should offer an affordable way of getting wireless access to those far away areas in your house. Read on to see how well it does!
Styling and DesignThe Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point adaptors following the same smart styling and design as Netgear's previous Powerline releases, including the same decent build quality that we have become accustomed to with Netgear. The XWNB5201 kit includes a standard Powerline adaptor in the shape of the XAV5201 and an XWN5001 Powerline adaptor with a WiFi access point. Both adaptors are barely bigger than a standard plug and will easy fit in a standard double wall socket or a socket extension lead without obscuring neighbouring sockets. On both we get a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port, together with the security buttons for enabling the 128-bit encryption and reset buttons. Both adaptors have slots for ventilation as they do get slightly warm, but no more than any other plug will and definitely not at a level that would cause you a concern.
To the front of the main Powerline adaptor we have three LED indicator lights - Power LED, Powerline LED and Ethernet LED. When the adaptor is powered up the Power LED will show a green light, which will then show amber when it enters power saving mode, which uses less than 0.5 watts. The Powerline LED is enabled with Netgear's Pick-A-Plug feature which allows you to easily choose the electrical outlet with the strongest link rate. You will see a green, amber or red light which goes from a scale of over 80 Mbps link rate for green, 50-80Mbps for Amber and under 50Mpbs for red. This lights up within seconds and is handy for instantly telling you the best place to put the Powerline adaptors. The final light is the Ethernet LED which is enabled when you have connected the Ethernet port to a powered-on device. The Powerline adaptor with the WiFi access point also has the same Power LED and Powerline LEDs, but instead of the Ethernet LED it comes with a WiFi LED which lights up solid blue when the wireless access point is up and running.
SetupAs with all the recent Netgear products we have reviewed the setup and installation is a piece of cake and takes barely a couple of minutes. It is really Plug and Play at it's finest. You connect the first adaptor (XAV5201) to a socket in the same room as your router and connect via the Ethernet cable and then plug in the Powerline WiFi adaptor in another room of your choice. Once both are turned on, simply press the security button on both devices for 2 seconds (you have enough time to do this on both devices, it doesn't need to be done at the same time!) and wait a few more seconds for the Power LED lights to stop flashing and that's it. The 128-bit encryption is now enabled together with the Wi-Fi access point. That's really all you need to do to get your Powerline network up and running and you should no longer be griping at a poor wireless signal in distant areas of the house or having to drill holes or run unsightly cables to non wireless enabled devices in other rooms.
In line with previous Powerline products from Netgear, adding a third or more Powerline adaptor is also very simple, just plug it in and press the security button on this new device and it will connect itself to the existing Powerline network. The adaptors in the XWNB5201 kit are fully compatible with Homeplug AV and previous Netgear Powerline AV products. The Wi-Fi access point adaptor also has an Ethernet port so with the enclosed 2 metre Ethernet cable you can also use it as a conventional Powerline adaptor to get the best from it.
Performance and TestingWhilst Netgear quote that these are Powerline 500 adaptors and the Powerline speed is up to 500 Mbps, it should be noted that this combines both the uplink and downlink speeds, which therefore gives a theoretical maximum of 250 Mbps. Whilst we can see those link rates achieved in the screenshot from the Netgear Powerline Utility shown below, you won't ever see those kind of speeds during normal use. Mainly because Netgear have decided use just a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port in each device meaning the best you will ever get is 100 Mbps. Netgear's explanation is that the up to 500 Mbps speed allows for additional adaptors, so for example if you added another adaptor or two you would be able to achieve the maximum 100 Mbps on each up to the combined uplink and down link speed of 500Mpbs. Personally we would much rather have seen a gigabit Ethernet port to allow you to squeeze that bit more out of it. Although very few, if any, Powerline adaptors have gigabit Ethernet ports as the manufacturers believe you won't realistically see much more than 100 Mbps anyway.
Using DUMeter software and firstly testing connected via Ethernet we can see that the full speed available from our internet connection is achieved when downloading a 1GB test file. With a peak of 45 Mbps the file took just a couple of minutes to download. 45 Mbps should be well within the capabilities of these Powerline adaptors but it is still good to see that is achievable with no interruptions or failures.
Onto streaming and again no issues were found here and performance was as expected with both BBC iPlayer HD and Netflix HD. They started playing immediately and the download speed required, as can be seen in the screenshots from DUMeter above are comfortably within the confines of what these Powerline adaptors can achieve. With a peak of just over 8Mbps and maintaining a comfortable 2Mbps streaming speed for BBC iPlayer and a peak of 38Mbps for Netflix whilst caching (with the film immediately playing) which then maintained a level of about 2-3 Mbps, no stuttering or freezes were encountered.
We now get to the file transfer testing, where we should reasonably expect to see speeds much higher than the downloading speeds seen above. With DU Meter again in our chosen test socket we can see a downlink peak speed of 78.9 Mbps and a much lower uplink peak speed of 55.8Mbps. Moving the Powerline adaptor as close as we could get to the main adaptor we saw those speeds increase to 80.3 and 73.8 respectively. Obviously nowhere near the 250 Mpbs speed quoted by Netgear, but as we have explained above, due to the Ethernet port only being 10/100, you wouldn't see more than 100Mbps anyway. The speeds here should be fast enough to transfer files across the network quickly.
Finally a repeat of all the above tests were carried out using the wireless access point in the Powerline adaptor. With the file transfer testing the speeds dropped to 10.1Mpbs downlink and 19.4Mpbs uplink. Downloading a test file also saw speeds drop to 12.3 Mbps. These speed drops are slightly disappointing given that the XWN5001 has a/b/g and n 2.4 Ghz wireless capabilities up to 300 Mbps. Clearly we won't get more than 100Mbps anyway but better speeds would have been welcome here. As above with the streaming tests, the lower speeds received here are more than enough to cope with both BBC HD and Netflix HD. We did see an increase in the download speeds up to 18Mbps when we moved the Powerline adaptor right next to the main adaptor, so it is also worth trying various sockets (if you can) to find the best one. As with all Powerline adaptors they are susceptible to interference should you have a high powered device in an adjacent socket. We plugged in a toaster and turned it on and saw instant reduction of up to 10% in the normal speeds received. So perhaps make your lunch elsewhere when using the Powerline adapters.
Netgear XAVB5201 Powerline UtilityThe 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 Powerline adaptor and gives a visual display of the Powerline network and shows the current Uplink and Downlink connection speeds. It also allows you to rename each device should you have several Powerline adaptors, along with turning the LED lights off (although that does appear to disable the device as well) and changing the security options if you wish.
- Very easy to setup
- Pick-A-Plug LED
- Energy saving features
- Good performance
- Only a 10/100 Ethernet port
- 500 Mbps claims are rather spurious
Netgear Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point Review
Once again Netgear haven't disappointed us with the Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point set (XWNB5201). The installation and setup is as simple as we have come to expect and literally within minutes you've setup a wired network with the addition of a wireless access point. Once both devices are plugged in, you just press the security button on each device to enable the 128-bit encryption then simply install the Netgear Powerline Utility software on any PC connected to the main router to setup the wireless security and that's all you will ever need to do. You can even uninstall the software after that as you won't need it again for everyday use. Within minutes you now have a Powerline network offering wired or wireless access to areas of the house you previously thought impossible without unsightly cable runs or getting the drill out.
We were slightly disappointed with the claims by Netgear of 500Mpbs Powerline speed. Firstly this includes both the downlink and uplink speed so that is reduced to a theoretical maximum of 250Mbps straight away, then we have the issue that the Ethernet ports are only 10/100 and not 10/1000. Meaning you won't ever get more than 100Mbps at the very best. Netgear have qualified these claims by saying that the quoted speeds allow for additional Powerline adaptors to be fitted and still allowing you to get up to 100Mbps from each of them, but to us that appears to be slightly misleading marketing. Those of you buying this expecting to get more than 100Mbps will be disappointed.
Taking the above into account we were still impressed with the wired performance received. During the file transfer tests, speeds of around 80Mbps were achieved which means a 1GB file could be transferred in as little as 2 minutes and the full download speed of 45Mbps from our internet connection was realised when downloading several test files. The speeds achieved were also more than enough for HD streaming from the likes of BBC iPlayer or Netflix. With Netgear's Pick-A-Plug feature it is also very easy to find the socket that will give you the best connection or at least instantly tell you what kind of performance you will get from your chosen socket.
As with previous Powerline products this is fully Homeplug AV compatible and adding additional Powerline adaptors is as simple as plugging them in and pressing the security button on the side. The software will run on Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP and Mac OS X and the coverage on this set is quoted at up to 500m2. The XWNB5201 works without issue and is very easy to setup with excellent performance based on the wired tests. It's perhaps a tad expensive at £110 but lower prices are available if you shop around, the wireless performance is slightly poor and the claims of up to 500 Mbps speeds are somewhat spurious. However, overall this is another quality Netgear product and as such we feel it's a worthy winner of our Recommended badge.
Ease of Use10
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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