TP-LINK TL-PA9020P Powerline Starter Kit Review

2000Mbps? Would be nice if it worked!

by Greg Hook
Tech Review
TP-LINK TL-PA9020P Powerline Starter Kit Review
SRP: £110.00

What is the TP-LINK TL-PA9020P?

There is a point when numbers become meaningless. ‘Up to’ 50 Mbps broadband for example when you only get 10. 1200Mbps powerline adaptors when at best you might get 400Mbps. The Powerline Adapter world has long been plagued with a system of rating the link rate with a number that may mean something in the lab but to a user it is completely meaningless. Right from the early days of the 200Mbps adapters where you only got 50Mbps, then moving on to 500Mbps which could give you 150Mbps and then the latest 1200Mbps which gave us over 430Mbps in our tests. As you can see the best speeds you will get are often a third, at best, of that big shiny number on the box.

Our latest Powerline Adapter for review, the TL-PA9020P KIT from TP-LINK doesn’t just push the number even further into the realms of ridiculousness, it knocks it completely out of the ball park. For £110 as at the time of writing (August 2016) you get a pair of AV2000 adapters both with AC Pass-through and 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ports each. As you can probably guess from that AV number, TP-LINK has rated these as Homeplug AV2 2000Mbps. We haven’t added a zero in there, it is really 2000Mbps. Whilst quite a chunk more expensive that their PA8030P set we reviewed back in March, it does promise much faster speeds. Read on to see how it performs in our tests…

Design and Connections

The PA9020P pair of adapters use the same overall design that we have seen in their latest crop of adapters such as the PA8030P. They use a nice round-edged white hard plastic shell, fairly modern in design and one that would sit unobtrusively wherever you wish to place it. Only two Gigabit Ethernet ports per adapter here, which is a bit of shame given the 8030P kit had three per adapter. For a brief moment prior to receiving these we had been informed that, finally, the Ethernet ports were coming out of the bottom, alas this was not that case as it was the US version that has this. The UK version still has the top mounted ports which doesn’t look great with cables poking out. So close, but yet so far.

Both adapters in the kit are identical and again feature the excellent AC Pass-through feature. These do add a premium cost to adapters but in our eyes is a must have feature as it saves having to sacrifice a much needed socket. The adapters are fairly chunky but will still fit in a double wall outlet without upsetting a neighbouring socket.

The LED lights follow a similar theme as seen before, although the lights themselves have been moved to the side. The Power LED indicates if the device is on or pairing, a Powerline LED to show the network is working and will illuminate green or red depending on the quality of the connection and, finally, the Ethernet LED which illuminates when a device is connected to at least one of the two Ethernet ports.

TP-LINK TL-PA9020P

Is it easy to install?

We’ve said this before and we will probably say it again, but Powerline Adapters are one of the easiest devices you could ever wish to install. It takes very little effort to setup and no technical knowledge whatsoever is required. You simply plug one adapter into a socket near your router and connect via the supplied Ethernet cable. Then plug the second adapter into a socket of your choosing. Press the pair button on the first device, then run like crazy (well maybe not too crazy as you do have 2 minutes to do this) to the second device and press the pair button on that. Literally, within about 5 seconds the Powerline LED on the side will stop flashing and that is it. Your Powerline Network is now fully operational.

Both adapters in this kit are HomePlug compliant which means you can easily add additional adapters to your network. You aren’t restricted to one manufacturer, either, as any other HomePlug compliant powerline adapter should, in theory, work in the network. We have personally tested with TP-LINK, Devolo and Netgear all in the same network and all worked without issue. If you have an existing Powerline Network, it is recommended that you make sure the fastest adapter is connected to your router. For example if you have an old 200Mbps adapter connected to your router, then have some top spec 1200Mbps adapters elsewhere, you won’t be seeing the benefit as these will be restricted to the likely 50Mbps speed that 200Mbps adapter can supply.
TP-LINK TL-PA9020P

How do we test?

Powerline Adapters are open to huge variances in performance due to many factors such as your house wiring, other equipment plugged in (Microwaves seem to be a particular offender) and distances between adapters. Our testing process has been designed to create repeatable real world tests in the same location to compare different adapters against each other.

The testing is carried out in a standard 4 bed detached house. The router is a BT HomeHub5 (located on the ground floor), connected via Gigabit Ethernet to both a PC and one of the TP-LINK PA9020P Adapters at one end, then with a laptop via Gigabit Ethernet to the other TP-LINK Adapter at the other end. We use a program called LANSpeedTest by Totusoft which is a simple but powerful tool for measuring Local Area Network (LAN) speeds. It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without the effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time and then does the calculations for you. This gives us the results of transferring files from our main PC to the Laptop via the Powerline Adapters.

We test in four different locations of the home. (the distances are straight line estimated, not wiring lengths)

1. 2m between adapters, ground floor, same ring main.
2. 9m between adapters, ground floor, same ring main.
3. 5m between adapters, 1st floor, same ring main.
4. 15m from the main adapter in the garage, not the same ring main, a single spur from the main consumer unit.

Our tests are as follows:
1. 2 x 1GB files simultaneously transferred.
2. 2 x 100MB files simultaneously transferred.
3. 2 x 1GB files successively transferred.
4. 10 x 100MB files successively transferred.
5. 100 x 5MB files successively transferred.
6. 1000 x 10KB files successively transferred.
7. 1000 x 1MB files successively transferred.

The simultaneous test results shown are the maximum throughput speed, whilst the successive tests results are shown as an average speed.

TP-LINK TL-PA9020P performance

TP-LINK TL-PA9020P
Based on our results with the 1200Mbps PA8030 of over 430Mbps, we tested these 2000Mbps adapters with great anticipation, not really knowing what kind of speeds we would get. Unfortunately, as you can see from the table above, we could not have been more disappointed. We ran the tests several times just to make sure it wasn’t an error, plus we tested other adapters to make sure an issue hadn't occurred elsewhere in our setup such as with our laptop or wiring. The peak throughput speed of 139.6Mbps and highest average of 224.26Mbps is not what we had expected at all and a long way behind the £30 cheaper 1200Mbps PA8030 set.

Very poor results across the board, not what we expected to see from this 2000Mbps rated set!

We have said this before with all our Powerline Adapter reviews and here with a rating of 2000Mbps sitting bright and bold on the box it could not be more relevant. You need to take these quoted rates with a pinch of salt as for real world use they are meaningless. To quote TP-LINK, ‘the theoretical maximum channel data transfer rate is derived from the HomePlug AV2 specification, actual data transfer rate will vary…’ The 2000Mbps is a new low as far we are concerned in bamboozling the general public. You won’t ever get 2000Mbps. Firstly, you have to halve it to 1000Mbps as the quoted rates includes both up and down streams. Even directly connecting all devices to your router won’t give you 1000Mbps, so you won’t have any chance of getting that when you throw Powerline Adapters into the mix.

As a general rule of thumb we have found 200Mbps adapters to achieve around 50Mbps, 500-600Mbps adapters to reach around 150-200Mbps (providing they have Gigabit Ethernet ports of course) and then the latest 1000-1200Mbps adapters to reach speeds above 400Mbps. We aren’t quite sure what has gone wrong with these 2000Mbps adapters to give such a poor result, but at a guess we would have expected 600Mbps based on testing history of the other adapters.

As with the previous Powerline adaptors from TP-LINK, this set uses the latest HomePlug AV2 Technology that supports 2x2 MIMO which uses all three of the neutral, ground and live wires to offer faster speeds and more stable connections. Normally this would signal superb speeds, but not here unfortunately.

TP-LINK TL-PA9020P

Software Utility

You don't need any software to use the Powerline Adapters, but TP-LINK does provide a free utility available from their website which allows you to see the network speed, update firmware, change security options and even the name of the adapters if you so wish.

tpPLC Utility
TP-LINK TL-PA9020P

Verdict

Pros

  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Very poor tested speeds
  • You will never get 2000Mbps
  • Unsightly top mounted Ethernet ports

TP-LINK TL-PA9020P Powerline Starter Kit Review

Is it worth buying?

The short answer is, no. For those wanting the ability to stream Ultra HD, multiple HD streams and have the fastest possible connection the PA9020P rated at 2000Mbps on paper ticked all those boxes. In reality, our testing found it to perform very poorly indeed. Yes, it still has the effortless installation and ease of use, but when you pay a premium for the best, you expect it to perform and sadly it doesn’t.

What are the alternatives?

In this case, there are many. If you are looking for top end connection speeds, TP-LINK’s own £30 cheaper PA8030P, which whilst only rated at 1200Mbps, offers speeds that far exceeded this 2000Mbps rated set's actual measured speeds. We normally heap praise on TP-LINK and have found their products to offer very good value for money and perform superbly. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case here.

We reported our poor results to TP-LINK and as of the date of this review (August 2016) TP-LINK have been unable to offer us a working sample which doesn't have the issues that we found in our testing above, therefore we will have to assume that the issue will exist with the product in general. As such our overall score has been based on these issues found.

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Connection Speed

.
.
.
.
.
.
4

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
.
4

Verdict

.
.
.
.
.
.
4
4
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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