For Christmas we replaced the entertainment center in our living room we’ve had for 10 years. That meant disconnecting and untangling 10 years’ worth of wiring. I also ran into some problems with my networking. One problem was absurdly low speed. So I looked into ways to increase powerline speed. While it’s still not great, it’s much more usable now.
Generally speaking, to increase powerline speed, you need adapters with a top speed that seems reasonable to you. Assuming you have fairly quick, up-to-date adapters, you should plug them directly into the wall, place them as close to each other as possible, try to avoid using them on circuits that have arc fault breakers on them, avoid having motors and other heavy appliances on the same circuit as the end that plugs into your switch or router, and, ideally, plug them both into outlets on the same circuit breaker.
How do you set up a powerline network?
The first problem I had was lack of connectivity at all. So I set up the network again, hoping that would fix it. Generally speaking, the way to set up a powerline network is to push the pairing button on one of the adapters, hold it for about a second, then wait two minutes and push the button on the other adapter and hold it for a second.
Once the two adapters are paired, you’ll see all three lights come on, then the activity light starts to blink. Then you know it’s working. This secures your powerline network.
In my case, my lights were on, but our Roku and my sons’ game consoles weren’t pulling IP addresses over the wire. Eventually I thought to bypass the switch and plug one of the devices straight into the powerline adapter. It worked. So I broke out my spare switch and plugged it in. That got everything working.
Then I checked my speed. I was underwhelmed. 16 smokin’ megabytes. The same as the LAN speed at my first job way back in 1997. My kids hadn’t been complaining since I put it in, since it’s been reliable. Getting wireless in that room has always been difficult. The only way to get a wired connection over to where the entertainment center sits would be to run a wire along the outside wall. Maybe someday. Not today. So I looked into ways to increase powerline speed in hopes of improving the situation.
Line speed vs link speed vs benchmarks
Now, a caveat: My Roku isn’t measuring line speed or link speed. It’s checking how fast its connection is to Netflix’s servers, which is going to be slightly slower than line speed due to overhead. It’s a more useful test, which better approximates the real world. And besides, my switch said it was connecting at 100 meg. Talk about unrealized potential.
Benchmarks are synthetic too, to an extent, but in this case, they’re the best we have. If I hadn’t had a Roku device sitting right there to use, I would have plugged in a laptop and used the Speedtest.net app, which I’ve used to troubleshoot problematic upstream connections before.
How fast is powerline networking?
Powerline networking speed varies. I bought a TP-Link TP-PL4010 kit, which claims to be able to run at up to 500 megabits. “Up to” is the key. It cost less than half as much as a gigabit kit, and I figured gigabit was overkill for a game console and a Roku. Of course, with 16 smokin’ megabits, I’m glad I didn’t buy gigabit. I’m using a fraction of its capability, but it cost me 45 bucks. Today they cost $35. The price difference isn’t as great now, but I still don’t see a reason to pay extra for gigabit since you probably won’t get top speed out of yours either.
You may get better speed than me or you may get worse. House wiring is always different. A previous owner had an electrician rewire this house sometime in the 1990s, so its wiring isn’t bad. A newer house might be better. Or it might be worse. Better enough to get full speed? That seems optimistic.
My powerline networking proved reliable. Just slower than I like. In theory 16 megs was enough, but I wanted more. Hey, I’m a performance freak.
One weird trick to increase powerline speed!
I found someone who claimed he doubled the speed of his powerline networking by flipping his adapters upside down. There’s no reason why that should make a difference. The adapters are designed to let you plug them in either way so you can plug them into whichever outlet is free without blocking both of them, since many people who buy them are probably going to plug them in next to their router, which probably has an AC adapter that’s even bigger than the powerline adapter, and that adapter probably only goes in one way.
But hey, what do I know? So I flipped my adapters upside down and ran my tests. The results were shocking. My connection slowed down to 15 megabits.
Actually that’s not exactly shocking. If I had just waited half an hour and changed nothing, my speed probably would have shifted up or down a megabit.
You won’t hurt anything by trying this trick, but I think it’s a placebo.
Things that interfere with powerline speed
Arc fault circuit breakers are known to interfere with powerline speed. Unless your house is very new, however, I wouldn’t expect you to have arc fault circuits, at least not in very many places.
Heavy appliances, motors, and other items with high current draw can interfere with powerline speed. These are also the kinds of things that are supposed to be on dedicated circuits, but in older houses sometimes that’s a pipe dream. Putting these devices on a long extension cord that’s rated high enough for the load can reduce interference.
Most importantly, power strips and surge protectors make a difference. Don’t plug your powerline adapter into a power strip, surge protector, or UPS, as much as I’m sure you want to. It will work much better plugged straight into the wall. It may not work at all if you plug it into a power strip or UPS.
Distance also makes a difference. More distance means more interference.
How I quadrupled my powerline speed
Since all of my appliances are on dedicated circuits and I haven’t put in arc fault beakers, I knew it wasn’t any of those things. I also knew not to plug them into power strips.
So the only thing I could control was distance. Having wired my house with Ethernet, I have more than one power plug in close proximity with a network jack. So I tried all of them. The best one gave me a connection speed of 68 megabits. That’s still not great, but that’s faster than 802.11g wireless, and much faster than I’ve ever been able to get wireless in that room. It’s more than fast enough to stream 4K content, and should be more than enough for the games my sons play.
In the long run, mesh wireless may be a better way to go. But mesh wireless costs a lot more than $35, and I already had the powerline adapters.