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LAN & WAN Reviews

Introduction

Actiontec PWR500 and TRENDnet TPL-406E2K 500 Mbps Powerline AV kits

At a Glance
Product - Actiontec 500 Mbps Powerline Network Adapter Kit (PWR500)
- TRENDnet 500 Mbps Compact Powerline AV Adapter Kit (TPL-406E2K)
Summary 500 Mbps powerline adapters based on new Qualcomm Atheros chipset
Pros • Throughput exceeds other 500 Mbps adapters as distances increase
• Very budget friendly
Cons • 10/100 Ethernet port
• Can't reach > 100 Mbps total throughput that adapters with Gigabit Ethernet can
• Not available as single adapters

You might be looking at the cons and wondering how an adapter can be classified as 500 Mbps when it has a only 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port. If you're confused, you're not alone. It appears that powerline marketeers are taking the same approach as their wireless brethren and promoting link-rate throughput numbers far in excess of what products actually deliver in real-world use.

Claiming that a product is "500 Mbps" when it has only a 100 Mbps Ethernet port is like N wireless gear claiming 300 Mbps when they have 10/100 ports or the new draft 802.11ac gear claiming 1300 Mbps while having only Gigabit ports.

But I digress. We know from looking at the performance charts for powerline adapters that actual throughput is nowhere near the advertised throughput anyway. So let's take a closer look at these new adapters and then see how they compare to some of their 500 Mbps competitors.

I first checked the HomePlug Certified Products database for both products and found neither was listed. But on Actiontec's datasheet, I saw the adapter listed as HomePlug certified, so decided to clarify the status with Actiontec. I was told the chipset in the adapter is Homeplug certified, but the adapter itself is still going though the process of certification and they expect it to be certified soon. So Actiontec has gotten ahead of itself on claiming that its adapter is HomePlug Certified.

Unlike other 500 Mbps powerline adapters, and more like the 200 Mbps powerline adapters, the Ethernet ports on both products are 10/100, not Gigabit. The 10/100 port is a design tradeoff Qualcomm Atheros (QCA) made to get everything into the AR7420 chip as you can see in Figure 1 below.

Qualcomm Atheros 7420 specs

Figure 1: Qualcomm Atheros 7420 specs

You can see that the integrated 10/100 controller helps reduce the footprint of the adapters. One adapter from the Actiontec PWR500 and TRENDnet TPL-406E2K kits are shown on the left next to the NETGEAR XAVB5101 that replaces the older XAVB5001.

Adapter comparison size, left to right, Actiontec PWR500, TRENDnet TPL-406E2K, NETGEAR XAVB5101, NETGEAR XAVB5001

Figure 2: Adapter comparison size, left to right, Actiontec PWR500, TRENDnet TPL-406E2K, NETGEAR XAVB5101, NETGEAR XAVB5001

As far as LEDs go, on the TRENDnet we have Power, Powerline Connection and Ethernet. Powerline Connection provides a four state indication of Best (Green), Better (Amber), Good (Red), or No Connection (Off). On the Actiontec we have Power, Link, and Ethernet. Link only appears to give a solid green when connected, regardless of connection quality. This can be seen in Figure 2 below.

Actiontec documentation on LK light

Figure 3: Actiontec documentation on LK light

Inside

The AR7420 specs above provide an indication of what we are going to see inside. Obviously we see the Atheros AR7420-AL3C chip in both adapters. Within that chip are the memory, a three-port capable Ethernet switch, and all the other goodies. The little companion chip you see in each picture above the AR7420 is the AR1540 Line Driver IC, which handles analog interface duties.

Inside shot - Actiontec left, TRENDnet right

Figure 4: Inside shot - Actiontec left, TRENDnet right

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