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Powerline Adapters vs. Ethernet? Which You Should Use (2022)

How do Powerline adapters compare to Ethernet? Which is better? Learn about Powerline adapters and other solutions for your home network.

Powerline Adapter Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: November 17, 2022

Written by Kevin Jones

Powerline Adapters vs. Ethernet

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Typical Ethernet cable such as Cat 6a will provide the simplest to understand and usually the fastest solution for wiring your home network. However, every home and set of requirements is going to be unique. In some cases, you may not want to put holes in floors and walls.

Powerline adapters can be an excellent solution for distributing Internet access throughout your home. In particular, it's a great choice when your environment has too many obstructions or too much interference for Wi-Fi, and you don't want to hardwire Ethernet.

Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a cable) will always provide the fastest, most reliable, and lowest latency solution. However, adding Ethernet cables will typically require drilling holes in your walls.

Compared to standard Ethernet, Powerline adapters will be slower, have higher latency, and are less reliable. Powerline adapters can be subject to intermittent interference. For example, Powerline adapters can be affected when running large home appliances. Powerline adapters are also significantly affected by the quality of your home AC wiring. If the quality of your home wiring isn't known, you will not know whether it will work well before trying it.

Powerline adapters will work for providing high-speed Internet to your gaming computer or console, but they are not your best option.

As I'll discuss below, MoCA adapters (Ethernet over coax) may be a great alternative solution. If you have existing coax wiring in your home, MoCA provides a better overall connection than Powerline adapters.

Check out my article Powerline Adapters vs. Wi-Fi for further discussion comparing Powerline adapters to Wi-Fi.

Check out my Recommended Powerline Adapters and Ethernet Switches below.

What Are Powerline Adapters?

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A pair of Powerline adapters allows you to use AC wiring for Ethernet communication. Powerline adapters behave like an extension for an Ethernet cable. You can create an Ethernet network by simply plugging a pair of Powerline adapters into your wall outlets. Powerline adapters can communicate over the same wires as you use for AC power transmission.

Use Cases for Powerline Adapters and Ethernet Cables

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  • Extend wireless coverage with wired connections to additional Wi-Fi access points.
  • Connect devices that don't support Wi-Fi.
  • Backhaul for a Mesh Wi-Fi System (i.e., a wired backbone for the Wi-Fi satellites).
  • Use wired connections to avoid Wi-Fi interference from neighbors.
  • A secure alternative to Wi-Fi.

Are Powerline Adapters Good for Gaming?

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Powerline adapters will work for providing high-speed Internet to your gaming computer or console, but they are not your best option.

Powerline adapters have lower latency than Wi-Fi, which is good. However, they do not have the same reliability or speed compared to their alternatives.

Suppose you have coax cabling in your home. In that case, MoCA adapters are a better option, as they provide faster speeds and better reliability.

Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a cable) will always provide the fastest, most reliable, and lowest latency solution.

Powerline vs. Alternatives

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Ethernet Cable & AlternativesSetup ComplexitySupported SpeedsSupported DistanceLatencyReliability
Ethernet Cable - Ethernet over Twisted Pair (e.g., Cat 6a)ExcellentExcellentGoodExcellentExcellent
Powerline - Ethernet over PowerlineExcellentFairGoodFairPoor
MoCA - Ethernet over CoaxGoodGoodGoodGoodGood
Wi-Fi - WirelessGoodFairFairPoorFair

MoCA

Suppose you're looking for an alternative to Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi. In that case, we believe that MoCA (Ethernet over Coax) is the clear winner compared to Powerline due to the faster speeds and better signal quality. However, there are still some use cases where Powerline may be the best solution. Powerline is a little easier to set up than MoCA. MoCA adapters require coax cabling in your rooms, which may not exist in your case.

Suppose your Internet speed is less than 200 Mbps or your devices on the network do not support gigabit Ethernet. In these cases, Powerline adapters may be the best of the two options for you, as they offer a lower price point.

On the other hand, MoCA adapters are a better option when you want to fully utilize a higher-speed Internet connection and have existing coax cabling between rooms.

You could also consider using both! For example, MoCA adapters might work great for connecting an upstairs and downstairs via coax. At the same time, Powerline adapters would be great for getting Internet to a garage that has no coax line available.

Learn more about MoCA adapters in my article, Ethernet Over Coax?! A Complete Guide to MoCA Adapters.

For even more alternatives, check out my article, The 6 Best Ethernet Cable Alternatives for Home Networks.

Powerline vs. Ethernet Distance

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Powerline and Ethernet distances are more than long enough for most homes.

Max Speeds and Distances
Cable Category Max Speed and Distance
Cat 5e
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 6a
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 8
  • 40 Gbps @ 30 meters
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Coax (MoCA 2.5)
  • 2.5 Gbps @ 91 meters
Powerline
  • 2 Gbps @ 300 meters (actual speeds are often lower)

Pros and Cons of Powerline

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Pros:

  • Easy wiring using existing power outlets (connect an Ethernet cable)
  • Low cost (compared to MoCA adapters)
  • Encrypted (some products)
  • Up to a 300-meter range
  • Some models have built-in Wi-Fi
  • Plug and play setup (no configuration required)

Cons:

  • Often a lower connection speed of around 150-350 Mbps compared to the advertised 1-2 Gbps
  • Powerline devices need to be on the same electrical circuit
  • May cause noticeable electromagnetic interference with some devices such as speakers (static sound)
  • Power strip, GFCI outlets, and AFCI circuit breakers may degrade Powerline network signals
  • Some models block an outlet when connecting directly into a wall outlet

Ethernet Cables

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Typical twisted-pair copper Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a) offer some of the fastest speeds possible for a home network. If you feel like your Ethernet isn't fast enough:

  • Upgrade to 1 Gbps devices (routers and switches) if you haven't already.
  • Use at least cat 5e cable (go with cat 6a cable if you make a new purchase).
  • Replace cables if they are damaged.
  • Verify that your computers support 1 Gbps speeds if you want to make use of that capacity.
Ethernet Cable Max Speeds and Distances
Cable Category Max Speed and Distance
Cat 5
  • 100 Mbps @ 100 meters
Cat 5e
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 6
  • 10 Gbps @ 55 meters (37 meters if high cross talk)
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 6a
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters

Pros:

  • Fast and reliable connection
  • Low cost
  • Lowest latency (e.g., for gaming)
  • Secure
  • Plug and play setup (no configuration required)

Cons:

  • Limited to 100 meters (without an additional Ethernet switch)
  • May require new wiring for your home
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How to Set Up Powerline Adapters

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Powerline adapters can be very simple to set up. Conceptually, you can think of a pair of Powerline adapters as an extension for an Ethernet cable. More than two Powerline adapters behave like an Ethernet hub combined with Ethernet cables.

Most Powerline adapters are configured similarly.

To set up Powerline adapters:

  1. Plug one Powerline adapter into a power outlet and connect it to your Internet router via an Ethernet cable.
  2. Plug one or more additional Powerline adapters into power outlets in rooms where you want Internet access. Connect them to computers or other network devices via Ethernet cables.
  3. Pair the Powerline adapters by holding down the button on each adapter for a few seconds.

That's it! Your devices should now be on the network and have Internet access.

Building Your Network

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If you want to learn more about internet equipment, networking, wiring, or troubleshooting, check out these articles:

More Powerline Articles

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