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Devolo LAN: Not your daddy's powerline Ethernet repeater

Powerline Ethernet has come a long way in the past decade. It's time to give it a fresh look.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Devolo triple plug


I love my house, but it's not without its challenges. I've previously written about how it's an old place my wife and I purchased as a fixer-upper. The first part of the house was built on top of a crawl space. Many years later, a subsequent owner threw down a concrete slab and built on top of that. Joining the two spaces is a hallway and utility room that houses HVAC, laundry, a freezer, and our water heater.

Wi-Fi does not pass between the two parts of the house. That utility room behaves as a fully functioning Faraday cage.

To get around this problem, we ran Ethernet cables to a bunch of rooms in the house and then added backhauling Synology MR2200ac Wi-Fi repeaters into six rooms in the house. I did a full article on this, which you can read here.

But there are two rooms where we couldn't run Ethernet: the master bedroom and the workshop.

The bedroom is located under my upstairs office and is yet another add-on by yet another owner. There's a 12-inch thick wall between the bedroom and the rest of the house, and its ceiling is the floor of the office. There's no way to run Ethernet into that room without traveling outside the house and punching a hole to get back in. That's not something I want to do.

The workshop has a surprisingly low ceiling with a metal roof right above it. There's no crawl space, attic, or way to run cabling into that space either, at least without knocking part of a wall down.

Both rooms have fair, but definitely not great, Wi-Fi. There's nothing resembling fast Ethernet, so even though I'd sometimes like to do some video editing in my workshop, the mediocre Wi-Fi makes file transfers an exercise in frustration. I have an Xbox in the bedroom, and while I'd like to play (and lose, I'm a terrible gamer) against my friends, the miserable Wi-Fi makes it even harder to take the rare kill shot without losing connectivity.

When Devolo's PR firm contacted me about reviewing their  powerline Ethernet extender, I thought I'd see whether or not it would solve my Xbox gaming challenge -- not my limited skill, but the networking issue, that is.

I've used powerline Ethernet extenders before, with very limited success. My last serious attempt was about ten years ago, well before the advent of mesh Wi-Fi networks. The idea of a powerline extender is that you can use your home or office's electrical wiring as a networking transport. You plug one powerline box into the wall near your router and another near the destination device, connect each powerline box via an Ethernet cable to the device in question, and then your network traffic runs from one to the other across the electrical circuits.

Ten years ago, the technology worked, but it was slow and relatively unreliable. It was more of a novelty than a solution.

The phrase "ain't your daddy's" is often used to refer to something that has a fixed definition in whatever share of mind it has, but where something new, perhaps a technology upgrade, is promised to change that definition for the better. In the case of powerline Ethernet, as in all things tech, ten years is a very, very long time. The Devolo Magic 2 LAN triple product is a substantial evolutionary improvement over the older devices. Think iPhone 13 vs iPhone 4. Big changes.

The kit I got from Devolo included two devices. One had a wall plug and a single Ethernet port. The other had a wall plug and three Ethernet ports (hence the "triple" in the product name). That's so you can plug three devices in (like the Xbox, a computer, and a TV) and send all three of them over the powerline network.

Setup and testing

Setup is easy. Just plug everything in. There is an app that allows you to tune the network connection, but I didn't use it. I just plugged each Devolo box into the wall, plugged my bedroom computer and Xbox into the triple box, and ran a cable from the switch near my router into the other Devolo box.

And that was it. I had networking.

The performance was surprisingly good. File transfer to my computer wasn't as fast as to a similar computer over hard-wired Ethernet, but it was close. It was about three times faster than Wi-Fi. I know I'm not sharing exact numbers, but that's because my house is different from yours. The value is in the relative performance, not the actual numbers I'm getting here.

From a gaming perspective, latency was low enough that it was possible to comfortably game. I still got killed, because of course, I did. But that was no longer due to the terrible Wi-Fi connection and poor latency. Instead, it was due to the fact that I'm just not a very good twitch gamer. I was, however, finally able to camp out, lie in wait, and take some sniper shots that found their target. I no longer pulled the trigger with a headshot in the reticle, only to suddenly have the entire target body blink out and reappear across the field of fire.

So, yeah, the Devolo did the job.

Make sure you test before the return period lapses

One note, however. I also tried to make a powerline connection from my router to the far end of the house, across that utility room, past the electrical box, and at the far side of the older part of the house. The Devolo was unable to get a signal.

To be fair, that's probably not the fault of the Devolo. When we were preparing the house for moving in, I spent two days with a team of electricians here, all running around mumbling, "I've never seen anything like it." The electrical circuits in this house had been put in by a previous homeowner who warned me there were open lines, but he'd taught his family not to touch them, and he was sure we'd be fine as long as we knew where they were and not to touch them, too.

Yeah, our electrical system needed help. My point is our house is a challenge, and the fact that the Devolo succeeded in one room and didn't in the other is less likely a failure of the Devolo and far more because our house is very odd.

That said, make sure you can return the product if you buy it. Make sure you test to see if it can work in the space you want it to and return it if it can't.

As for me, I now can play the Xbox in the bedroom. For a little over a hundred bucks, that's a win. 

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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