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TP-Link AV1200 Gigabit Powerline Kit Review

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,283
It is truly a wonderful time to be a consumer looking for home wireless networking equipment. Not only is the list of manufacturers growing, but they are stepping up their game and releasing fantastic products at a seemingly experimental rate. The sheer number of <I>options</i> on how to improve a wireless home network is also growing faster than most can keep track of. A perfect example of this is the all-new TP-Link AV1200, which is a powerline adapter, range extender <I>and</i> 3-port wireless hub all-in-one device.

While powerline adapters are not exactly new, this next generation of powerline-based products are really intriguing as the performance that they can offer promises to be every bit as good as what mid-level 802.11ac routers are capable of. What's even more impressive is that by including a wireless range extender, this nifty networking device has the potential to remove the other great weakness inherent to powerline adapters: extending networks <i>beyond</i> the range of your home's 110V wiring by creating a new wireless network hotspot at that furthest possible point.

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For the wireless 802.11ac networking side of the equation is handled by the WPA8630 powerline receiver, which is rated for 867Mbits/sec on a single 5Ghz 802.11ac network and 300Mbits/sec on a single 2.4GHz 802.11n network. As an added bonus, this receiver comes equipped with not one but <i>three</i> 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports so up to three separate devices can be directly attached to it.

This combination of performance, flexibility, and price is certainly what makes the AV1200 Gigabit Powerline ac Wi-Fi kit unique, but as we have seen in the past not every product can live up to its potential. To be blunt, can the AV1200 (as we are going to call it for brevity's sake) actually do all that it says it can or will it have the same problems that have plagued earlier generation powerline adapters from all manufacturers? That is the burning question that we are sure most consumers interested in this product will be asking, and that is what we intend to find out. If it can do everything it promises, the AV1200 may just be one of the most technologically innovative networking products to be released in recent memory.

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The AV1200 consists of two parts: the TL-WPA8630 combination range extender and powerline transceiver, and a TL-PA8010P powerline transceiver. Basically, the PA8010P is connected to a wall outlet near your router and is directly connected to said router via a RJ45 cable. This device transcodes the standard RJ45 Ethernet packets into 110V-based packets that are then sent down the 110V lines and outwards to all wall outlets on the circuit. On the other end, the WPA8630 is meant to be plugged into a wall outlet that is on that PA8010P's circuit and then coverts the packets back into standard Ethernet packets or 802.11 wireless packets, which are then sent these to the connected wired or wireless devices.

Exactly <i>how</i> it does all this takes a bit of explanation, as unlike typical range extenders there is a secondary standard at play. Powerline adapters first came about in 2001 and since then have grown and developed over time, and most now utilize the HomePlug standard. Now in its fourth generation, the Advanced HomePlug AV2 standard is capable of 1800Mbits/sec connectivity. TP-Link literature states that this kit is rated for 1.2Gbit/sec or 1200Mbit/sec, which is a more realistic real-world rating but it is still higher than the 10/100/1000 port these devices use for connection to the router! As such, 1000Mbit/sec is a more realistic 'maximum' and in testing 800-900Mbit/s connection speeds were often encountered.

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/ang2_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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Powerline adapters work by creating pulses on the 110V line itself, across all three wires, which then get carried over the copper cabling where they are picked up by the other device, decoded and then forwarded as standard Ethernet or 802.11 wireless packets. This additional overhead does mean higher latency, but in a home usage scenario the difference is minor at best.

It's worth nothing that this latest powerline adapter standard is capable of MIMO, so multiple packets coming from multiple transceivers can be sent over the same 110V power circuit. Unlike wireless connectivity speeds - which are heavily dependent on the amount of 'clutter' (walls, TVs, etc) in between the sender and the receiver - powerline is not as variable. Now that is not the same as saying that it is as capable as Ethernet, since as the amount of noise on the 110V circuit will impact overall transmission speed, but generally speaking this wired connection is more capable than wireless at longer distances.

The major weakness is that both the base station and remote stations have to be on the same circuit. Basically, if the wiring in your house is such that each room is given its own circuit at the circuit breaker then the distance the powerline signal can travel will be limited to that room and only that room. Luckily, in many homes, multiple rooms make use of the same 10/15/20 amp circuit. However, this is the main downside as wireless signals have no such limitation. It's also worth mentioning that neither device can be connected directly to a power line conditioner (power bar, UPS, etc.) as the packets will be 'seen' as noise and scrubbed from the line. On the positive side, this starter kit can be expanded up to 16 devices so it does have a lot of potential for future growth.

This is where the beauty of the 2x2 802.11n/ac WPA8630 adapter comes into play, as it can be located fairly far from the router and can then extended its range by using the wireless network. The only downside is that the devices that you wish to connect to the WPA8630 must be wireless capable, otherwise you will not be able to connect to it from anything further than what your RJ45 cable allows. Of course, as it does have three built-in ports, running a short RJ45 cable is not that big a deal.

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/ang1_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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As for the devices themselves, both the WPA8630 and PA8010P are about the same size as the typical wireless range extenders. However, they are a touch thicker than most as the internal components require larger heatsinks and more internal volume. As you can see, both units are passively cooled devices, but they do have copious amounts of ventilation built directly into their white chassis.

Another positive note is that both of these devices are directly powered via the 110V power outlet, but unlike the Linksys RE7000 that we recently reviewed, the base station makes use of a power pass-through configuration that allows another device – e.g. a router, PC, lamp, etc – to be pluged directly into the front it. While it is limited to 16 amps, this is a nice little bonus as it means neither device will actually take up a wall outlet.

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/ang4_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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The WPA8630 makes use of two proportionately large external antennas, which can be configured so as to not be 'blocked' by anything connected directly to the front of the unit itself. Another neat feature is that while the PA8010P only has one RJ45 connector (as that is all it needs to connect directly to the router), the WPA8630 comes with three RJ45 10/100/1000 ports. This is a nice little bonus as unlike the typical wireless range extender - which comes with a paltry one - this device can be directly connected to three devices and be used as a fairly decent network hub/bridge. Brilliant stuff.

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The WPA8630 also comes with WPS abilities and a simple push of the button will allow any WPS-capable device to be connected to it. It's also nice to see that both units have a nicely lit diagnostics panel built right into the front of them. This means that with just a glance you can see if the wireless network is active, if the 3 ports are active, and if the device is actually properly connected to the PA8010P.

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/QCA7500_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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Internally, both halves of this kit rely upon the Qualcomm Atheros QCA7500 controller for the SoC and the powerline controller. This particular controller has been the cornerstone of many powerline devices recently, and it is an excellent choice.

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/AR8035_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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For the wired Ethernet ports, both make use of a Qualcomm Atheros AR8035-A, which a single 10/100/1000 controller.

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In order to offer three gigabit ports, the range extender also uses the Qualcomm Atheros QCA8337 switch. We would love to show you the wireless range extender's 802.11ac controller, but during the removal of the heatsink the inscription on the top of the controller was removed...clearly the thermal interface material is bloody strong. If were to hazard a guess, it would be a Qualcomm Atheros-based IC as well.
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,283
Setup & Installation/ User Interface

Setup & Installation


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Setting up and installing this kit can either be simplicity itself or can take a long, long time. This is because - just like with all powerline-based systems - both the base station and range extender need to be on the same 110V electrical circuit in order to communicate with each other. In theory, this should not be that big of an issue as a lot of homes are wired with multiple rooms on the same 20 amp circuit. In reality, each room may have its own circuit, and in some cases there may even be multiple circuits per room! Unless you either wired your home yourself, or at the very least had an electrician who made copious notes, this makes installation part a game of chance and part trial and error. However, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

The very first thing that has to be done is plugging the PA8010P base station into a wall outlet near the network's router. When this is done, the PA8010P is physically connected to a free port on the back of the router using one of the included RJ45 cables. At this point, the PA8010P will start sending out simple broadcast packets over the ground and positive wiring and wait for a return signal from any powerline adapters on said circuit.

The next step is to 'simply' plug the WPA8630 range extender into a free wall outlet that is on the same circuit. In the majority of cases the two devices will recognize each other and create an extended powerline network capable of up to 1200Mbits/second. The trick really is getting both parts on the same circuit.

This has always been a major weakness of powerline network adapter. However, thanks to the wireless abilities baked right into the WPA8630, if you are unable to find a wall outlet even remotely close to where you wish to have your network extended all you need do is ensure the WiFi abilities on the WPA8630 are turned on. It will – assuming no encryption key is needed – connect to the router's <i>wireless</i> abilities and create an extended 5GHz and 2.4Ghz network. This really does make this kit much more flexible and easier to work with, as in a worst case scenario as you will get an extended network...just not one that relies upon your home's electrical wiring. This is a game changer and makes the AV1200 a much more interesting product than nearly any other powerline adapter we are aware of.

One thing that is worth noting is that while the base station 'should' be directly connected to the main router, nothing says it absolutely has to be. In fact, as long as its RJ45 cable is talking to a device which is directly connected to the home network and allows pass-through networking/routing, the PA8010P will happily work. For example, if you plug the PA8010P about half the distance away from the main router, and then plug a Linksys RE7000 directly into the PA8010P, using the RE7000's single RJ45 port you can easily create a powerline network. Although that network will be slower and have much higher latency that one using the main router. However, this can actually allow for greater throughput at extended distances than relying upon any small wall outlet wireless range extender, as powerline connections have a lot less signal degradation over distances and do not care about the number of walls or other obstructions between the sender and receiver.


User Interface


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Much like the installation process, the software and GUI that is used for the advanced configuration is different than the typical range extender. To be specific, owners have two options for controlling how the AV1200 components work. The first is a simple little application called the PLC Utility, which is certainly simple and rather crude in its appearance, but it does allow for basic tweaking.

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For instance, clicking on the PA8010P so that the small pop-out icons appear will allow for QoS tweaking. Whereas clicking on the WPA8630 icon allows for basic changes such as turning the LEDs on or off.

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If this level of customization is not enough, all users need do is either click on the 'web' option in this program or manually type in the WPA8630's IP address in any web browser. This opens up a more typical graphical user interface that is very similar to what most wireless range extenders make use of. One noteworthy feature is that if you use multiple components in an extended, or complex, powerline network any changes made in the GUI will be automatically replicated on the other devices. So users only need to make changes once for the entire network to be configured. This is a nice time saver to say the least when dealing with more than a simple two-piece powerline adapter kit!

The topmost tab is the Status tab, and as the name suggests this gives a visual representation as well as a textual representation of the powerline network as well as the wireless networks. Basically, with just a glance, users can find the name of a network, and see precisely what devices are connected and at what speeds.

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As the name suggests, the Wireless section deals with everything wireless networking related. For example, you can not only change the wireless network names, but when the networks should be active and even what network(s) should be setup when the range extenders are unplugged, moved to a new location, and then restarted.

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The device settings section deals with the powerline network configuration. For example, you can not only change the name of the powerline network, but also the encryption key, as well as more miscellaneous features such as if/when the status LEDs are on or off.

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The Parental control section offers fairly basic 'net nanny' abilities, and this is where you can configure these options. Just be aware that they are rather basic, but they are nevertheless nice to see included in this class of device.

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The Guest Network tab allows for the creation of basic, short-term networks that allow 'guests' the ability to connect to the internet, but not allowed to connect to other devices on the network. Basically, if you don’t want a friend to see your NAS files, but they need to check their email this is where you can control what they have access to. Compared to a router these options are basic, but once again they are not bad for this product class.

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The System Tools offers a grab bag of options that do not fit into any of the other categories. This includes restoring the device default, upgrading firmware, and even setting the network's official time.
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,283
Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing wireless devices is not as easy as you might think. Yes, you can simply connect to it and push a bunch of files across the network while timing the transfer, but this only tells half the story and does not explain <i>why</i> speeds can vary. To obtain a clearer picture of how good – or bad – a networking device is, more is needed in the form of a multi-step testing approach.

The first step consists of accurately measuring signal strength. A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance wireless networking. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the transfer rates will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate.

To test signal strength, we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph the signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC.

The second step consists of synthetic bandwidth testing to show the potential performance of a given wireless configuration. For this test, we have chosen the LAN Speed Test utility. This free program can measure both transmission and reception performance, and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity's sake, we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

The last step is real-world testing. In this test, we have taken 10GB worth of small and large files and transferred them from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. This test was done via the MS RichCopy utility. For clarity's sake, we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real-world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.

If a given wireless device is labeled as “entertainment” or marketed as being entertainment centric, a secondary real-world test will be included in the form of using the device for wireless HD media streaming. This test will be a pass/fail affair.

To test all sections, we have further created four unique and distinct scenarios in which all testing will be done. The first test is labeled “Zone A” and it consists of a twelve foot ‘line of sight’ distance between the router and the wireless NIC with no walls or obstructions between the two. This replicates having the router in one end of a small room and the wireless device at the other. It is unlikely to be encountered all that often but it will test a best case scenario performance of the device being tested.

The second test consists of an eighteen-foot separation with a single interior non-load bearing wall separating a wireless device and the router. We have labeled this “Zone B” as it is much more common and is still a very optimal setup for a wireless home networking. This test replicates you having your wireless device in an adjoining room to the router.

The third test is labeled “Zone C” and consists of having the router in the corner of the basement with the wireless device trying to connect in the second story room at the extreme diagonal end from the routers location. This is still a fairly common occurrence in home networks with numerous walls, floors, pipes, wires, etc. and even other electronic devices in the intervening distance. This is not an optimal configuration but a very common one none the less. This will test the abilities of both the router and wireless NIC to connect and communicate with each other.

The fourth test is labeled “Zone D” and is an extreme test. While the router is still in the basement we have paced off 400 feet from it outside the testing facility. This replaces those times a person is outdoors and wishes to use his home network to connect to the Internet or other devices connected to the home network. With fewer walls but much greater distances this test is extremely demanding and many will not be able to successfully complete it. Thus it will separate the truly good from the merely adequate devices.

For all tests, four runs will be completed and only the averages of all four will be shown.

When possible both 5Ghz as well as 2.4GHz Bands will be used for all tests with each getting their own separate results.

All tests, unless otherwise noted, is carried out via a “clear” network in order to maximize repeatability and minimize factors outside of our control.

For information purposes here is the theoretical maximum each network connection is capable of:

10Mbits/s = 1,250 KBytes/s
100Mbit/s = 12,500 KBytes/s
150Mbit/s = 18,750 KBytes/s
300Mbit/s = 37,500 KBytes/s
450Mbit/s = 56,250 KBytes/s
1000Mbit/s = 125,000 KBytes/s
1300Mbit/s = 162,500 KBytes/s
1734Mbit/s = 216,750 KBytes/s
2334Mbit/s = 291,750 KBytes/s
2400Mbit/s = 300,000 KBytes/s
2600Mbit/s = 325,000 KBytes/s
3200Mbit/s = 400,000 KBytes/s
5400Mbit/s = 675,000 Kbytes/s

Processor: Core i7 5930K
Motherboard: Asus Sabretooth TUF X99
Memory: 32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3333
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Hard Drive: Intel 1.2TB NVMe 750
Power Supply: Corsair RMi1000

<I>Special Thanks to Corsair for providing the Ram and PSU used in this review </i>
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,283
Synthetic & Real World Test Results

Signal Strength tests


<i>A good strong signal is a prerequisite of high performance wireless networking. If a device can barely send or receive a signal, the transfer rates will be very low as both devices will opt for a slower connection speed to compensate. To test signal strength, we use inSSIDer, a program which can graph the signal strength of all wireless signals being received by the computer’s wireless NIC. Unlike in most tests, the lower number, the better the performance.</I>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/sig5.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/sig2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Synthetic tests


<i>We use synthetic performance testing to show the potential performance of a given wireless configuration. For this test, we have chosen the LAN Speed Test utility. This free program can measure both transmission and reception performance, and do so in an easy to use and highly repeatable way. For clarity's sake, we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.</I>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/lan5.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/lan2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Real World Tests


<i>For real-world testing, we have taken 10GB worth of small and large files and transferred them from one wireless connected computer to a second computer connected via wired Ethernet. This test was done via the MS RichCopy utility. For clarity's sake, we have averaged both the transmission and reception performance into one aggregate number.

If the device supports wired transmission, wired Ethernet to wired Ethernet real-world performance will also be included using the same 10GB of data used for the wireless test.</I>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/r2.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>
<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/r5.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The above charts do need a bit of explanation as there are <i>two</i> results for some of them. Basically, the second set is via powerline mode, and not wireless connectivity. As you can see, if you can get powerline to work it is so worth the effort! Either way, this kit offers performance that is as impressive as its flexibility.
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,283
Conclusion

Conclusion



It is rather self-evident that powerline range extenders have come a long way in a rather short period of time. In previous generations, users had to put up with a lot of downsides if they opted for these handy devices. For example, older models rarely gave performance that was even remotely close to what a secondary wireless router could offer. Furthermore, their range extending distance was basically limited to the whims of your home's electrical layout and how the power circuits were run, and they were generally wonky as all hell so they were best used only by experienced IT professionals. Essentially, they were finicky little devices that had great potential, but rarely lived up to said potential.

The AV1200 kit on the other hand is like a breath of fresh air, and proves that powerline-based networking is now ready for the average consumer. The secret to this nifty little device's success is simple: TP-Link has created a fantastic <i>hybrid</i> device that is both a wireless range extender <i>and</i> a powerline network adapter.

By adding the wireless range extender features to a next generation powerline adapter capable of 1200Mbit/s speeds, owners of this device will literally get the best of both worlds. For short to moderate ranges, the WPA8630's built-in <i>three</i> LAN ports can provide speeds that are nearly the same as if you ran a long RJ45 wire directly to the router. For longer distances, the wireless abilities ensure great coverage since the distance to the <i>router</i> may be rather long, but they are relatively short to the wireless extender.

In effect, this is a bloody awesome combination that may not be quite as plug and play simple as a typical range extender – as you will have to track down the furthest wall plug on a given circuit – but in return you will get performance that is very nice to a second router in bridge mode. Better yet, you can get this performance without spending nearly as much as what a high performance router will you them back. Brilliant stuff!

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/DGV.gif" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Networking/AV1200/dam_good.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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