Review: Zyxel PLA 4231 Powerline Adapter and Wi-Fi Extender

Need a Powerline adapter and Wi-Fi Extender in one package?

The Zyxel PLA4231 is not the sexiest product name in the history of consumer electronics, but it’s definitely a useful tool you’ll want to check out. You may have seen Zyxel as the brand on your DSL modem that you get from the phone company – they make an array of networking product that are aimed at consumer and small/medium-sized businesses.

Zyxel PLA 4231Zyxel invited me to check out two products The PLA4231 and the PLA4205.  The PLA part of the name stands for Power line Adaptor..which basically means you can plug these devices in to your power sockets in your home or office and extend your network beyond where traditional wi-fi can go.

Perhaps in your house you have a basement or bedroom that has terrible wi-fi strength. If you use these two devices in concert, you can use your electrical wiring to extend your network.

The PLA4231, the focus of today’s review, is both a powerline adapter and wireless extender in one pretty package. Here’s how it works:

You take the PLA4205 and plug it in to a wall socket near your existing router or DSL modem. Then, using the included ethernet cord, connect the PLA4205 to an open jack on your existing router. Then, anywhere in the house you want to connect a DVR or similar device to your network, plug the PLA4231 near by and connect these via ethernet at well.

Clear as mud, right?  See this diagram:

Set up and configuration

Once plugged in, the PLA4205 and PLA4231 find each other using powerline pretty easily and within 1-2 minutes. Then you can use the PLA4231’s screens to set up the wireless settings including network name and other settings. If you want to use WPS, this can be done easily as well.

I set up the PLA devices at my office that is in a building that dates back to 1889. I almost expected the two PLA devices to not see each other because of the old wiring present and the fact that I have them on opposite sites of the building, and it’s a large building.

However, they found each other within 90 seconds and I was off and running.

Performance and fine tuning

I had one issue that presented itself immediately. First, when I was plugged in to the PLA4231 in my office, the network speeds were fast and very zippy.  There was zero latency and no dropped packets.

However, at first, when I used WiFi to connect to the PLA4231 on my MacBook Pro and iPad, I had major packet loss and very poor performance. I verified settings and got very upset, thinking the devices were to blame.

But, on a hunch, I decided to start tweaking. Even though I don’t have many wi-fi devices in my building (I have maybe 5-6 present when I search for hotspots in my office), I was seeing major packet loss and I started changing the channel on my WiFi settings on the PLA44231’s web interface.

For those unaware, there are 11 channels your devices can operate on and typically you don’t have to mess with these settings. However, in my building, there’s a cluster of devices on Channel 11. Changing to channel 6 did the trick.

Wondering away

I have found that leaving the room in which the PLA4231 results in pretty fast signal loss. Reading other reviews online, I’m not the first to see this – the PLA4231 just doesn’t have a strong antenna and therefore the signal dies quickly when you move away from it.

Conclusion

Zyxel makes a very interesting pair of devices here, and I’m a huge believer in powerline adapters to extend and make your network strong throughout your house. For those of us where stringing Cat-5 all over our house is not an option, Zyxel has created a very good unit here.

The PLA4205 is about $50 on Amazon and the PLA4231 runs about $80. I’m a huge fan of the PLA4231 as it allows for both wired and wireless connections, making it the perfect way to connect your DVR, gaming device or TV to your DSL or cable modem without relying upon WiFi signals that drop out easily.

Have you tried using powerline adapters?