The Internet has come a long way since it hit the mainstream in the 90’s. The days of listening to your modem sing its cryptic song are long gone. The age of Ethernet and Wifi has come.
But which one is the better option? Do you have to give up speed for a wire-free experience?
When gaming, the goal is to limit the possibility of a slow or lost connection. For that reason, a powerline adapter, which is for all intents and purposes like an ethernet cable, drastically reduces the chances of a weak or lost signal. Under ideal conditions, Powerline is faster and more stable. Powerline offers better speeds and ping but relies on how your home’s existing infrastructure. Wi-Fi is cheaper and easier to set up, but you sacrifice speed and stability for a clutter-free experience.
In this article, I want to cover both options in a fair light. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks, which fit different people’s needs. Plus, who wants all these wires across their houses?
You’ve most likely never even heard of Powerline, despite it being around for the last six years or so. Powerline is a network solution that sends a data signal through the wiring inside your home.
Powerline is a set of plugs that have ethernet ports. One connects to your router, and the other plugs into the wall near the device you want to hook up to the network.
These plugs use your home’s wiring to send the ethernet signal across to any number of receivers, up to 300m. This even works across different floors of your home.
This networking solution sports some of the highest speeds available. A network can support up to 2000Mbps, as long as you’ve got outlets.
The downside of Powerline lies in its advantage. If your house’s wiring is dated, it becomes unusable. The socket you plug into also needs to be in an outlet that isn’t shared with appliances or chargers.
Powerline adapters can be hit-or-miss. It’s hard to tell without actually buying them and trying for yourself. You may also need to try several outlets before you get the best connection.
Naturally, for gaming, you want to have the best speed possible. Nobody wants to lag out and ruin their game experience.
Most manufacturers of Powerline devices advertise that top speeds are up to 1000Mbps. Some enterprise tech can reach double that, but it’s pretty expensive.
According to testing from TechAdvisor, every device they tested didn’t even come close to their advertised max speeds. Several of them only included 10/100 Ethernet ports, meaning they are locked at 100Mbps max.
Wifi, on the other hand, has a cap of 1300Mbps on a 5Ghz network. Yet, it’s extremely common for Wifi networks to operate well under the max. According to Lifewire, the actual speed for a modern Wifi network is around 200Mbps.
Wifi wins this round, but it’s a close call. In an ideal home, I think Powerline has the edge.
The Issue with Wi-Fi
For the uninitiated or amateur gamer, playing on traditional wi-fi is not preferred. Hardcore gamers want a more stable connection than traditional wi-fi for a few different reasons. For starters, traditional wi-fi signals can weaken or drop. In a highly competitive match, the last thing that a gamer wants to have to contend with is their connection.
Casual gamers can get away with using a traditional wi-fi setup. It might be annoying to lose connectivity during a game, but there likely isn’t much at stake. For competitive gamers, where money can be on the line at any given time, a more stable connection is a must. Hardwired is always considered to be superior than a wireless connection.
Mesh Wi-Fi is definitely a solution for those who don’t want to hardwire their setup. Mesh wi-fi is similar to traditional wi-fi but with one difference: there are various access points or pods throughout your home that connect in a more reliable network.
Basically, it consists of the primary pod that gets connected directly to the router through an ethernet cable. From there, additional pods can be placed anywhere throughout the home. The primary pod communicates with the others, which means delivering a stronger signal to wherever those additional pods are.
Think of them as range extenders but with one caveat. Instead of extending your router’s network, these pods essentially replace it in those areas. Even better, mesh wi-fi doesn’t require any different network names no matter where they are in your home. The same cannot be said for wi-fi extenders.
Ethernet has been the go-to standard for years now, and I don’t think it’ll be replaced anytime soon. There’s no need to worry about interference, routers, or your home’s outlets.
Yet, not everyone can put up with running long cables all across your house.
Pets, kids, or just the unsightly look of cables are major reasons to use one of these alternatives. Modern ethernet connections still have the fastest speeds possible, and Cat5e cables are cheap.
Stability is the second most important factor when it comes to networking. You can have internet as fast as you can afford, but nobody wants your connection to drop every few minutes.
Wifi is notoriously bad at staying stable. It has to fight with all the other devices on the same network, and a lot of older routers can’t keep up. Having a Dual-Band router is a great solution to this problem.
Powerline struggles to stay stable based mostly on where it’s plugged in to. Oftentimes you’ll also need to test several outlets to see which one works. You need to find one with no interference from outside sources. Check for phone chargers or appliances on the same breaker.
Network range is an issue for both options, and I want to make sure to mention both have downsides.
While Powerline can sport a much wider range, it’s still dependent on the wired inside your home. If your home’s internal circuits are older or cheaply made, the range can drop from 300m to half that.
Wifi ranges are affected by everything. The two biggest factors are physical objects like walls, followed by other wireless networks. Picking where you place your router is an important step.
What is the Difference Between Mesh Wi-Fi and a Powerline Adapter?
The simplest explanation is that they are both used to extend your internet connection. One extends the wired connection while the other is meant to extend any wireless connections. But there is a little more to it than that.
Powerline adapters basically make use of the electrical wires in your home. Through these electrical wires, they improve the range of connectivity from a hard-wired standpoint. Traditional ethernet cables aren’t generally that long, so a powerline adapter could extend its reach.
Mesh wi-fi, on the other hand, means amplifying your home’s wi-fi signal. This involves the use of a few different access points (AP), which ping one another to provide extended range throughout your home. Using a traditional wi-fi setup can be dicey at best for gaming given the fact that signals can fade or disappear depending on where the PC or console is located.
When Powerline Adapters are Better
The stability of a powerline adapter all depends on the wiring of your home. With proper conditions, a powerline adapter provides not only a more reliable connection, but even a faster one. That can be hugely beneficial for hardcore gamers.
No matter how you cut it, a direct connection via ethernet cable is always going to provide a better overall performance. Considering how mesh wi-fi operates, there are obvious differences between the two.
There is also the added benefit of being substantially cheaper. Not everyone wants to spend a fortune on their gaming setup and a powerline adapter means getting superior speed and reliability without the mesh network price. Even better, they are way easier to set up than a mesh network, with some simply needing to be plugged in to use them.
Naturally, each networking option has its own pros and cons. I want to list a few of each, but this is by no means a comprehensive list.
- Super easy to install.
- There’s a wide range of wifi routers for every budget.
- No wires are needed, so there’s less clutter around the house.
- Supports several game consoles all on one network.
- Speeds are often lower than what you think you have.
- Interference from other networks can make your connection unstable.
- Range and objects between your device and the router can impact performance.
- Faster potential speeds.
- More stability than Wifi, under ideal conditions.
- Plug and Play setup, no need to configure a network.
- Heavily reliant on your home’s wiring for speed and stability.
- Requires more outlets and ethernet cables to your devices.
- Can’t share an outlet with most other electronics.
Can Powerline Adapters and Mesh Wi-Fi Be Used Together?
Determining which option is the best for you may be tough. Depending on what level of gamer you are, you want to ensure that you get the right setup. Price and ease of use definitely come into the equation, but they are just part of making the right decision.
It is possible to combine both methods to form a comprehensive network. Just keep in mind that not every product is compatible with the other. But if you have a huge home or areas that don’t offer powerline support, you could use a combination of the two to provide complete coverage. Just make sure that you do your homework so you know which systems and products are compatible with one another.
One huge factor in this debate is the newest iteration of the wireless network. Wifi 6 is slowly starting to roll out to newer devices, and with it comes a huge improvement to speed and stability.
Wifi 6 reduces the stability issues related to bandwidth. It can manage many devices much easier now, which means your connection is more stable.
Remember when I said that most wifi routers only use half of their speed? With Wifi 6, that issue is no longer a problem. Performance numbers seem to be on par with ethernet speeds if your device supports it.
Yet, this does mean that you need to have devices that support it. If you’re an Xbox gamer, sadly neither the Xbox Series X nor S supports Wifi 6. Same for the Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, Sony did include it with the PS5, if you can find one.
You’ll also need to upgrade your motherboard or buy a Wifi 6 network card/USB receiver if your PC doesn’t support it.
Know What You are Buying
All too often, people run out and grab products that they think they need without ever doing their homework. No matter what option you go with, make sure that you do your homework. Read reviews and know what specs need to be met.
Some of the early products in either category, for example, have reputations for being less than reliable. And while most of the newer products have ironed out some of the kinks, that does not mean that they are issue-free.
One final thing to consider before making your choice is your home internet. Sometimes the issue is not your setup or even your home. They could be issues that come from the internet service provider. If the issues do come from the provider, neither a mesh wi-fi or powerline setup will do you much good.
If you think that your provider is causing the issues, work with them to find a resolution before buying anything else. Sometimes that can be all that is needed to get peak performance out of your wi-fi. This way, you can make a more accurate decision about whether you want to go with a mesh wi-fi or powerline adapter setup.
Which is the Better Option for Gaming Purposes?
Ethernet is still the king. For now, at least.
A surprising answer, right?
Powerline is a fantastic technology, but it’s far too reliant on your house’s wiring to reach its peak. In an ideal setup Powerline is the clear winner, but it’s not possible for now.
If you do want to try Powerline, go for it! But be wary.
I and many other people recommend that you buy from a retailer with a generous return policy. It’s better to test how your speeds work with a single pair, instead of going all-in for it to fail.
As far as Wifi goes, it’s a fine solution.
But that’s it. Fine.
Perhaps when Wifi 6 becomes more widespread over the next few years it can become a bigger contender. But with the lack of support from Microsoft and Nintendo, we won’t even see that become a feature until the 2030s.
What’s the difference between Wifi 5 and 6?
Wifi 6 offers nearly four times the speed. It also can manage more devices on a single network better than ever. Not all devices currently support Wifi 6, so you may need to check before going out to buy a new Wifi 6 router.
Why aren’t my Powerline speeds as fast as they’re supposed to be?
Powerline depends on a lot of external factors. It cannot be plugged into a surge protector or UPS system, only the outlet.
Check to see if one of the plugs is shared with an appliance such as a microwave, or maybe a cell phone charger. If none of these solutions work, it may be your house’s wiring.
Why is my Wifi speed not the same as my Internet speed?
Wifi networks that operate on Wifi 5 or below are unable to reach their maximum speeds. It’s an unfortunate part of the technology. Wifi 6 has solved this limitation, but it’s still a new technology.