Tuesday, 18 Jun 2019
Reviews

Devolo Magic 2 WiFi review – TechRadar

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Devolo Magic 2 WiFi is the latest series of adapters from the German company that allow you to use your home’s power lines to transmit network data. These handy devices are particularly useful in large buildings with thick walls, where Wi-Fi can struggle to get through.

The idea is that a power line network gives you the stability of wired networking without the need to trail network cables throughout your home. While in the past power line speeds couldn’t quite match those of Ethernet cables, improvements to the HomePlug power line standard – the technology that transmits network data over power lines – have gradually upped the speeds to be more comparable to wired networking, and faster than Wi-Fi.

However, the HomePlug standard is showing its age, which is why Devolo has released the Magic 2 kit. It uses a new standard – G.hn – which promises much faster speeds. In fact, Devolo claims that Magic 2 can reach theoretical speeds of up to 2,400Mbps, a big leap over its last-generation Devolo dLAN 1200+, which was capable of up to 1,200Mbps. 

It should be noted that these are maximum theoretical speeds, which you’ll likely not experience, but you should enjoy a faster and more dependable connection than Wi-Fi, especially in larger properties.

However, the asking price for the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi kit is high. The Magic 2 WiFi Network Kit, which comes with three units, is £269.99 (around $340, AU$490), which is a fair bit more expensive than the £120 (around $170, AU$200) asking price of the Devolo dLAN 1200 triple+ Starter Kit.

That puts it more in line, price-wise, with Mesh Wi-Fi systems like Netgear Orbi, which are wireless routers that come with a number of units for extending your Wi-Fi network. In fact, Devolo Magic 2 WiFi offers Mesh Wi-Fi features, enabling you to create one large Wi-Fi network throughout your house.

You can also buy the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi Starter Kit, which comes with two units, for £169.99 (around $200, AU$300), and a single unit (which can be used for extending existing setups) for £109.99 (around $140, AU$200).

Devolo also offers units without Wi-Fi, known as Magic 2 LAN, which start from £69.99 (around $90, AU$130).

Design

Although the technology inside the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi is revolutionary, the exterior design of the units is almost identical to that of Devolo’s previous power line adaptors.

To be fair, there’s not much that needs improving, so you get that same unassuming rectangular unit of white plastic, with a power socket passthrough which means you don’t lose out on a socket. The passthrough is also used to prevent interference on the power line, which should ensure better performance and reliability.

In the Starter and Network kits you get one unit with a single Gigabit LAN port, and then either one or two additional units with two Gigabit LAN ports. The unit with a single LAN port connects directly to your router, while the others are used around your home to bring wired networking to your devices.

While two LAN ports is a decent number, the Devolo dLAN 1200+ comes with three’ while most devices are Wi-Fi enabled, if you have a number of devices you want to connect using Ethernet you may find two ports a bit on the low side, although you can use a network switch to extend the number of ports (which in fact is what we did in our test setup).

The LAN ports are all at the top of the unit, which makes accessing them nice and easy.

Each unit also has two buttons with LED lights, one for Wi-Fi, the other for connecting to the Magic 2 network. These LEDs light up different colors depending on the state of the Wi-Fi network and Magic 2 network, and can be switched off using the devolo Cockpit software (the same software used for managing previous Devolo power line adapters.

Installation and performance

Installation of the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi was straightforward, although a little fiddly to begin with. Because the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi uses new technology it’s not backwards-compatible with previous Devolo units, which means you’ll need to replace every unit with a new Magic 2 one, which may prove costly.

You can use two different power line adapter networks in the same building, but it’s not recommended, and can negatively impact the speeds of both networks.

With the first unit installed and connected to the router, you can add new units throughout the house, then press the connection button on the new unit, then within three minutes press the connection button on the initial unit to create a secure connection.

This needs to be done in the correct order, especially when adding additional units, otherwise the network gets confused. It took us a few tries to get it right – and the included manual is not much use, unfortunately.

However, once it was set up the network worked very well, with our wired devices connecting to the internet without issue. The Devolo Cockpit software (which we’d been using with the Devolo dLAN 1200+) found the new Devolo Magic 2 WiFi units, allowing us to monitor data transfer rates and adjust the settings for each unit.

From there we were able to configure the WiFi network as well, with each Devolo Magic 2 WiFi (except the one with the single LAN port, which connects to your router), having a built-in WiFi extender. You can change the name of the Wi-Fi network, set passwords and enable a guest network. Best of all, as we said earlier the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi works like a Mesh router, which means that each unit broadcasts the same Wi-Fi network, so your wireless devices don’t need to switch networks as you move about.

In many ways, the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi works better than other Mesh router systems. These usually take an existing Wi-Fi network and amplify it, which is fine unless the original Wi-Fi network is struggling to reach parts of the building. With the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi system the network travels through the power lines, then is broadcasted by the unit as a WiFi network, so obstacles such as walls shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s worth noting, however, that the distance between Devolo Magic 2 WiFi units can impact network speeds.

So, how did the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi perform? The good news is that it did really well, and, moving from the last-generation Devolo dLAN 1200+ network, we saw a marked improvement in performance. In the old setup, we were seeing data transfer rates for large files between a PC on one floor of a house and a NAS drive on a different floor sitting at around 15MB/s. Moving everything to Devolo Magic 2 WiFi effectively doubled these speeds, with transfer rates reaching around 35MB/s. A folder with 9GB of files transferred in around two minutes.

While we were pleased to see such a performance improvement, it’s still less than the advertised speeds, although as we mentioned earlier there are a number of factors that can affect the speeds you get, including distance between units, as well as the hard drive speeds of each connected device.

Meanwhile, the Devolo Cockpit software was showing speeds of around 1,400MB/s between two of the units.

While you’re not going to get the same sort of speeds you’d see with direct Ethernet connections, you are getting much faster, and more reliable, connections with the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi kit. Streaming games at 4K with 5.1 surround sound from our gaming PC to an Nvidia Shield TV on another floor worked brilliantly, and is something that’s not really possible with Wi-Fi.

For most broadband connections, the speeds you get with the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi won’t cause any bottlenecks either. Overall, we were very impressed.

Verdict

Devolo Magic 2 WiFi is easily the best power line adaptor kit we’ve tested, with the new G.hn standard bringing noticeable improvements to network speeds. If Devolo Magic 2 WiFi is the starting point for the new standard, then the future looks very exciting indeed.

It is expensive, and due to the new technology it’s not backwards-compatible, which means you’ll need to replace every existing power line adapter, which could prove costly. And, while speeds are very good, they still don’t match a cable Ethernet network. The included documentation could also be clearer.

However, installation is far easier and more convenient than trailing Ethernet cables throughout your home, and for most people the speeds on offer will be more than enough. Overall we’re very impressed with the Devolo Magic 2 WiFi kit.

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