Which Ethernet Cable to Use? Cat5? Cat6? Cat7?
If you have ever going to buy an ethernet cable for any reason, you may have noticed that there are several different types to choose from. Some of them may say cat5, cat5e, cat6, cat6a but what do all of these mean and does it really make a difference which one you get! Well, here we are going to talk about these here so you can know what’s worth buying and potentially save some money.
For the ethernet cables, CAT stands for category and the different numbers represent different standards and specifications for each types of cable. You can think of them like different versions. Now the good news is that all of these cables will tipically work since the new versions are all backwards compatible. They all use the same RJ45 connector often just called the ethernet port. The difference in the different once are the rate of performance of each. So let’s of over the all different types of ethernet cables you may come across from cat5 all the way throught cat7 and beyond.
The first type is really common which you probably already heard of it called cat5. However these days when someone says cat5 they are probably refering to the newer version of cat5e. But we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves with that. Now a true cat5 cable is actually obsolete and you probably can’t even buy them anymore. A cat5 cable is only rated upto 100 megabits per second at 100 meter maximum length and that’s with a 100 MHz bandwidth. So obviously only being rated for 100 Mbit, you’re never going to see these anymore because 1Gbit is kind of a minimum. And if you are still using one, you should definitely replace it because in addition to having a slower speed it also might be less reliable than the new types.
And now cat5e, cat5e stands for category 5 enhanced. So cat5e is very common these days and it’s rated for 1 gigabit speeds at 100 meters as opposed to the original one is just 100 megabit and again this has a bandwidth of 100 Megahertz. This is due to be improved specs regarding twisting of the wire pairs inside shielding and other improvements which recuce cross talk or the interference the different signals which would reduce the speed. Also a regular cat5 cable only required two twisted pairs of wires inside while cat5e usues four. so obviously it can transform more data. The cat5 cable may have at 4 but it only required 2. So an important thing to note is that the rating certifications are for the bare mimimum specs. So it’s very possible that a cable will be capable of much more than what it’s rated for. For example. a cat5 cable might actually be capable of close to GB speeds if ti’s a really high quality premium cable even throug and the same will go for all these other types.
After cat5e came category 6 which pumps the specs from 1Gbit to 10Gbit at 55 meter length and with a bandwidth of 250 MHz up from 100. By the way, the bandwidth refers to the range of frequencies that the cable is able to reliably us which explains why would improve the speed. It’s got more space to fit the data in a way and cat6 further reduces crosstalk, that’s the kind of the main way to improve the speed addition to the bandwidth using tighter round wire pairs and may also use things like a plastic core throught the middle of the cable to better seperate the internal wires and things like that. Cat6 is a good choice if you are really not sure what type of cable you’re going to need. Since it probably won’t be that much more expensive depending on where you buy it. It will future proof your cable for a while you will probably be able to use it for the near future but this is especially important if the wire can’t easily be replaced. Like if you are wiring a house for example where would just be in the walls forever, i would definitely get at least cat6 probably even one of the higher rated ones were about to talk about. If you are just buying a general internet cable for your laptop, desktop or something, cat5e would be definitely be fine as well.
By now you might be thining surely cat6 pretty much the best. I mean why would you need anything more than 10 gigabit right ! Well you might be right but we are not going to stop there. Because there is also cat6a and this one is also capable at 10 Gbit but any longer maximum distance of 100 meters instead of 55 and it has larger 500 MHz bandwidth. So if you are actually creating a 10 Gig network, cat6a will be more reliable at geting your full speed. Since its got further improved specs for reducing that crosstalk just gonna be more reliable.
Now finally the big daddy of ethernet cables for now at least is category 7. As far as i can tell this is the fastest type you can buy at the moment. There’s other cables like claim to be category 8 but i don’t think they truely are. Cat7 is also ready for 10 Gbit speeds but with the higher bandwidth of 600 MHz even larger than 500. It’s got the strict specification for reducing crosstalk such as requiring shielding between individual wire pairs in the cable as well as for the whole cable itself. This seems to be all about improving reliability not necessarily the speed since this doesn’t actually improve anything about 10 Gbit. Even thought it probably is capable of higher speeds if you had a switch that was capable of faster than 10 Gbit on that side. So i think cat7 might be best suited for extreme future proofing permanent wire installation for people who are not just satisfied with the best but rather want the completely unnecessary so if you are wiring a house and you just want to go all out get cat7.