If you’re planning to do or upgrade your home network you might have noticed that there is a lot of different types of ethernet cables available on Amazon or at your local computer shop. Some of them may be rated Cat.5, Cat.5e, Cat.6, Cat.6a but what does it mean? Does all this Cat. thing really makes a difference in real life and in everyday use? Which one should you get?
Let’s talk about that today, so you can know what’s worth buying and save some money.
First of all what the cat. ratings mean?
For ethernet cables Cat. stands for “category” and the different numbers represent different standards and specifications for each type of cable. It’s like version number for software iOS9>iOS10 etc…
Good news, all ethernet cables will work since the new versions are all backward compatible they all use the same RJ45 connector often just called the Ethernet Port.
The differences are the rate of performance of each. So let’s review all the different types of ethernet cables you may come across from cat5 all the way through cat 7.
This first type is really common and you probably already heard of and might use it. It’s called Cat.5 however nowadays when someone is talking about Cat.5 he’s referring to the newer version of Cat.5e but I’m going too far with that because a true Cat.5 cable is obsolete and you might not be able to buy one anymore. A Cat.5 cable is only rated for up to 100 Megabit per second(Mbps) at 100 meters(m) maximum length and that’s with a 100 MegaHertz(MHz) bandwidth. So obviously only being rated for 100 Mbps you’re almost never going to see these anymore because usually 1 Gigabit per second(Gbps) is the new standard and if you’re still using a Cat.5 cable you need to replace it because in addition to having a slower speed it also might be less reliable than the new types.
The cat 5e stands for “Category 5 Enhance”. Cat.5e is very common these days and shipped with you ISP modem or your NAS. It’s rated for 1Gbps over 100m as opposed to the original one which is just 100Mbps, the common point is the bandwidth of 100MHz and these improvements are due to the fact that the wire pairs are twisted inside and shielded in order to reduce crosstalk and the interferences of the different signals which would reduce the speed. Another difference with a regular Cat.5 cable is that it only required 2 twisted pairs of wires inside while Cat.5e uses 4. So obviously it can transfer more data, Cat5 cable may have up to 4 twisted pairs but it only required 2.
So an important thing to keep in mind is that the rating certifications are for the bare minimum specifications and it’s very possible that a cable will be capable of much more than what it’s rated for. Let’s take an example, a Cat.5 cable might actually be capable of close to gigabit speeds if it’s a really high-quality premium cable even though it’s older and the same will go for all these other types. In fact, the rating is basically just a guarantee.
After Cat.5e came Category 6 which can handle from 1Gbps to 10Gbps over 55m length and a bandwidth of 250MHz -btw the bandwidth refers to the range of frequencies that the cable is able to reliably use which explains why it would improve the speed in a way it got more space to fit the data.
Cat.6 reduces crosstalk that’s the main way to improve the speed, also it uses tighter twisted wire pairs and may also use things like a plastic core through the middle of the cable to better separate the internal wires.
In my opinion, Cat.6 is a good choice if you’re not sure what type of cable you’re going to need since it probably won’t be that much more expensive depending on where and when you buy it. Also, it will future-proof your network for a while. You’ll 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’re wiring a house for example where it will be in bricks walls forever I would definitely get at least Cat.6 probably even one of the higher rated cable we’re about to talk about but if you’re just buying a general purpose ethernet cable for your laptop or something else Cat.5e would definitely be fine as well since I’m sure any of your devices right now are not going to be capable of 10Gbps anyway -unless your name is Linus from LinusTechTip.
Now you might be thinking okay dude Cat.6 is pretty much the best, why would I need anything faster than 10Gbps? Well, you might be right but we’re not going to stop there since there are more to come.
Cat.6a is also capable of 10Gbps but on a longer maximum distance of 100m instead of 55m and it has a larger bandwidth of 500MHz so if you are actually creating a top gaming network Cat.6a will be more reliable at getting you full speed and the best reliability because its improved specifications reduce crosstalk. Be careful it looks like a Cat.6 but it is thicker to be sure read the specifications on the cable.
Now finally the big champion of ethernet cables: Category 7, as far as I can tell this is the fastest types you can buy right now. There are some other cables that claim to be Cat.8… but it’s more like a commercial argument to sell you a more expensive cable than anything else, you won’t see any difference since your hardware is not able to handle more speed.
Cat.7 is also ready for 10Gbps but with a higher bandwidth of 600MHz and it has the strictest specifications 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. Even though it is probably capable of higher speeds if you had a switch that was capable of faster than 10Gbps.
So I think Cat.7 might be best suited for extreme future-proofing, permanent wire installation or for people who are not just satisfied with the best but rather want the complete geek kit. So if your wiring your house and you just want to go all-out and be ready for the next 10 to 15 years get Cat.7.
There are tons of different ethernet cables you can use but does it even really matter?
Well let’s be honest there is almost no consumer-grade networking hardware out there that is capable of 10Gbps and you internet connexion might not even reach 1Gbps, however we are starting to see some 10Gbps consumer-grade switches out there for example there’s the new ASUS XG-U2008 switch ( AmazonFR AmazonUS ) which has two 10Gbps ports for about $250 along with 8 regular 1Gbps port so you could connect your computer and your NAS to the 10Gbps port then everything else into the regular 1Gbps ports. That way even if none of the other devices on the network are capable of 10Gbps it would allow multiple 1Gbps data transfers to multiple devices simultaneously so the 10Gbps of the NAS will be able to provide out that 10Gbps and then it could kind of be leached off by as many devices you want. Or of course you could do a full 10Gbps transfer between the two devices plugged in, so between the NAS and your computer if they’re both plugged into that 10Gbps port in that sort of situation the use of cat6a would be ideal if you have a slightly long distance because you’re going to get that better reliability even if it’s not that big of a difference. But not too many people are going to be using 10Gbps for a while.
Even the old ethernet standards have held up surprisingly! Believe it or not the RJ45 connector used in all these ethernet cables was first standardized in 1987 at that time the minimum spec was only 3KHz bandwidth and now it’s getting into the GigaHertz so I think it’s safe to say that the connector will probably be here for a while it’s not going anywhere anytime soon since it seems like there’s still a lot of room for expansion we might even see 100Gbps who knows?
So I think that was helpful guys and if you’re still wondering what ethernet cable you have just look at the side of it, it’s written on it.