What is a Cat ’X’ Cable?
Quite simply, a Cat cable, also known as an Ethernet cable, is a cable that you use to wire a computer network. There are four different types of cable and each of them has its own specifications.
Quick Cable Type Comparison
Cat 7 & 7a
The primary differences in these cables are found in the speed of the cable, how the cable handles crosstalk and also the bandwidth of the cable.
Ultimately whether you choose a Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6 or a Cat6a (or even Cat7) cable will come down to things such as your specific network requirements and your budget.
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Difference Between Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6 & Cat6a Cables
Before we look at the differences in these cables it is probably a good idea to look at what they have in common.
As these cables all perform the same job, they all have the same style RJ-45 jacks and plugs. Furthermore they are all limited to a cable length of 100 metres.
These similarities mean that you can use these cables interchangeably or even use different cables within the same network. Of course, the problem with this is that if you use different cables in one network, your network will be limited to the speed of the slowest cable.
So in the end the difference boils down to the specifications of each type of cable and the speeds they offer. Let’s take a look at each type of cable:
Cat5 is the most basic cable available. It is the slowest cable of the four and is only able to handle 100Mbps speeds. Due to the newer cables available and Cat5’s slow speeds, a lot of places have even stopped selling this type of cable. Basically Cat5 cables are pretty much obsolete
Cat5e cables are an upgrade on the basic Cat5 cable. They offer gigabit Ethernet up to 100 meters and 10 Gigabit Ethernet up to 45 meters.
Moreover, crosstalk, which is the loss of signal between two cables has been improved upon when compared to Cat5 cables. By reducing crosstalk network speed is vastly improved.
The other improvement is in bandwidth, Cat5e cables can support 1000Mbps speeds at 100MHz. Basically all these improvements mean that Cat5e is a significant improvement on Cat5.
Cat5e cables are also the most common type of cable.
Cat6 is a further improvement upon Cat5e. Cat6 can provide up to 10 gigabit speeds at 250MHz. They also have an internal separator that further reduces crosstalk when compared to Cat5e cables.
Cat6a is a recent type of Ethernet cable. Cat6a cables have double the bandwidth when compared to Cat6 cables at 500MHz instead of 250MHz. They also further reduce crosstalk interference and provide reliable transmission speeds through a greater length of cable than than Cat6.
Cat7 (and 7a)
Cat7 is the very latest. It is not commonly used (as of now). 100Gbps have been successfully tested in labs (a long time ago now), but the official word is up to 10Gbps - if your network supports it.
Only really seen in datacenters, although will work fine in your home network.
Which cable should I use?
This will depend on a number of things including the speeds you need and your budget.
Cat5 (not Cat5e) is really quite outdated now so unless you have some Cat5 cables lying around the house it is hard to recommend using these cables.
If you plan to implement gigabit Ethernet you need a minimum of a Cat5e cable. This can be done in a cost effective way and you should see improvements in your network when compared to Cat5 cables.
If your budget will stretch to it (there's not a big difference in price generally) and you want the best possible speeds in the future (we're talking 10Gbps here), it could be worth buying Cat6 or Cat6a cables. Especially if the rest of your network is setup to deal with superfast connections, or you want to future proof your network.
Anything other that Cat5e (so Cat6 or Cat7) is usually only seen in high-performance datacenters, and is complete overkill for home or the small business.?
Cat5e is probably gonna be fine for most home users...
Hopefully this article will help you decide which type of Ethernet cable you want to buy for your computer network. If you have any questions please ask in the comment section below.