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I'm looking to wire my home with CAT-X (where X is probably going to be CAT-6, unless someone can convince me differently. ;) ).

I'm seeking advice on what equipment I'll need for the job, and any things I should watch out for.

It's a two story half-duplex I'll be wiring, roughly about 1800 sq ft.

Here's what I believe I need so far:

  • Bulk CAT-6 Ethernet cabling
    • CM Rated
  • Gigabit switch(es?)
  • Patch panel
  • Equipment for cutting, terminating wire, fishing through walls, etc
  • Wall outlet covers, etc.

Questions I have:

  • Does it matter the MHz rating on the Ethernet cable? If so, why?

  • I have two gigabit switches currently, an 8-port and a 5-port. Should I buy one massive switch to cover all the connections I need, or should I just chain the two together and buy a switch for however many other connections I need?

  • Do I really need a patch panel? I understand it keeps the cables looking cleaner than coming out of a hole in the wall, but is there some other product I can use, perhaps combining a switch with a patch panel or some such?

Ideally I'll have all this running out of a relatively small closet, so the less components (or smaller) the better.

Any advice, links, or suggested product to use/avoid would be appreciated!

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You're a licensed cabler, right? –  ta.speot.is Jun 6 '10 at 9:47
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@ta.speot.is: why does this matter? Why can't a DIY person (i.e. the homeowner) do the cabling himself? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 19 '12 at 15:10
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8 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would personally stick with CAT5e for home wiring. CAT6 will show no improvement, and will cost you more.

I would consolidate to one switch. Easier to manage and less points of failure.

I would also avoid a patch panel. I think they are overkill for a home project, and just considerably add to the cost. I would just terminate with RJ45 and hook it up to the switch. I personally just got creative with a shelf and some zip ties. I mounted the shelf pretty high up in the laundry room so you can't see the cables at all.

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Why hide network equipment? It looks so cool! ;) –  whitequark Jun 6 '10 at 12:06
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+1 for CAT5e over CAT6. CAT6 for the home is probably more marketing than actual bene. If you go with CAT6 anyway, read up to make sure what you get what you'll be paying for. I've heard that quality control for CAT6 can vary widely from one manufacturer to another. –  irrational John Jun 6 '10 at 13:00
    
+<shrug> for patch panel. I'm not seeing the bene in a home network since you won't have the sheer number of cables to sort. But its your time and effort so your personal judgment call. The truly important thing is to label your endpoints so you know which cable goes where, no? This can be a side effect of a well done patch panel. But you can certainly also just label your cables. (Anyone out there want to offer up suggestions for the best way to quickly and easily yet clearly label cables? ;-) –  irrational John Jun 6 '10 at 13:07
    
Interesting notes regarding the patch panel. I think I'll probably take that advice, and just build a nice shelf for the switch or some such. –  Eddie Parker Jun 6 '10 at 17:14
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Wouldn't cat6 be a good idea so he doesn't have to rewire the house in a few years in order to get a 10Gbit network? –  intuited Jun 10 '10 at 23:53
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Since everyone else here has done an excellent job on the technical aspect, I'll speak to planning aspect of this:

The most important thing is what you want to do with the network.

Is it going to be used exclusively for Internet access? If so, your needs are fairly relaxed, and worrying about switching topologies is unnecessary.
On the other hand, it's also possible to use your LAN for filesharing among local computers. In that case, having a fast local network becomes quite important, particularly if you invest in a centralized file server that uses some RAID variety.

If you want to use this network as a learning tool, spending the time to make it truly reconfigurable (e.g. patch panel, etc...) is very much worth the time.

You mentioned you're wiring a half-duplex. Are you wiring the whole building (probably worth the effort, if you're already in the attic)? If it has multiple tenants, it might be worth considering using VirtualLans to segregate the various networks apart. Alternatively, you could just give each building section it's own switch.
Again, VirtualLans are powerful, and worth learning about if you're interested in networking, but not really worth the bother if pure utilitarian functionality is your goal.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the expected usage of the network is (or should be) a critical factor in determining what and how it's laid-out and configured.
Until you determine this, worrying about cat5e vs cat6 and other hardware related decisions is pointless.

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Very good points Fake Name. To answer your questions: - This will be used for Internet access, as well as for file transfers. My current network setup is a general purpose Linux server (Squid/development lighttpd/bzr repos, etc), a backup server (RAID5), and a Boxee box for television. - I only own one half of the duplex, so I won't be wiring the neighbours. ;) –  Eddie Parker Jun 11 '10 at 2:40
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Some basic considerations;

Cables ~ Cat6 is fairly stiff, if you are running the cables through the walls it will be much easier with cat5e.

Power ~ usually there will be no issue with EM, but if you are running the Cat5/Cat6 parallel with power cabling you will get distortions and a simple way to fix that is by using shielded cabling. But again, this usually won't be a concern, what the real concern there is what are the building regulations for your area? Some places are required to use a minimum specification of shielding/fire protection on cabling within the walls.

Patch Panels ~ for a home setup this is kinda above the call of duty. I use them in my setup but i'm kinda insane, so i'm not a good example. some simple wall jacks are the best choice.

Crimping ~ You most likely will need an RJ45 crimper, some kind of cable stripper, and a punch. There's a bunch of online tutorials for this (i found http://www.ertyu.org/steven_nikkel/ethernetcables.html from a quick google search).

routing ~ Have at least one switch at the core, but you also should get a router. These days, a lot of the home networking devices bundle a modem, router, switch, and sometimes an AP. if you have one of these, then you're set. Otherwise there are some easy ways to make your own with old machines. You may also want to take the connection through a hardware firewall.

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I just have one thing to add on the patch panel, and that is you especially don't need one if you're planning on having everything patched. You still want to label the ends in case of a fault, but if everything's always patched than there's really no need. Now if you're going to need to change out what's patched where on occasion, then a patch panel can be a time saver.

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Pardon my ignorance, but what do you mean by "everything patched"? –  Eddie Parker Jun 11 '10 at 2:38
    
I mean, all of the cable runs will be plugged into a switch. You're not going to have any inactive jacks. A lot of places have a lot more jacks around than they do switching capacity, and will only patch in (connect to a switch) those lines that are actually used. –  Joel Coehoorn Jun 11 '10 at 15:45
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Go with Cat6. Those who say stay with Cat5e are probably the same ones who said you would not need anything more than MS-DOS to run your computer. Cat6 means you are not wiring the system again in a couple of years.

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Does it matter the MHz rating on the Ethernet cable? If so, why?

No. as long as it is Cat5e, it is >100MHz, and as long as it is Cat6, it is >250MHz These are bandwidth rating and for the matter the current crop of Cat5e and Cat6 cables would be more than necessary for Gigabit ethernet. The 10Gbps ethernet is based on a 500MHz bandwidth cable, and I don't see it being useful for the time being for home users or even small to medium businesses. There is simply not enough data to put through these channels.

I have two gigabit switches currently, an 8-port and a 5-port. Should I buy one massive switch to cover all the connections I need, or should I just chain the two together and buy a switch for however many other connections I need?

There is not a need.

Do I really need a patch panel? I understand it keeps the cables looking cleaner than coming out of a hole in the wall, but is there some other product I can use, perhaps combining a switch with a patch panel or some such?

No, there is not a need. To make it work, just label your cable well.

However, if you want no cables coming out from the wall without a socket, then, patch panel can keep the thing more organised. I think it is worth it for my home. i don't know about you, but this boils down to costs.

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As for advise, I'd say... make sure you use the recommended color patterns on both ends of the cable and use the same standard. I tend to use 568-B. Label your cables so you know which cable goes to which room.

Take note of the kind of wire you buy. There is stranded and solid. Solid wire cable are usually used inside walls or are put in places where they won't be moved. Stranded cable is more flexible and is used for drop cables. You will need to make sure you use the correct end connectors depending on whether you are working with stranded or solid cable.

question 1: I don't know

question 2: It would be ideal to use one switch... but gigabit is already overkill for a home network... linking switches together should not slow it down if your just using it for Internet.

If you hook your router up to your 8 port switch and hook the 5 port switch up to the 8 port, then the 4 computers on the 5 port switch will be have to share 1 gigabit in order to communicate to computers on the other switch and the internet. Since you are working with gigabit... It's already so fast... that it does not really matter unless you want to do multiple massive file copies across multiple computers at the same time.

question 3: I like patch panels, though they are not a must. You can simply terminate all the cables that come out of the wall and plug them directly into the switch.

Edit:

Here is a nice picture of rj45 connectors being used with the various standards (color combos). When all is said and done, the cable should be 1 for 1 strait through connection so if you were to use a multi-meter, pin 1 would match up to pin 1 on the other side, pin 2 matches up with pin 2 on the other side, and so on.

http://www.bb-europe.com/tech_articles/EthernetCables_illustration.asp

Since you are using wall plates on one side and are not using wall plates on the other side, you need to make extra sure that you use the correct standard on the face plate connector so your colors don't get mixed up.

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Thanks for the advise. I'll have to read up on 568-B versus the alternatives. As for solid vs stranded, just so I'm clear: I'll be running the Ethernet cabling through walls, and terminating at a plate in each of the rooms I'll be using them in. Would I use stranded for that? (is that the definition of a 'drop' cable?). –  Eddie Parker Jun 6 '10 at 17:16
    
Nope, the cable that goes through the walls is usually solid (solid is usually cheaper). People usually use the stranded cable between the wall plate and the computer but you can use solid for everything if you want. Note that the wall plate connectors are designed to be used with solid wire. When I say drop cable, I mean the cable that goes between the computer and the wall plate. –  James T Jun 6 '10 at 19:26
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Gigabit is NOT overkill. My home network is gigabit, and I regularly run into situations where the network is the bottleneck. Now, not everyone has multiple RAID-5 setups, but simply moving a file from one computer to another will saturate a 100 mbit connection. Remember, home networks are not just for Internet. –  Fake Name Jun 11 '10 at 0:06
    
@Fake The average home user does not do large file transfers over the network. In his situation, the worst case scenario would be if all 4 computers on the 5 port switch were trying to do massive file transfers to computers on the other switch, which would limit each computer to 250 mbps. If they transfer files to computers on the same switch... they get the full gigabit. He would only notice it under specific conditions. I think doing one daisy chain does not hurt him too bad... especially since its for home. He has the info, he can decide for himself. Thanks for the input Fake Name. –  James T Jun 11 '10 at 1:02
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He's posting on superuser, and discussing doing his own wiring. That pretty much already demonstrates he's not an average home user. My home network does have multiple RAID-5 setups, so his might as well. –  Fake Name Jun 11 '10 at 5:04
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You don't need a patch panel, you can terminate one end with an RJ-45 connector and plug it right into the switch and you can terminate the other end into a wall plate. It's not as clean, but it'll work and save you time/labor if you really want.

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