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I'm just about to move house, so I'm going to have to disconnect and re-wire my network. Pretty much all the devices I have support Gigabit Ethernet. Should I go out and buy some decent network cables (and if so what type) or should I continue using my mix of Cat 5 cables I've acquired over the years.

Does the type of cable really make a difference to my LAN performance?

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Well, how big is your local network and what do you do on it? –  Ciaran Aug 21 '09 at 23:06
    
I have 2 laptops, 3 desktops, xbox 360 and an HDDVD player. So mostly gaming and watching TV stored on my Windows Home Server –  David Hayes Aug 22 '09 at 1:36
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Plan for the future and do it right from the start. buy brand new cables and run them throughout the house. It will pay off in the long run if you plan on living there a few years. –  Pär Björklund Aug 22 '09 at 9:49
    
Well, I finally found the time to switch out the cheap cables and my connection speed jumped from 100mbs to 1GB and my throughput increased by 600%. I was amazed! –  David Hayes Jan 27 '10 at 22:59

8 Answers 8

up vote 63 down vote accepted

What Is The Difference Between Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6 Cable?

If you’re researching the different types of twisted-pair copper cable used to transmit data in network and home theater applications, then it’s likely that you will repeatedly come across the terms Category 5 (Cat 5), Category 5e (Cat 5e) and Category 6 (Cat 6). Organizations such as the Telecommunication Industry Association (TIA) and Electronic Industries Association (EIA) set specific product standards, and these guidelines have resulted in cables being classified into various categories based on their performance levels. Just in case you’re not too familiar with cabling terminology, we at CableOrganizer.com would like to provide you with a few straightforward definitions and statistics on these three common grades of network cable, to help you better choose the right one to fit your needs.

Cat 5: Out of the three types of cable we’ll be discussing, Category 5 is the most basic. Cat 5 cable is available in two varieties: Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP), the type widely used in the United States, and Screened Twisted Pair (SCTP), which has shielding to provide a measure of extra protection against interference, but is rarely used outside of Europe. Cables belonging to Category 5 are either solid or stranded: Solid Cat 5 is more rigid, and the better choice if data needs to be transmitted over a long distance, while Stranded Cat 5 is very flexible and most likely to be used as patch cable. Cat 5 cable can support 10, 100, or 1000 Mbit/s Ethernet. The 1000BASE-T standard for Gigabit Ethernet over UTP was designed to work over up to 100 meters of plain old Cat 5.

Cat 5e: Cat 5e (which stands for Category 5, enhanced) cable goes along the same lines as basic Cat 5, except that it fulfills higher standards of data transmission. While Cat 5 is common in existing cabling systems, Category 5e has almost entirely replaced it in new installations. Just like Cat 5, Cat 5e can handle data transfer at 1000 Mbit/s, and is suitable for Gigabit Ethernet. Cat 5e experiences much lower levels of near-end crosstalk (NEXT) than Cat 5.

Cat 6: Of the three cable categories we’re discussing, Category 6 is the most advanced and provides the best performance. Just like Cat 5 and Cat 5e, Category 6 cable is typically made up of four twisted pairs of copper wire, but its capabilities far exceed those of other cable types because of one particular structural difference: a longitudinal separator. This separator isolates each of the four pairs of twisted wire from the others, which reduces crosstalk, allows for faster data transfer, and gives Category 6 cable twice the bandwidth of Cat 5! Cat 6 cable is ideal for supporting 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Since technology and standards are constantly evolving, Cat 6 is the wisest choice of cable when taking any possible future updates to your network into consideration. Not only is Category 6 cable future-safe, it is also backward-compatible with any previously-existing Cat 5 and Cat 5e cabling found in older installations.

Source and more information

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this answer is only good as long as the link work –  Joakim Elofsson Aug 23 '09 at 19:59
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this article doesn't go over the rated length for the different cables though. While Cat5e is rated for Gigabit speeds, that's only up to 100 meters. If you need Gigabit speeds longer then that, then you need to use Cat6. –  Chuck Aug 26 '09 at 0:37
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Could you do more than just a link? What if the page dies? –  random Aug 27 '09 at 13:10
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Bottom Line: use cat-6 if you can, cat-5e if you cant, and cat-5 if you're broke. –  John Gietzen Sep 17 '09 at 20:08
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FYI 10 GB is not officially speced to run on Cat 6 but requires Cat 6a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10_Gigabit_Ethernet#10GBASE-T In reality you can have runs of Cat 5e and still get 10 GB working without issues depending on the cable. –  Chris Magnuson Feb 23 '11 at 13:45

Gigabit Ethernet is designed to slow down if the cables are picking up interference, but the quality of installation is probably as important as the cable itself. Ethernet over copper is always unreliable if you go over 100 m, so of course higher quality cable is more important at greater distance.

But be careful not to kink the cables while you are laying them or bend them too tightly, and any solid cable needs to be untwisted more carefully. You only want solid cables if you are installing to new jackpoints, and then you use the normal stranded patch cables from the jackpoint to the computer or switch (ie. solid cable for permanent wiring only).

Don't put plugs onto solid cables; solid patch cables are more trouble than they're worth, so use stranded (flexible) cable for that.

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Depending on how old they are and how badly they've been abused, your existing cables may be starting to deteriorate.

Plus, if you replace them, you can do spiffy color-coding.

Cat 5e can theoretically handle 1gig-e, while Cat 6 can handle 10gig-e; Cat 6 is typically more expensive. Basically, if you buy a quality cable, Cat 5e should do it.

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+1 for color-coding your wiring. It's a godsend. –  Shinrai Aug 6 '10 at 14:21

Cat5e should be good enough for the next few years.

If you don't mind crimping your own connectors you can buy a bulk spool of cable from you local big box hardware store. It's much cheaper than buying lots of shorter cables and you can make custom lengths.

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Or you could use Monoprice.com, cat 6 is pretty dirt cheap there. –  James McMahon Jul 21 '10 at 13:11

I'd start looking into buying new Cat5e or Cat6 cables. Cat5e cables are about the same size as Cat5. Cat6 cables are a bit thicker. I just threw out most of my old Cat5 cables and replaced them with pre-made Cat5e ones.

I like monoprice.com for cables. I don't crimp my own cables anymore; it's too hard to get a good connection using an inexpensive (~$30) crimper. If time=money, it's much cheaper for me to buy pre-crimped cables of various lengths.

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No, it's not so simple.

Cat 6 is also limited to 100 metres length maximum, less actually, and its operating efficiency and reality is dependent on other factors such as age, handling, damage, copper quality, connection efficiency (24 gauge instead of 22 can create punching problems), environmental factors and so on as well, as the bandwidth actually being used.


While the above is true, Cat 6 is limited to 100 m for Cat 6 performance. The point of other comments is correct in that, if running longer than 100 m, you might still get good Cat 5e grade performance out of a Cat 6 cable, when a Cat 5e would not be able to transmit the signal as well.

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I wired my house 10 years ago with Cat 5. By that time, I was told that I should just use Cat 4, since Cat 5 is expensive. If I put Cat 4, I would not be able to take advantage of the current Gigabit speed.

Currently, Cat 7 is out, but think for the future.

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For the typical home network, Cat 5e will work for years to come. Cat 6 is a slightly different animal from an operational and installation point of view and not worth the effort unless the environment is hostile (read that as full of interference producing devices).

Not too many homes, or even business locations for that matter, are hostile enough to justify Cat 6. Self-proclaimed 'experts' in places like Best Buy will tell you Cat 6 is the way to go, but most of them have no clue what they're talking about, or at least I haven't met one in my 20+ years of electrical and network cabling experience.

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If Cat6 patch cables only costs a few pennies more, what reason would there be to not buy them instead of Cat5e? –  paradroid Nov 11 '10 at 13:36

protected by studiohack Apr 16 '11 at 8:55

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