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I'm planning a home network in a house that's not built yet. One recommendation is to add network sockets in various rooms and have them all end in a central place, where it all connects using a network switch. So far so good.

Another recommendation says to not connect everything directly to the switch, but to a patch panel which in turn is connected to the switch. I'm unsure why this is good.

  1. Is there any practical advantage of using a patch panel if you're not planning to re-wire things very often?

  2. How does a patch panel actually work? Let's say it has 24 ports. Does it have another 24 ports on the backside that go to the switch, or what? Wikipedia isn't helpful on this.

Clarification:
I am planning to run network cables through conduits inside the walls and terminated with network sockets in the wall (as opposed to having just conduits and long regular network cables that have a normal plug in each end). Going by RedGrittyBrick's answer, a patch panel is nearly unavoidable in that case.

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Think also of more than one cable to a room in different places. Then if you change the room layout you can simply move a patch cord to connect the socket you require, or even use both. It gives you a lot more flexibility at little extra cost when building. –  BrianA Mar 21 '12 at 16:28

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

First of all, have a look at this question from DIY.SE.

Now, if we have a look at the picture in the question: enter image description here

The Dell switch is sitting above two patch panels. The patch panel would then run cables out to a socket that would be mounted against a wall and then you would use a normal Cat5/6 cable to plug into the wall and into your desktop/computer. If you just had a cable connected to the switch, through the wall, and into the back of the computer, you are limited to the length of the cable. A patch panel would mean a bit more effort and only the most hardcare would really care about having one - it would look a bit more tidy.

For the wiring standards for the network cable Wikipedia has some good pictures.

To answer your questions:

  1. Not nessicarily. It's probably down to personal preference - patching in a number of cables can lead to numb fingers - and makes it look neater than having cables trailing from a switch.

  2. A patch panel would have, as you say, 24 ports on the front. This is the rear of a patch panel - each port has 6 connections that are made up to the networking standard - and is also patched into the wall plate at the other end. enter image description here

Image of the back of a wall-mountable patch panel:

enter code here

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Thank you so much for that second photo! Now I understand how the solid-core cables are attached, and then in turn I understand the use of solid-core cables in the walls and stranded-core cables in the rooms. (You probably didn't notice, but the DIY question is also mine :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 21 '12 at 16:32
    
@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun - haha, indeed I didn't. In that case, what are the patch panels plugged into? –  tombull89 Mar 21 '12 at 19:06
    
I love the mahogany rack. –  ericx Aug 3 at 20:52

All professional installations in offices use patch panels. Even in quite small offices.

A patch panel has the solid-cored cable connected in at the rear using a punch down style of connection. At the front it has 8P8C sockets (casually called RJ45 sockets). Into these sockets you can plug Ethernet patch cables (which have stranded conductors unlike the cables used in walls)

The cables used in walls is stiff which would be inconvenient for use with a switch and would need non-standard termination due to the different type of conductors.

You can't easily use patch cable in walls as wall-plates (the Ethernet outlets) are typically designed for solid core cable punch-down.

Staying with the standard way of wiring buildings will probably save you trouble in the future when a wall-plate needs replacing or extra cables are run by a different contractor.

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+1 for explaining solid-core vs stranded-core cable. Anyone who has ever tried to punch down stranded or crimp connectors on solid knows how much easier it is when you use the right cable for the right terminations. –  Justin ᚅᚔᚈᚄᚒᚔ Mar 21 '12 at 18:28

I was a builder for 15 years before becoming a computer geek; so when we recently added an addition to our house, I pulled 1" plastic conduit to every low-voltage box in the house.

  • Overkill? yes
  • Why? because the cat6a I'm pulling today will be obsolete before I move out.
  • affordable? Well, the conduit cost about $300 and my labor is worthless (or priceless)

I used smurf tube for the tricky bits and straight tube everywhere else. It all goes into the basement and everything runs into the rack. Solid wire for the premise wiring; so yes, a patch panel.

You can use a patch panel for your catv coax too. However, F-connectors suck. Consider a BNC patch panel you can still find them on e-bay.

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