So, if you have been wondering how you can use your ethernet cables to get better connection speeds over your home network, here is a guide to selecting the best ethernet cables for your setup.
You may be under the impression that all ethernet cables are created equally, providing similar connection speeds and reliability regardless of age.
The truth is that there are quite a few different types, each performing remarkably different from the others, and depending on what network hardware you are running, these differences could completely transform your home network for the better.
Before purchasing a network cable, if you want to get the most out of it, there are a few crucial matters to consider first. How compatible is your current hardware with the cable you are interested in? Is the price worth it? What kind of speeds are you expecting for your internet connection, and how much strain do you put on your local network in terms of file and information transfers. Then of course there are the aesthetics to consider. Where will you run the cables? How long will they need to be? And, how much will you need them to be concealed?
These are all questions which will guide you towards choosing the right product:
One of the main reasons you would opt for a wired connection over a wireless one, is that you are probably looking to take advantage of higher speeds and better stability in your connection. While even outdated Cat 5 wires are often quicker than wireless connections, you may find that their performance is a little underwhelming, in which case a Cat5e or Cat6 would be more to your liking. However, as far as your internet connection is concerned, the speed of your connection will be determined or limited by the router you are using.
While Cat 6 network cables are backwards compatible, they will not provide you with speeds as advertised if your router or ISP is already limiting your connection speeds. Since the bottleneck is taking place in your actual router, no amount of high-speed cables is going to get you quicker speeds.
However, if you are using a router that can get speeds between 1Gbps and 10Gbps, you’ll want a higher category cable to maintain those speeds (I will speak a little more about these categories later).
Most users of high category network cables will notice the difference in their home networks. This means that streaming media over the network can be done with less interruptions, information, data and files can be transferred between devices on the network far more quickly, and you will also be unlikely to experience any lags during LAN (local area network) multiplayer gaming.
However, if you rarely ever use your local network in this way, you may find that higher category cables are not just unnecessary, but a needless expense as well.
Lower category cables are generally sold for cheaper than lower ones, but the price difference per 100 meters often only totals up to a few dollars. Since Cat 6 cables are backwards compatible and come at only a slightly higher price, the choice of whether or not to go cat 6 often feels like a no-brainer. However, they too have their drawbacks which I will discuss later, which means they aren’t ideal for use in every situation.
The slap-dash clutter of wires that haunt every office space and the computer room is the bane of many households, which makes it understandable that users often want a solution that can be easily concealed either in the walls, the ceiling or under a carpet.
The ease at which this can be done has a lot to do with a cable’s thickness and flexibility. Higher cat cables are generally a lot thicker than lower ones and are substantially more difficult to maneuver. So even though they may provide better performance at only a slightly higher price, they might be a nightmare to setup and conceal in your home.
For this reason, you might prefer to opt for lower cat cables that still give decent connection and transfer speeds over your network, but are far more easily concealed for aesthetics and even protection.
The choice of which category ethernet cable to use will also depend largely on how you use your home network. High bandwidth activities such as in-home streaming or online play would require a cat5e cable at the very least, while cat 6 ones would be ideal. However, if you are just browsing, checking emails and doing some online chatting, a high category cable would just be overkill (although when has that ever been a reason to settle for less).
Before we start, here are some basics on all types of ethernet cables. They are twisted pairs of insulated cables that connect to LAN ports in routers to provide a direct connection to your PC, Mac, game consoles or home theatre to provide staggeringly higher speeds and more reliable connections than wireless networks.
Category 5 Ethernet Cables
Category 5e Ethernet Cables
Category 5e Flat Ethernet Cables
Category 6 Ethernet Cables
Category 6a Ethernet Cables
For basic home networks, Cat 5 ethernet cables (when measured in lengths of up to 100 meters) provide very basic connection speeds of between 10 and 100Mbps at a low frequency of 100Mhz.
Being a particularly old type of connection, Cat 5 ethernet cables are rarely suited to high-bandwidth tasks, and are generally not a good investment regardless of your needs.
They are only moderately cheaper than newer products, so not even the saving is worth it. However, they still serve their purpose for simple networks as well as for the transfer of video and telephone signals.
Remember though, that if you are using a particularly outdated router that can’t breach the speeds that a Cat 5 cable provides, there is generally no need to go for something with higher speeds.
Still, if you are ever looking to upgrade that old router, you’ll need cables that can get the most performance out of it, so investing in a category higher than 5 is generally worth your while.
However, there are still some advantages to using a Cat5 cable:
Being one of the oldest category cables available, Cat 5 cables also have their shortfalls:
Having said that, these cables are ideal for small, simple network setups that make little use of transfers and have no need for high-band capacities. If the most you do with your connection is surf the web and check emails, then a cat5 is fine, but is still not ideal.
We didn't like
Cat5e cables provide vastly greater speeds than their cat5 predecessors, which is just one of the reasons why it replaced the popularity of cat5 in around 2001.
With compatible routers, they can provide connection speeds of up to 1Gbps which is vastly more impressive than cat5, and the best part is that there is virtually no difference in price per 100meters.
However, cat5e is still a fairly outdated solution, and so its applicability will be determined by its benefits and drawbacks.
Here are some of the pros behind cat5e cables:
And here are some reasons to avoid them:
These properties make cat5e cables ideal for large homes or small offices with intensive bandwidth needs. Whether you are transferring large sums of data over the local network or are looking for greater connection speeds to the web, cat 5e is a great-middle-of-the-range option.
However, for those networks that are extremely complicated, large or situated in an area with high bandwidth activities, cat5e may not be quite enough.
We didn't like
Super-flat Cat5e cables offer most of the same advantages that cat5e does, but are specifically designed for maintaining the aesthetics of your home or working environment.
However, the performance to aesthetics ratio makes it applicable for very specific situations, while providing a little bit less in the way of interference protection.
While they are able to transfer data rates of up to 1Gbps, their flat design makes them a little more susceptible to interference from electronic equipment and other ethernet cables in the vicinity. But if that is the case, then why opt for a flat cable in the first place?
The flat design makes it fairly simple to conceal the cable either under a carpet, in the ceiling or behind a wall. Since an abundance of rogue cabling is irksome to most households, this presents a quint solution to protruding wires in the home or office.
There are quite a few advantages to flat Cat5e cables:
However, despite these advantages, flat Cat5e cables have a major disadvantage when it comes to filtering out interference. An ethernet cable’s ability to combat interference has a lot to do with how densely the wires within are wound around each other. Since flat cables leave very little space for this, they tend to deal poorly with interference.
We didn't like
Cat6 cables are a relatively new addition to the ethernet family and outstrips the performance of its cat5 predecessors significantly.
When measured in 100m lengths, these cables can easily provide the 1Gbps transfers offered by cat5e, but have the added benefit of pushing itself to 10Gbps when measured under 55 meters.
They also operate on a much higher frequency than cat 5 cables (250Mhz to be exact), which goes a long way towards eliminating and limiting interference from electronic devices.
They do tend to cost quite a bit more than the cat 5 cables, but if your network can provide the speeds that they offer, then a cat6 cable is well worth it. If not, you are only going to better the transfer speeds associated with your local network.
Here are some of the major advantages behind cat6 cabling:
Though there are a few disadvantages associated with cat6 cables as well:
We didn't like
Category 6a ethernet cables give you much higher speeds and reliability than any of the abovementioned ones, and is about as good as you can practically get without using fiber optics. These cables are definitely more suited to complex office networks, but it is not unheard of to see them in residential setups.
When measured by 100meters, Cat6a cables can provide you with connection speeds of up to 10Gbps (as opposed to cat6 cables which can only do that with 55 meters of cabling).
Another major feature of cat6a cables, is that they operate on 500Mhz, which practically eliminates all local interference which could have a negative impact on the quality of your network connections.
These cables are ideal for large setups where transfer of data across the local network is as crucial a task as being able to connect to the web.
Media houses, large businesses and any other firm that would need to transfer incredibly large files on the daily, and have the infrastructure to take full advantage of cat6e cables, would love cat6a cabling in their office spaces.
For the average household, however, it’s a bit like getting John Rambo to take part in a school fight… utterly unnecessary, expensive and downright wasteful.
Here are some advantages associated with cat6a cables:
But even the best has some disadvantages:
We didn't like
Determining which of the above ethernet cables is the best one to go with depends largely on your connection requirements, as well as the infrastructure you have on hand. As a rule, you’ll want to avoid Cat5 cables where you can due to their limited performance and interference protection.
Cat5e cables are a bit more suited to home networks, especially considering the price. In general, they provide ample speeds to keep up with your router’s capabilities, but still battle significantly with interference under certain conditions.
Cat6 and cat6a cables might be the ultimate solution for incredibly fast and reliable connections, however, they tend to outperform the average home network, making them an unnecessary expense for the average user.
Because of this, I would have to vote that either cat5e or cat6 cables are ideal for just about any situation, especially considering cat6 is backwards compatible. For the price, cat5e will provide you with more than ample connection speeds, won’t leave your home looking like an industrial location, and isn’t nearly as expensive as cat6a cables. This makes them the better choice for all-round network setups.
Hopefully this has helped you determine which ethernet cable would suit your home or office network the best. With so much to consider when setting up a home or office network, knowing which cables are suited to which situation is a big help.
We hope that we demystified which are the best ethernet cables for maximum performance. Did you find this article interesting or helpful? Is there anything I have left out? We would love to hear your opinion.
We Support Our Favorite Brands
We know and understand how important resistance, performance and design are, that's why we revolve only around reputable brands with high standards. To create a good product every quality aspect is necessary.