cat5 vs cat5e vs cat6 vs cat6a vs cat7 – Which Ethernet Cable to Use?

We all use ethernet cables in our homes and at workplaces. And while it’s usually the IT guy who take care of it, if you are running your own media server, or just want to share files between two computers, it’s good the difference between popular LAN cables.

Ethernet Cable Types

Ethernet cables can be divided into different categories with each category having certain strengths and weaknesses. Each category offers different data transmitting speeds, electromagnetic shield, frequency range, and gauge size (SWG or AWG).

Each category of ethernet cable has been numbered sequentially, and sometimes, they are sub-divided with alphabets to signify minor updates.

1. CAT 5 Ethernet Cable

Cat 5 ethernet cable succeeded Cat 3 and 4 and was designed to satisfy the need for a cable that could support higher speeds. Cat 5 cables support 10/100 Mbps which translates into data transfer speed of either 10 or 100 Mbps. Cat 5, a UTP cable, was the first ethernet cable that also supported video and telephone signals.

TIA/EIA doesn’t recognize Cat 5 which is mostly used for 100Base-T and 1000Base-T networks. Cat 5 is not in use these days and has gone obsolete in most countries.

2. CAT 5e Ethernet Cable

Cat 5e was introduced to remove the shortcomings for Cat 5 and added some more functionalities to an already successful ethernet cable. It was enhanced to reduce unwanted transmission of data and signals and increased the transmission speed to 1000 Mbps.

Unlike Cat 5 which uses only two out of the four available twisted pair of wires, Cat 5e makes use of all four allowing for better control over speeds. Cat 5e, which are compatible backward with Cat 5 supported installations, but maintains the bandwidth at 100 MHz.

Cat 5e has been defined by the TIA/EIA-568-B and is recognized by the same.

3. CAT 6 Ethernet Cable

Cat 6 was developed with advancement in technology and the need to transfer more data at faster speeds. Cat 5e was already handling gigabit speed, Cat 6 was further improved to offer a bandwidth of 250 MHz. The wires were thinner than before, occupied less space, and the insulation was improved as well.

The rise in electromagnetic interference at workplaces also contributed to the success of Cat 6 which was capable of offering a better signal to noise ratio, and more adept at handling the said interference.

Unlike the previous versions, Cat 6 ethernet cables are available in both UTP (shielded twisted pair) and STP forms. Cat 6 is backward compatible with Cat 5 and Cat 5e.

It is to be noted here that Cat 5e Ethernet cables are more suitable for most ordinary working environments, with Cat 6 being for special purposes. Cat 5e is also much cheaper than Cat 6 making it the obvious choice for households and small businesses.

Cat 6 ethernet cables are 55 meters only because they can support data transmission at high speeds for the said distance only.

4. CAT 6a Ethernet Cable

Cat 6a was introduced with some minor enhancements like bandwidth frequency of up to 500 MHz and data transmission speeds of up to 10,000 Mbps. The “a” in Cat 6a stands for augmented. Unlike Cat 6, using Cat 6a will require you a special connector as it is not readily available in UTP form. It supports STP.

5. CAT 7 Ethernet Cable

Cat 7 or Class F (ISO/IEC 11801) offers the same speed as Cat 6a, 10,000 Mbps, however, increases the bandwidth further to 600 MHz. Cat & ethernet cables are fully shielded with SSTP (screened and shielded twisted pair) wires as well as layers of insulation.

This makes the Cat 7 ethernet cables really thick, difficult bend, and bulky. One point to keep in mind is that if the cables’ shielding layers are not grounded, you will not notice any difference between a Cat 6 and Cat 7 cable. They will virtually work at the same speeds.

Although Cat 7 offers high speeds at 10 Gbps, they work only at a range of up to 15 meters. This is why they are more suitable for connecting your computers with LAN and modems. The GigaGate45 connector used by Cat 7 ethernet cables are backward compatible with all Ethernet ports.

How to Choose an Ethernet Cable

Your ethernet cable choice will largely depend on your Internet connection. If you Internet plan is in gigabits, you will need to choose a cable that will support those speeds.

If you are looking to install at your home, I guess, you don’t have to worry about this part, but if you are using in a professional setting, you will need to consider network speeds. Think big files like movies and other content being moved around frequently.

You will also have to choose the router carefully. An inexpensive router will not support more than 100 Mbps. In an ideal scenario, if you are a home user, Cat 5e should be good enough, while for office usage Cat 6 should do the trick. You do not need Cat 7. It isn’t even a real standard yet

Wrapping Up: Ethernet Cable Types

CAT5, CAT5e, and CAT6 the difference in the twists. The maximum speed and length of CAT5 and CAT6 are pretty much the same. In general, the higher you go, the more shielding you get and thus the cables are thicker and faster.

Here is a graphical summary of all the different ethernet cable types and their features.

ethernet cable types

Choosing the right ethernet cable will largely depend on your needs and requirements. Also, computers cannot tell the difference between CAT5, CAT6 or CAT7, but the network interface cards (NIC). If your network speed is at 100mbit, then no matter what type of cable you use, your network stays at 100mbit.

Do you want to work in an area with high electromagnetic disturbance, need more speeds or want to cut costs?

About Gaurav Bidasaria

Gaurav is a tech enthusiast who loves talking about new technologies and gadgets. When he is not blogging, you can find him binge-watching Netflix.