This article is part of the Hardware Buying Guide series:
- Buying an SSD: What to Look Out for
- Buying a Monitor: What to Look For
- Buying a Keyboard: For Work, Play, and Everything in Between
- Buying a Mouse: DPI, Sensors and More
- Buying a Processor: What You Need to Know
- Buying a Case: Drive Bays, Form Factor and More
- Buying a Motherboard: Form Factor, Ports, More
- Buying Memory/RAM: What to Know
- Buying a Power Supply: Wattage, Efficiency and More
- Buying a Sound Card: Benefits, Pricing and More
- Things You Need to Know When Buying Ethernet Cables
- What You Need to Know When Buying a Router for Your Home
- Graphic Card Buyer’s Guide 2019: What to Look for When Buying a GPU
- How to Choose the Right CPU Cooler
Ethernet cables are a key part of everyone’s home-computing experience, but very few people understand the difference between them and how important they can actually be in the long run. Let’s clear that up so you can understand how to make informed buying decisions with ethernet cables.
The “Cat” branding of an ethernet cable is perhaps one of the most important parts of purchasing one, since it provides key information about the speeds of the cable in addition to the Mhz (frequency) of the cable.
“Cat,” in this case, stands for “Category.” When buying ethernet cables, you should only be buying Cat-5 cables or higher. Lower standard cables aren’t actually ethernet cables, offer very low speeds, and are typically used for telephone applications.
Here’s the difference between the main types of cables you’ll be buying:
- Cat-5 cables offer speeds up to 100 Megabits per second and operate at 100 Mhz
- Cat-5e cables offer speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second and operate at 100 Mhz
- Cat-6 cables offer speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, though using this full capacity shortens the maximum length of the cable down to 55 meters as opposed to the 100 meters normally offered by Cat cables. These cables also run at 250 Mhz
- Cat-6e cables offer speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second, with no such length restriction as their predecessor. These cables run at 500 Mhz.
You may be wondering what type of cable is best for you. To test it in the simplest way, run a speed test to gauge your connection speed or ask your ISP what their maximum speed provided is.
For instance, if you’re limited to a 1mbps connection, you have no reason to buy anything newer than a Cat-5 cable. In fact, Cat-5e is fast enough to cover most consumer-level Internet needs, but for schools and businesses with faster networks, investing in the better cabling is well worth the money.
Shielding and Jackets
There are two forms of protection for an ethernet cable: shielding and jackets.
Shielding is a form of shielding inside the cable that prevents signal degradation and interference which is important when running cables in harsher environments. It’s also very important if running multiple cables together simultaneously.
Jackets cover the body of the cable. These are vital for ensuring the cable remains undamaged when routing it around the house. The stronger the jacket, the stronger the cable’s integrity and the longer it’ll last you. Most consumer-grade cables use a PVC jacket, which is fine, but be aware of cables with low-quality jackets that tear and break down easily.
Buying Ethernet Cables: Length
Ethernet cables vary greatly in length and max out at 100 meters without the usage of repeaters. I will say this, though: Never buy a cable under 10 feet.
If you look for the bottom-of-the-barrel cables, you may see that many ethernet cables cost something like $5 for 5 feet. Many people would make the assumption that doubling the length would double the price, but it doesn’t. You can purchase 50-foot cables for $10 if you look in the right places!
Always buy cables that are a little longer than what you need. You may need to reroute them at some point, or you may move your router or computer. Spending extra for the extra length will save you a lot of time and headaches in the long run. Don’t skimp on it!
Where To Buy
Finally, let’s talk about where you should buy your ethernet cables.
Amazon and Newegg. That’s it. Don’t go to Walmart, or Best Buy, or really any physical outlet. Cables in physical outlets are almost always horribly overpriced, and if you can stand to wait a few days for an ethernet cable to ship, they’re typically the far better option. Buying online also allows you to take a closer look at specifications and user reviews which will help you stay away from low-quality network cabling.
All in all, ethernet cables are an integral part of any network, home or business. Most people who shop for ethernet cables don’t know much about them, though, and we’re hoping with this article you’ve been given all the information you need to make an informed buying decision.
Anything we missed? Anything you’d add? Need any help?
Comment below and let us know!