Cat 5e or Cat 6 ethernet cables?
There are different features and stats that each type of ethernet cable offers, but what information matters to you? The major features that each cable offers may be important, but it is just as important to understand why those features may or may not be important to you.
What are the advantages of Cat 6 vs Cat 5e?
The first and most noticeable difference is in performance. The Cat 5e operates with a 100 MHz bandwidth with an ethernet cable speed of 1 Gbps for 100 meters of cable length. A Cat 6 operates with a 250MHz bandwidth with an ethernet cable speed of 10 Gbps for 55 meters of cable length, 1 Gbps for 55-100 meters of cable length. With 2.5 times the bandwidth and 10 times the speed, the Cat 6 clocks is a large step up from the Cat 5e. For reference, 1 Gbps is equivalent to 125 Megabytes per second (MB/s). 1 Gbps could download a 15 GB file, such as a Blu-ray movie, in 2 minutes, whereas 10 Gbps could download the movie in 12 seconds.

The other major benefit of using Cat 6 is significant noise reduction compared to the Cat 5e. Noise, also known in varieties of the term “crosstalk,” is electromagnetic interference from one twisted pair to another twisted pair. A twisted pair is simply 2 wires wrapped around one another or “twisted” in a uniform fashion to balance out electromagnetic interference that each wire produces. Ethernet cables are made up of 4 twisted pairs. Each of these twisted pairs can produce crosstalk, or have crosstalk done to it. Crosstalk can occur either internally from any of the 4 twisted pairs or externally from any nearby bundled cables. Crosstalk becomes even more important as more of the bandwidth of the cable is used. As the signal frequency rises above the maximum for Cat 5e (100 MHz), the signal becomes progressively weaker. This means that as the frequency of signals rises, so does the signal’s susceptibility to crosstalk. This can cause degradation in audio signals or packet corruption in data transfers. To prevent this, Cat 6 cables are required to meet higher standards for crosstalk mitigation than Cat 5e by a significant margin. This mitigation is accomplished in several ways such as increased wire pair twist ratios or the inclusion of a plastic “spline” that physically separates and shields each twisted pair from one another. Technically the physical construction of the cable doesn’t matter, as long as it meets the crosstalk mitigation standard. Cat 6 cables typically feature thicker cable sheathes to shield against external sources of crosstalk.
What are the disadvantages of Cat 6 vs Cat 5e?
In terms of performance, Cat 6 is strictly superior to Cat 5e. Cat 6 does have one performance limitation related to its 10 Gbps transfer speed. 10 Gbps only works for the first 55 meters of cable, then it downshifts back to 1 Gbps. While 55 meters is more than enough for a single length of cable for most home installations, larger installations will need to be careful.
The price of Cat 6 is very close to Cat 5e, costing roughly 5% more for the upgrade. An unseen cost of Cat 6 comes when you want to utilize that 10 Gbps transfer speed. Though the cable can support 10 Gbps, that doesn’t mean the equipment it’s connected to can. If you’re not mindful, this can cause bottlenecks that negate the increased ethernet cable speed.
Cat 6 cables are thicker than Cat 5e. While this is a good thing for shielding, it also makes Cat 6 cables more rigid. Cat 6 cables sometimes have plastic “splines” that further increase rigidity. The result is an increased cable turn radius. In more compact installations, this can quickly become a problem. Ironically, this negative is sometimes a benefit when routing cable through long vents or through walls. The inflexibility makes the Cat 6 stay straight as you route it through a 30-foot vent, where a Cat 5e would just bunch up. The additional thickness in sheathing and splines will increase the weight of the cable. While not noticeable with shorter lengths, the reality is that Cat 6 cable weighs up to 50% more than a Cat 5e cable with the same features.
What ethernet cable to I need?
In general, most home installations will be perfectly fine with the Cat 5e. Cat 5e is marginally cheaper to purchase and has the same maximum length of 100 meters operating at 1Gbps transfer speeds. That said, the advent of Gigabit internet is pushing the boundaries of what a Cat 5e can handle. Ethernet cable speed is becoming a pivotal factor as internet speeds continue to increase. For a marginal increase in cost you can future proof your network by installing Cat 6 cables. Many installations have cables going through walls, ceilings, and other hard to reach places. Having to do that a second time probably won’t be cheaper than just installing Cat 6 cables the first time around. Businesses that need to move large data files will most likely have sizeable networks with bundled ethernet cables, making Cat 6 cables ideal. If you don’t want to worry whether your ethernet cable speed is capable of keeping up with the times, then you should consider Cat 6 cables.
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