If you Google “Ethernet cables” you’ll get about 5 million hits. It’s no wonder that shopping for Ethernet cables can be confusing. But if you simplify the cables down to their main differences, it’s much easier to choose the one that’s best for your use.

This blog post explains the chief differences among the cable categories. But instead of trying to cover everything from Cat1 to Cat8, we discuss only the four categories used most in office networks, data centers and residences: Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a and Cat7. We conclude by clarifying some of the choices you might also have to make about cable jacketing types and their burn ratings.

Cable Categories

In each Ethernet cable category below, we discuss the four most important features that delineate one category from another. The first is a cable’s maximum data rate, which is measured in megabits or gigabits per second. The second feature is the longest distance it can maintain that data rate. The third is a cable’s bandwidth (in megahertz), which basically determines how much data can be transferred at any one time. The fourth feature is whether or not the conductors are shielded − with unshielded cables being more flexible and thus easier to install, and shielded cables offering more protection against electromagnetic interference (EMI).

Cat5e cable is the minimum standard unshielded twisted pair cabling used for LAN drops. It is used in 100Base-T Ethernet. It has a bandwidth of 100 MHz. Its maximum data rate and distance are 1 Gbps at up to 100 meters, a big upgrade over the 100 Mbps rate of Cat5.

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