4 Things to Know Before Buying Ethernet Patch Cables
If you Google “Ethernet patch cable” you will get over a million hits. But while shopping for them can be confusing, you really only have to know four main things:
- What exactly is a patch cable?
- What are the main differences of the cable categories?
- What are your form factor options?
- What are your cable jacket options?
What Exactly Is a Patch Cable?
In a typical corporate office, the PCs are connected via Ethernet cables to a central network hub or switch, located in an IT room or closet. The hub or switch allows the PCs to communicate with one another on the network and to access files from servers. Also in the room are other network devices such as servers, routers and network media players. All these devices are connected, typically through patch panels. With its multiple ports, a patch panel is a switchboard of sorts that employs short Ethernet patch cables with connectors on both ends to make it easier to reconfigure the routing of the devices.
So, Ethernet patch cables, aka patch cords, are basically short Ethernet cables with connectors on both ends. They are used with patch panels, VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phones, Ethernet switches, and routers, and to connect workstations to wall outlets.
What Are the Main Differences of the Cable Categories?
Like the longer Ethernet cables, Ethernet patch cables are offered in different categories, such as Cat5e and Cat6. There are four main differences among the categories:
- The cable’s maximum data rate, which is measured in megabits or gigabits per second.
- The longest distance it can maintain that data rate.
- The cable’s bandwidth (in megahertz), which determines how much data can be transferred at any one time.
- Whether or not the conductors are shielded − with unshielded cables being more flexible, weighing less and thus easier to install, and shielded cables offering more protection against electromagnetic and radio interference (EMI/RFI).
Following are the main differences among the categories.
Cat5e cable is the minimum standard unshielded twisted pair cabling used for LAN drops. It is used in 10/100Base-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 cables.
Cat6 offers more stringent specs for cross talk and system noise than Cat5e. Cat6 cables can carry gigabit Ethernet in commercial buildings. It is also used for phone lines and in residences. It is available shielded or unshielded. It has a bandwidth of 250 MHz, and its data rate and distance are 1 Gbps at up to 100 meters and 10 Gbps at up to 37 meters.
Cat6a is commonly used for gigabit Ethernet in data centers and commercial buildings. Its 500 MHz bandwidth is twice that of Cat6 and its data rate is 10 Gbps at up to 100 meters.
Cat7 has the same data rate and distance specs of Cat6a but offers 100 MHz more bandwidth. It is used for 10 Gbps core infrastructure and is commonly found in data centers. Cat7a is an improvement on Cat7, with 1000 MHz bandwidth, 40 Gbps up to 50 meters and 100 Gbps up to 15 meters.
Cat8 has a bandwidth of 2 GHz over 30 meters and a data rate of 40 Gbps. It is ideal for switch-to-switch communications in a 25Gbase-T or 40Gbase-T network.
What Are Your Patch Cable Form Factor Options?
In this case, the form factor of a patch cable refers to the straightness or angle of its connectors. Some connectors extend straight out of a plug while others immediately angle right, left, upward or downward to best accommodate where the RJ45 jacks are located. For instance, if a connection point is close to a wall, with not enough room for a protruding straight connector, an upward or downward form factor might be necessary. We offer patch cables in over a dozen combinations of form factors, such as straight to straight, left angle to right angle, right angle to upward angle, and downward angle to downward angle.
What Are Your Patch Cable Jacket Options?
Some Ethernet patch cable jacket options are self-explanatory, such as high-flex and ultraflex, stainless steel armored, UV-rated and antibacterial. Less obvious are some other jacket designations, explained as follows.
Most Ethernet cables have a jacket made of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, which is strong, flexible and the standard material for patch cords and risers (anything going into a wall but not a ceiling). Plenum jackets are required in the U.S. for anything going into an airspace (a space above a drop ceiling or below a raised floor) or horizontally into a building. An LSZH (low smoke zero halogen) jacket is used where electronics-destroying halogens are prohibited, because it emits less smoke than other jackets and is free of halogens. PUR (polyurethane) cable jackets are both tough and flexible, ideal for outdoor and industrial settings. PE (polyethylene) jackets are also used outdoors due to their low water absorption. FR cable is treated with a flame retardant. FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene) is used mostly in the aerospace industry due to its very high temperature rating and its resistance to chemicals and oils. TPE, thermoplastic elastomer, can withstand a lot of flexing and resists extreme temperatures and contact with chemicals. TPU, thermoplastic polyurethane, is extremely durable and is commonly used with medical cable.
Following are the standard burn ratings, with CM abbreviating “communications multipurpose.” A CMP rating (CM plenum) means it does not give off toxic fumes if it burns and can self-extinguish. A CMR rating (CM riser) is a grade of flame retardance that prevents fire from spreading from one building floor to another. It is meant for in-wall risers but not for plenums. Both CM and CMG (CM general) are in-wall rated only for one-family or two-family residences or in risers with raceways or fireproof shafts. CMX is UV-resistant and weatherproof but not fire-rated.
Slim CM and flat CM patch cables are lighter, take up less space, improve airflow, and provide easier management of cables in congested data centers. They can also be a useful addition throughout the home or small business, as their smaller outside diameter (OD) increases flexibility and even provides a clear line of sight to see which ports they are connected to. For more on slim cables, see our blog post.
ShowMeCables Customer Support
At ShowMeCables we realize that purchasing the right type of cable for your needs is not always easy. Sometimes, even after you buy, you might have questions. That’s why we offer courteous, U.S.-based customer and technical support at 1-855-958-3212, or contact us here with any questions you might have.
All our patch cables are in-stock and ready for immediate, same-day shipment.