Whether you need an Ethernet cable to connect a device to your router or are looking to break free from WiFi for better performance, all Ethernet cables serve the same thing: connect peripheral devices to your local network.
However, not all Ethernet cables or RJ45 cables are created equal. Length, build quality, type of cable, like many people you are certainly wondering which Ethernet cable to choose? We help you see more clearly and understand the different categories of RJ45 cable to choose the one that will correspond to your use.
How to choose an Ethernet cable?
An Ethernet cable is a type of cable used for wired networks. It is used to connect devices on a local network such as a router, a computer, a printer, a NAS, or a switch.
Easy to find and inexpensive, buying an Ethernet cable is not complicated. But do you really know what you need?
Let’s start with the speed of your Internet connection. If you have fiber, an old Ethernet cable will slow down the connection. But if you have a slower connection, you don’t need to invest in the better performing Ethernet cable.
Next, take into account the speed you need for your network. If you often back up large files to your NAS server or use Plex to stream movies in 4K, a better Ethernet cable can make the difference.
Finally, think about your router. All the WiFi routers in our comparison support 1000 Mbps but some inexpensive routers only support Ethernet up to 100 Mbps, which will result in a bottleneck with a cable higher than Cat. 5.
And even on other routers that support 1000 Mbps, a Cat 6 or Cat 7 Ethernet cable might not be useful. On the other hand, to prepare yourself for Wifi 6 you can directly choose an RJ45 cable from Cat 6.
The composition of an internet cable
An RJ45 cable is made up of 8 wires. Twisted by two, the 4 pairs have different colors. The twist allows the current to balance. In one of the wires, the current goes in one direction and on the second wire of the pair the current goes in the other direction allowing to cancel the magnetic field around the pair.
Shielded (STP) or unshielded (UTP)
A twisted Ethernet cable corresponds to the letters TP for Twisted Pair.
To this may or may not be added a shielding that will protect the twisted wires.
Unshielded cables are the most common. They are found under the acronym UTP for Unshielded Twisted Pair. They are suitable for indoor household use. The cables are simply put inside a rubber sheath without further protection.
Shielded cables also called Shielded Twisted Pair are perfectly suited for outdoors or to be installed inside walls. There are several types of shielding for a network cable, the most common being the protection of each twisted pair with a layer of aluminum. We can also find a layer of aluminum that surrounds the cable. The shielding has the effect of protecting against electrical interference and is connected to the ground using the RJ45 connector.
Here are the different acronyms used to refer to shielded cables ranging from the weakest to the strongest disturbance resistance.
- U / UTP – Unshielded cable, unshielded twisted pairs = no shielding
- F / UTP – foil shielded cable, unshielded twisted pairs = cable shielding
- U / FTP – Unshielded cable, foil shielded twisted pairs = shielding of each twist
- S / FTP – braided shielded cable, foil shielded twisted pairs = cable shielding, copper braid, and twisted pair shielding.
RJ45 STP cables are more expensive but the signal degrades less quickly over long distances. Commonly used in areas with interference from large devices, you will not need this type of Ethernet cable for home use.
Which category of Ethernet cable to choose from?
All Ethernet cables are categorized by the word “Cat” followed by a number. These three letters simply mean “Category” and the number indicates the manufacturing specifications of the cable. As a general rule the higher the number, the faster the speed with better frequencies calculated in Mhz. Newer cables can handle higher bandwidths and therefore faster download speeds and connections.
The length of the Ethernet cable also affects efficiency. The longer a cable the slower the transmission speeds will be, although cables purchased for home rarely exceed 100 meters, below which it is unlikely to experience a significant drop in speed.
Cat 5 Ethernet cables are now obsolete. It is not uncommon to find Cat 5 cables still in use but do not buy any and if you have some at home change them. They are slow and are no longer manufactured.
Cat 5 uses only 2 pairs of twisted wires out of the 4 available and can only achieve 100 Mbps.
The “e” in Cat 5e means “enhanced” in English to “improve”. There is no physical difference between Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables but the 5e is manufactured to more stringent testing standards to suppress crosstalk, that is, the unwanted transfer of signals between channels of communication. Cat 5e is currently the most common type of Ethernet cable, primarily due to its low production cost and ability to support higher speeds than Cat 5 cables of up to 1000 Mbps.
Cat 6 RJ45 cables support much higher bandwidths than Cat 5 and Cat 5e cables, but they are also more expensive. In theory capable of reaching 10 gigabits (10,000 Mbps) over a maximum length of 55 meters, Cat 6 cables have tighter twists than Cat 5 and are often equipped with shielding (UTP) in the form of a foil aluminum. In addition, they have a plastic separator in the center of the cable to separate each twisted pair and to prevent crosstalk and noise interference.
Useless in a domestic installation, Cat 6 network cables require specific ports capable of supporting this speed that is not yet encountered on consumer products. They are also thicker and less flexible than the Cat 5e.
The “a” in Cat 6a means “increased”. Compared to ordinary Cat 6 cables, 6a cables support 10 Gbps and are able to maintain higher transmission speeds over cable lengths up to 100 meters. Cat 6a cables are always shielded and their sheath, thick enough to completely eliminate crosstalk, results in a much denser and less flexible cable than Cat 6.
Cat 7 cables use the latest Ethernet technology and support higher bandwidth sizes and significantly faster transmission speeds than Cat 6 cables. They are proportionately more expensive than other Ethernet cables, although their performance reflects their performance. High prices. Cat 7 cables are capable of reaching up to 100 Gbps at a range of 15 meters. Cat 7 cables are still shielded and use a modified GigaGate45 connector, which is backward compatible with conventional Ethernet ports.
Although not yet widely used and few devices support them, Cat 7a Ethernet cables currently offer the highest specifications you can find. The transmission speed is no different from Cat 7, but Cat 7a cables offer an over a 50% increase in total bandwidth, which can be useful in some cases. They are however much more expensive than all the other options and therefore should only be considered in very specific cases.
Cat 8 cables are starting to appear. Capable of reaching maximum speeds of 25 Gbps or even 40 Gbps and maximum bandwidths of 2 GHz, they are compatible with earlier versions of RJ45 cable.
Which one to choose?
Well, we’ve defined all the categories above. You can choose according to your requirements.
If you want to speed up your network speed, then remember to check:
- The type of cable you are currently using: Aren’t you using Cat 5 cable that reduces your connection speed instead of Cat 5e cable?
- The capacity of your router: 100 Mbps or 1000 Mbps?
If your PC is connected via Ethernet, does the motherboard limit the Ethernet port to 10/100? In this case, you can equip yourself with a PCI-E card or a 1000 Mbps adapter to connect by USB to your computer.