Network Cables—Cat6 vs Cat8 vs Cat5: Complete Guide and Reviews

By Greg Martinez / October 7, 2020
cat 6 ethernet cable plugged into a switch

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Have you ever researched cabling and come across weird terminologies like, “Cat6 Ethernet cable,” or Cat8 Ethernet cable,” and wondered what it all means?

The good news is that you’re not alone. Unless you’re familiar with computer networking or internet connections, or work at a telco, there’s a good chance you won’t be familiar with these terms, nor know anything about Ethernet.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn and get familiar with what they do, or how they enhance your connectivity or communication.

That being said, let’s take a deep dive in the topic of Ethernet cables and find the ones that are best for different purposes.

What is an Ethernet Cable?

Simply put, it’s a special kind of wire that connects a myriad of electronic devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles, and so on to a network.

This wired connection can also get internet access through connected devices, and share resources with other devices within a network.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why you would even need a physical wire connection while WiFi works just fine?

Well, Ethernet connections, despite being physical, messy, and a little complicated, are still used today for one simple reason: wireless connections are fallible.

Think about it: have you ever walked around your house with your laptop in hand (perhaps getting some work done as you pace about) only to realize that you lose connectivity at certain spots around the house?

Maybe it’s due to a brick wall or some random radio interference—maybe it’s because you’re too far away from the router.

Whatever the case, you lose connectivity and have to either come back in range or find a different room where the WiFi connection is stronger to get better connections and faster speeds.

It’s because of such little issues that Ethernet cables still exist.

Unless there’s an internal issue with the wire itself or the network is down, an Ethernet cable all but gives you a guarantee of being connected to that network.

Some people swear that being connected via Ethernet (directly to the modem or router) gives them a much faster and definitely a more reliable connection than being connected wirelessly.

But it’s not just about the internet connection. While most networks have a wireless connectivity option, some types of local area networks (LAN) require that connections be made through Ethernet cables.

cat 5 ethernet cable

Benefits of Using Ethernet Cable

Now, you may not want to get your hands messy with physical cable connections in order to stream internet to your laptop, but here are some benefits with regards to home use:

  • Ethernet cables offer better speeds: In theory, WiFi connections can deliver about 1,300 Mbps (megabits per second). Which, in all honesty, is very impressive. However, the truth is that most WiFi connections never get anywhere close to this because of myriad reasons, including interference and so on. Ethernet cables, on the other hand, are capable of much faster speeds of up to 10GBps with Cat6 cables (more on Cat6 cables later).
  • Ethernet cables all but eliminate latency: That little lag in the time it takes for a signal to travel from a wireless router to your device and back is called latency. A WiFi connection inherently suffers from latency due to the back and forth communication between your devices and routers. A wired Ethernet cable connection, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem, limiting the delay you would otherwise experience.
  • Ethernet cables are reliable: Once you have your Ethernet cable properly set up, that connection is all but reliable and secure. It’s very unlikely that you’ll experience issues with it. This is quite unlike WiFi, which is notoriously unreliable, depending on your provider and a host of other issues such as interference, often leading to signal loss. The number of things that can interfere with your wireless connectivity includes other WiFi connections in the area, wireless devices, and even your microwave oven.
  • Ethernet cables offer better security: No matter how secure you think WiFi is, there’s always a chance that someone could find a way to connect to it and thus access the devices on that network. With an Ethernet connection on the other hand, the only way they can connect or hack into your network is by physically plugging the laptop or computer into your network, which requires them to be at your premises.

Furthermore, connections carried over Ethernet cables such as Cat6 cables consume far less energy than your typical WiFi connection. This, in turn, lowers your energy bill and saves money.

What Are the Different Types of Ethernet Cables?

Now that you’re passably familiar with what an Ethernet cable is and its advantages, let’s take a look at the various types.

You’ve probably noticed the reference to a particular Ethernet cable called Cat6 and might be wondering what that stands for and just how far up these numbers go.

Let’s start with the basics.

What Does the “Cat” in Ethernet Cable Labeling Stand for?

The “Cat” in Ethernet cable labeling isn’t about making their names sound cute. It simply stands for Category.

You’ve also probably noticed a number that follows the Cat, like Cat6 Ethernet cable. That number simply refers to the specification version supported by that particular cable.

So, how do these numbers come about?

A general rule of thumb, the higher the number at the end of “Cat,” the faster the speeds and higher frequencies supported by that particular cable.

As you’ve probably guessed, newer cables have a higher number of designations and support greater bandwidths, meaning increased download speeds and faster connections.

NOTE: The longer the cable, the slower the transmission speed. This typically only applies to huge networks as most home networks only need about 100 meters of Ethernet cable at most. At 100 meters, you’re very unlikely to experience a drop in speed due to the cable’s length.

Cat1 to Cat4 Ethernet Cables

While Ethernet categories begin at Cat1, it’s safe to say that Cat1 to Cat4 cables (meaning Cat1, Cat2, Cat3, and Cat4 Ethernet cables) are all but obsolete at this point.

Cat1, Cat2, and Cat4 are not recognized by the TIA/EIA (Telecommunications Industries Association/Electronic Industries Association) and are pretty much not around anymore.

While Cat3 cables are defined and recognized by TIA/EIA standards, these cables were once used in networks that employed frequencies that went up to 16 MHz.

This made them very popular for Ethernet networks that used 10 Mbps (100Base-T). However, they’ve since been outdone by Cat5 Ethernet cables, which is why we aren’t going to focus on them.

Cat5 Ethernet Cables

The Cat5 Ethernet cable presents an interesting story. This is an Ethernet cable that uses twisted pair, which gives it the ability to prevent internal and external crosstalk (i.e., interference) to other wires.

While Cat5 superseded Cat3 and is a network cable that was widely used for 100Base-T and 1000Base-T networks, these cables are no longer quite as popular or aren’t even recognized by the TIA/EIA.

That being said, Cat5 Ethernet cables can provide excellent performance that allow for data up to 100 Mbps or even more. Some might even get 125 MHz (1000Base-T Ethernets).

For a while, Cat5 Ethernet cables were considered the standard for Ethernet cabling. Today, however, these are obsolete, and although there are still many networks that use Cat5 Ethernet cables, they really aren’t recommended for new network installations.

Cables4PC Cat5 RJ45 Ethernet Network Cable

Cat5e Ethernet Cable

Cat5e stands for Cat5, “enhanced.”

While there are no discernable physical differences between the original Cat5 Ethernet cable and the newer Cat5e Ethernet cable, manufacturers built this newer version with more stringent standards in mind.

The idea was to ensure that this newer, more enhanced option would eliminate unwanted signal interferences and transfers that resulted in crosstalk between communication channels.

As Cat5 fades into obscurity, Cat5e is currently one of the most popularly used Ethernet cables in the telco industry.

This is mostly thanks to its rather low production costs, which ensures its affordability. That, and the fact that it suffers from no crosstalk issues and can support much faster speeds when compared to its predecessor—Cat5.

Cables Direct Online Snagless Cat5e Ethernet Network Patch Cable

Cat5e Ethernet Network Patch Cable

Key Benefits

  • Gold plated connectors
  • TIA/EIA—568B compliance standards
  • Works with desktops, modems, routers, switches, and more

For Cat5e, I recommend this reliable Cables Direct Online Snagless Cat5e Ethernet Network Patch Cable, which is designed and manufactured in compliance with the most stringent TIA/EIA standards.

It’s 100 feet long and works best with a host of devices, including your laptop, desktop, router, switch, modem, DSL, Hub gaming consoles (Xbox, PS2,3, and more).

It features four pairs of stranded twisted network cables that can carry data signals at impressive speeds that go up to 350MHz of bandwidth.

It’s designed to offer you a clean and clear signal transmission making it quite reliable for your home or even office network.

Cat6 Ethernet Cable

As already stated, the general rule of thumb to live by is that the higher the numbers go, the faster the speeds that the Ethernet cable can support.

Therefore, a Cat6 Ethernet cable (Category 6) can support much faster speeds than both Cat5 and Cat5e.

Cat6 Ethernet cables are tightly wound and typically outfitted with braided shielding or foil. This shielding is designed to help protect the valued twisted pairs of wires that can be found inside the cable itself.

Additionally, it helps protect the cable from unwanted interference and crosstalk.

While Cat6 Ethernet cables can support impressive speeds up to 10Gbps, they can only do so for a limited length of about 55 meters.

Cat6 Ethernet cables are not only easy to use for those who understand the intricacies of networking, but they’re also conveniently compatible with RJ-45 standard connectors as well as backward compatible with Cat5 as well as Cat5e Ethernet cables.

Because Cat6 Ethernet cables can support such incredible speeds, albeit over 55 meters, the cables are very popular.

These incredible speeds do come at a price as these Cat6 cables are a bit more expensive than their predecessors.

AmazonBasics Cat6 Ethernet Cable

AmazonBasics RJ45 Cat-6 Ethernet Patch

Key Benefits

  • High speeds
  • Durable
  • Uses RJ-45 connectors

The AmazonBasics Cat6 Ethernet Cable is simply one of the best Cat6 Ethernet cables on the market for the simple fact it’s a Cat6 Ethernet cable, which reliably supports up to 1Gbps.

Designed to be compatible with RJ-45 connectors, it’s very easy to install and use.

There’s a reason why having an Ethernet cable that’s compatible with RJ-45 connectors is important. It’s mostly because these connectors support up to 250 MHz and are the most popular connectors in the industry.

This particular Cat6 Ethernet cable has a plastic core that keeps it from bending too tightly, increasing its durability.

You can also buy it in various lengths from about 3 feet to well over 50 feet. Since that happens to be well within the 100 meters’ limit, this Cat6 Ethernet cable won’t give you any latency or interference issues as far as speed is concerned.

Designed to support most home network needs, this cable is perfectly fine for home office use or even in small commercial office settings.

Cat6a Ethernet Cable

Much like Cat5 Ethernet cable, Cat6 also got an upgrade.

In this case, Cat6a (“a” here standing for “augmented”) is a better cable than the original Cat6. It’s so much better than Cat5e and is capable of supporting twice as much bandwidth as Cat6 (that’s twice the maximum bandwidth).

Additionally, Cat6a Ethernet cables are designed to maintain higher transmission speeds even when it’s much longer than the typical 55-meter cut-off that often comes with Cat6 Ethernet cables.

Much like their predecessors, Cat6a cables are shielded, except that their shielding is made out of much denser and less flexible material than that used on Cat6 cables.

This makes Cat6a Ethernet cables a bit less flexible and more secure as far as crosstalk and interference are concerned.

Cable Matters Snagless Cat6a

Cable Matters Snagless Cat 6a

Key Benefits

  • High performance
  • Universal connectivity
  • Higher bandwidth
  • Shielded to prevent crosstalk

The Cable Matters Snagless Cat6a is an excellent alternative for those who want an Ethernet cable that’s affordable and offers them amazing speeds and wonderful reliability.

This Cat6a cable is compatible with RJ-45 connectors, giving it universal connectivity.

It can be used on a LAN (local area network) with printers, servers, VoIP phones, network media players, routers, modems, switch boxes, and so many other devices connected to it.

As a top-of-the-range network cable that complies with the TIA/EIA 568-C.2 standard, Cat6a is one of the best ways to future proof your business’ network security.

With the capability to transmit at 10Gbps speeds, and its compatibility with other fast Ethernet connections, you can rely on this cable to get the job done effectively and efficiently.

Cat7 Ethernet Cable

As is the norm, Cat7 Ethernet cables are designed to support much higher bandwidths as well as speeds than their Cat6 counterparts.

That also means they’re a bit more expensive than Cat6 Ethernet cables, though they more than make up for that price difference in performance.

Capable of reaching up to 100Gbps at a rather short range of 15 meters, Cat7 Ethernet cables are perfect for those who want to connect their routers directly to their laptops at such short distances.

Unlike their Cat6 counterparts, however, Cat7 Ethernet cables use modified GigaGate45 connectors; thankfully, these are backward compatible with your regular Ethernet ports.

Jadaol Cat 7 Ethernet Cable

Jadaol Cat 7 Ethernet Cable

Key Benefits

  • Shielded Ethernet cable
  • Bundled with cable clips (25)
  • Unique flat cable design

This Jadaol Cat 7 Ethernet Cable is unique in a lot of ways. For starters, it has a flat design that allows for a much cleaner and more convenient installation.

Secondly, it provides incredible performance of up to 600 MHz and a bandwidth of 100Gbps over short distances.

Compatible with its predecessors (Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat6a), this cable is ideal for use with a host of network devices, including modems, ADSL, Hubs, gaming consoles, and so much more.

Cat7a Ethernet Cable

The thing about Cat7a (augmented) Ethernet cables is they currently offer the best specs on the market today.

Unfortunately, they aren’t very readily available, and what’s worse is they only support a few networking hardware options.

To compound these issues, the transmission speeds offered by these Ethernet cables are that much better than what you can get with typical Cat7 cable.

They do, however, offer a much higher bandwidth overall (at least 50% more).

While that improvement can be rather useful in some cases, these cables are so much more expensive than their Cat7 counterparts that they’re hardly worth the purchase.

Couple that with the fact they aren’t really compatible with your run-of-the-mill networking hardware, and their appeal begins to wane.

Cat8 Ethernet Cable

Cat8 Ethernet cables are just now beginning to penetrate the market. As an emerging technology, they aren’t widely used, although they offer incredible bandwidth and speeds over much longer distances than their predecessors.

This standard of Ethernet cables promises a maximum frequency of about 2,000 MHz with impressive speeds of about 40Gbps at a range of about 30 meters.

The cable is designed to support two connectors, which means you can have up to three connected cables giving you a combined length of 30 meters, without losing speed or suffering interference.

Heavy Duty Cat8 Ethernet Cable

Cat8 Ethernet Cable

Key Benefits

  • Outdoor use
  • Shielded cable
  • Superior performance
  • UV resistant and weatherproof

This particular Heavy Duty Cat8 Ethernet Cable is designed for outdoor use. It can support a bandwidth of up to 2,000 MHz while boosting speeds up to 40Gbps for about 30 meters.

As a quadruple shielded Ethernet cable, it’s designed for heavy-duty use, making it quite ideal for outdoor or buried connectivity.

Couple that with the fact it’s both weatherproof and UV resistant, and you have the kind of cable that telcos would love to use.

It’s compatible with RJ-45 connectors and can be used in a network that connects to a wide variety of devices included VoIP phones, tablets, laptops, computers, gaming consoles, and so much more.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, the difference between Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7, Cat7a, and Cat8 Ethernet cable.

If you simply must choose a cable for your home networking needs, then you don’t have to go beyond Cat6a.

Although, technically speaking, Cat5e is a more popular option because it performs pretty well (good speeds and bandwidth).

It has shielding, which protects it from crosstalk interference, and most importantly, it offers you all this at an affordable rate.

Of course, if you’re going for something a bit more specialized, then you might want to consider higher alternatives, with the Cat8 Ethernet cable topping the list.

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