For owners of anything from home theater systems to large servers, staying up-to-date with changing technology is mandatory to optimize applications. At use wherever connectivity is needed are CAT5, CAT5e, CAT6 and CAT6a cables, lines that though used frequently, you may not be able to discern between. Not all CAT cables are created equal, as their names suggest, and selecting the wrong cable for your network could mean anything from sluggish performance to a useless expense. Since neither are grand, lets get these CAT’s sorted.
The basic make-up of a CAT cable includes four pairs of copper wires (four is standard, though variations exist) within a sleeve, and each pair twists together in unique ways, minimizing interference from the others and blocking noise. Starting with the oldest, the CAT5 cable still makes up most installed and functioning connection cables at use, so don’t sweat too much if this is still what your using. Its prodigy, the CAT5e, promised enhanced capacities for data transfer, enough to perform with high-speed Gigabit Ethernet. It is not Gigabit certified, though still contrasting CAT5 which is well below certification. While the enhanced cable supports 1000 Mbps, you will be working with 100Mbps of Ethernet with the original CAT5. Each CAT5 type has frequencies of up to 100MHz, with the CAT5e accommodating higher bandwidths. Your CAT5 has a maximum length of 328′ per cable before connectivity is compromised, much like the CAT5e, though the latter may need to be shortened if attempting to work beyond 100BASE-TX Ethernet and perform at gigabit Ethernet speeds. So what’s the story so far? If your needs are moderate, CAT5 can serve you just fine. But if you are hoping for something more heavy-duty, the enhanced capabilities of CAT5e outweighs any length concerns, plus a simple repeater removes restrictions.
On to contemporary cables, CAT6 is the standard for Gigabit Ethernet. CAT6 performs at 250 MHz, and unlike the earlier cables, there are physical differences that impact it. The CAT6 lines are bulkier and use more copper, increasing performance while it specifically surpasses previous cables though its strict specifications for reducing system noise and crosstalk. Still utilizing previous standards of twisting pairs of wires, an additional separator compartmentalizes each pair, furthering defense against interference, also enabling quicker data transfer and allowing for twice the bandwidth of the two previous cables. Despite this, our tech world is swirling too fast for even CAT6 to seem shiny & new for long, so the up-and-comer is now the CAT6a, a 500 MHz frequency cable with a transfer rate of 10 GB, beating the pants off CAT6 which has a rate of 1 GB. As only cable fully prepared for the future of 10Gbase-T Ethernet with the maximum length of 328′ intact, CAT6a reigns supreme because CAT6’s maximum length is cut in half when dealing with 10Gbase-T, at best. These cables range as much in price as performance, but while CAT6 & 6a are more expensive, by installing them you ready your network for a future where 10Gbase-T Ethernet may be the norm. So depending on your budget and needs, these fifth and sixth generation CAT cables will either usher you into the future of Ethernet, or leave you comfortably where you were in 1998.