Can a Cat6 cable boost your network speed?
Both Category 5 Enhanced (Cat5e) and Category 6 (Cat6) network cables are commonly used in residential and office environments. In fact, for consumers, Cat5e vs Cat6 is one of the many choices offered by network cabling services.
But how do they differ? And how can you tell which will work best for you?
Ethernet cables are upgraded continuously to increase bandwidth speeds and reduce noise, so knowing which to pick can be tricky. Don’t worry, in this article we break down Cat5e vs Cat6 cables across speed, cost, and performance, so that you can find your best option.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Cat5e Vs Cat6 Overview
Cat5e became the standard network cable in the early 2000s. At the time of its introduction, the Cat5e was able to offer speeds 10x faster than the existing Cat5 cable, as well as being less affected by crosstalk. The Cat6 cable followed shortly after, boasting further improvements to both speed and performance.
Notably, the Cat5e and the Cat6 cables are both backward compatible. This means they will work alongside older equipment and won’t need more extensive replacements when installed.
Which Do I Have?
You won’t be able to identify Cat5e vs Cat6 by color, but the category should be printed somewhere on the cable. Typically, Cat6 cables are also slightly thicker, due to the use of copper wiring.
Cat5e cables can deliver a 1 Gigabit network speed (1GBASE-T). Many people now consider this to be the minimum acceptable speed for a new network cable, making previous iterations obsolete.
In contrast, Cat6 cables can offer 10x the speed of the Cat5e. Indeed, a whopping 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GBASE-T) is possible with the Cat6. Based on this speed difference, many high-speed networks choose to use Cat6 as their standard cabling choice.
If speed is your primary concern, the Cat6 is the clear winner here.
You can expect the enhanced speed capabilities of the Cat6 to come with a higher price tag. No real surprise there. That said, there’s no fixed price for either of the cables, as costs are determined by:
It is possible to find Cat6 cables cheaper than Cat5e cables, but that doesn’t mean it’s recommended. Check the length of the cable, materials used and reputation of the seller before purchase, to ensure any Cat6 deal is as good as it sounds.
In general, you’ll find that Cat6 cables are priced between 10-20% above Cat5e’s. Both are relatively cheap though, so if you’re looking to bump up your speed, the markup may worth your investment.
Still, Cat5e takes this one.
Both cables offer lengths of up to 100 meters. But with Cat6, the 10 Gigabit speed is only possible up to around 50 meters (164ft). After this distance, the rate drops to 1 Gigabit – the same as is possible with Cat5e.
If 10 Gigabit network speeds are required across the full 100 meters, you’ll need to consider a Cat6a cable instead. For most people though, this upgrade isn’t necessary.
Cat5e and Cat6 are both twisted pair cables. Both use copper wires and will typically have four twisted pairs, per cable.
The difference between the two cables comes from twist frequency. Cable twisting isn’t a standardized factor, but typically you can expect the below values:
- Cat5e: 1.5-2 twists per centimeter
- Cat6: 2+ twists per centimeter
The higher twist rate of Cat6 cables allows for two-way communication and can improve performance. Plus, many Cat6 cables also use a nylon spline, which helps to eliminate crosstalk and boost performance, too.
But the use of a nylon spline is not exclusively a Cat6 feature. In fact, some Cat5e manufacturers choose to include a nylon spline in these cables too.
In theory, the extra twists of Cat6 should help facilitate better performance. So let’s take a look.
For most users, the performance difference between the two cable types will be the deciding factor, so let’s dive right in.
Cat6 cables have more stringent criteria regarding both crosstalk and system noise. This higher specification results in lower interference, fewer errors and higher data transmission rates:
- Cat5e: up to 100 MHz performance
- Cat6: up to 250 MHz performance
Don’t assume that purchasing a Cat6 will automatically bump you to a gigabit-capable network, though. Is every one of your network components capable of gigabit performance? If not, then your network will be limited by the speed of your slowest device.
Cat6 cables are designed for gigabit use and are certified in this regard. Still, they can’t do the job alone, and a higher quality cable may be insufficient to noticeably improve your network.
Overall though, when paired with the correct components, Cat6 takes a comfortable lead.
Which Is Right for You?
Looking at the technical specifications above, Cat6 is the clear victor. But in practice, it’s not that simple. Here’s our assessment:
For residential users, Cat5e is often more than capable. Unless your home connection can provide ultrafast speeds, you’ll not notice a difference using a Cat6 cable. At least not right now…
You also need to consider that data rates double approximately every 1.5 years. If you’re concerned with planning for the future, Cat6 may be a safer bet and prevent the need for more changes, further down the line.
For office users, Cat6 cables are a solid choice. Just remember, you won’t notice a speed difference until the rest of your network is also gigabit rated.
You should also bear in mind the length of cables required. Exceed approx. 50 meters and you’ll miss out on the 10 Gigabit Ethernet speeds (or face extra cost). In which case, a Cat5e setup is more ideally suited.
The Difference Between Network Cables
So there you have it.
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