We explain how to choose the best Ethernet cable | Digital Trends Spanish


When looking for Ethernet cables, you might come across terms like “megabits,” “color pairs,” “CAT6,” and other words that might be confusing. Do not be discouraged! You are on the right path. It is true that knowing how to choose the best Ethernet cable may not be that simple, but we are here to help you.

We define the basic terms in a simple way and have produced tables that compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. We will explain what benefits a shielded cable provides and why you may (or may not) need it.

How to select the right cable

The easiest way to select a cable is to choose one with the range and performance you require. But how do you know what exactly you need?

It starts with the speed of your home internet connection. If you have a 1 Gbps plan, an old Ethernet cable will make it very slow. If you have slower access, something like 10 or 20 MBps, any CAT5 or newer cable will do.

If you don’t know the actual speed of your internet subscription, connect your computer directly to the modem and take this speed test. Doing so will give you an initial idea of ​​what you will need in terms of cable connectivity. If your subscription only supports 50Mbps downloads, buying a 1Gbps Ethernet cable is simply excessive, at least for now.

Next, consider the speed required for your network. If you frequently move large files between computers or stream extremely high-bandwidth video, a better Ethernet cable can make a big difference.

As today’s routers get faster and more capable, facilitating faster network speeds, you need matching cables to get the most out of it. If you’re looking for a replacement cable, it’s a good idea to choose one of the newer versions, both to take advantage of the speeds and to prepare your setup for the future in years to come.

That generally means choosing a CAT6a or even CAT8 cable. On its own, the Ethernet cable won’t make much of a difference, but it can work in conjunction with other high-end network devices to ensure your connection is as robust as possible.

Aluminum sheath and shield

Beyond CAT6, all Ethernet cables are also shielded to reduce interference, but it is important to understand how that shield works.

Shielded cables are covered with a layer of grounded aluminum foil that helps prevent electromagnetic interference. In a modern home with lots of Wi-Fi signals, Bluetooth connections, and appliance activity, unshielded cables can lead to interference and distortion problems.

This is especially true for Ethernet cables that run longer distances, so shielding quickly becomes important in more complex setups, making it a mandatory part of the standard.

The foil sheath is typically tied around each twisted pair of cables within the Ethernet cable, as this can also help reduce “crosstalk” or signal contamination between the twisted pair itself. However, more advanced versions can also add foil shielding as the inner layer of the cable jacket, for maximum protection.

What does ‘CAT’ mean?

We are not referring to the word “cat” in English. If you’ve ever looked for cables online, you’ve probably noticed that they are almost always classified as “CAT5”, “CAT6e” or something similar.

“CAT” simply stands for “Category,” and the number that follows indicates the specifications that the cable was manufactured to. A general rule of thumb is that higher numbers represent higher speeds and frequencies, which are measured in megahertz (MHz).

As with most technologies, newer cables tend to support higher bandwidths, thus increasing download speeds and faster connections. Keep in mind that longer Ethernet cables will result in slower transmission speeds.

Below you can see what each type of cable is capable of.

Category Armor Maximum transmission speed (at 100 meters) Maximum bandwidth
CAT3 Unshielded 10 Mbps 16 MHz
CAT5 Unshielded 10-100 Mbps 100 MHz
CAT5e Unshielded 1,000 Mbps – 1 Gbps 100 MHz
CAT6 With and without shielding 10 Gbps up to 55 meters 250 MHz
CAT6a Armored 10 Gbps up to 55 meters 500 MHz
CAT7 Armored 100 Gbps up to 15 meters 600 MHz
CAT7a Armored 100 Gbps up to 15 meters 1,000 MHz
CAT8 Armored 40 Gbps up to 30 meters 2,000 MHz

CAT3 and CAT5

Both CAT3 and CAT5 are obsolete. It’s not uncommon to find CAT5 cables still in use, but you shouldn’t even think about buying one of these Ethernet cables. They are slow, and nobody makes them anymore.

CAT5e

The “e” in CAT5e stands for “enhanced”, or improved. There are no physical differences between CAT5 and CAT5e cables, but Ethernet 5e is built under stricter test standards to eliminate interference, that is, the unwanted transfer of signals between communication channels.

CAT5e is currently the most common type of Ethernet, primarily due to its low cost of production and its ability to support faster speeds than the original CAT5 cables.

CAT6

CAT6 cables support much higher bandwidths than CAT5 and CAT5e, but they are also more expensive. They are better built than their predecessors and are often fitted with foil or braided armor.

This shield protects the twisted pairs of cables within the Ethernet cable, helping to prevent crosstalk and noise interference. CAT6 cables can technically support speeds of up to 10 Gbps, but can only do so up to 55 meters.

CAT6a

The “a” in CAT6a stands for “increased”. Compared to normal CAT6 cables, 6a cables support twice the maximum bandwidth and are capable of maintaining higher transmission speeds on longer cables.

CAT6a cables are always shielded, and their coating, which is thick enough to completely eliminate crosstalk, allows for a much denser and less flexible cable than CAT6.

CAT7

CAT7 cables use the newest and most widely available Ethernet technology, and support higher bandwidths and significantly faster transmission speeds than CAT6 cables.

They are proportionally more expensive than other Ethernet cables, although their performance reflects their premium price. CAT7 cables can reach up to 100 Gbps at a range of 15 meters, making them a great option for connecting modems or routers directly to your devices.

CAT7 cables are always shielded and use a modified GigaGate45 connector, which is compatible with normal Ethernet ports. However, that modified GG45 connector is a proprietary component, and while backwards compatibility helped a bit, there are still issues with older Ethernet standards.

This led most manufacturers to avoid the CAT7 standard, which is why it is quite rare today. That difficulty led to the development of CAT6a and a lot of marketing confusion, as some vendors began referring to CAT6a as the new CAT7.

Always check the specs before purchasing, and when in doubt we suggest choosing CAT8 instead.

CAT7a

Although not widely available and with few supporting network hardware options, CAT7a currently offers the highest specification Ethernet cables you can buy.

Although the transmission speed is no different than CAT7, CAT7a cables offer an improvement of more than 50 percent in overall bandwidth, which in certain configurations can be useful.

However, they are much more expensive than any other option, so they should only be considered in very specific cases.

CAT8

CAT8 is an emerging technology, although cables are currently available for purchase. This standard promises a maximum frequency of 2,000MHz and speeds of up to 40 Gbps at a maximum distance of 30 meters.

That high frequency requires shielding, which means you will never find unshielded CAT8 cables. Furthermore, CAT8 supports two connectors. Therefore, it only allows three cables connected with a combined length of 30 meters.

CAT8 cables will cost more than other options, but they have become more affordable these days – you can find options for a 10-foot CAT8 cable per less than $ 15 dollars In U.S.A.

Ethernet Glossary

VisualField / Getty Images

The differences between the various types of Ethernet cables are actually quite simple, but the nomenclature is easy to get confused. To help you, we’ve put together a quick rundown of what the different terms mean, and what you’ll find if you buy a cable with those designations.

CAT: As we said, it means “category”.

TP: Twisted Pairs, or twisted pairs. This terminology refers to the way the lines within the cable twist into each other. Twisted pairs have been an industry standard for years, second only to fiber optic cabling in terms of maximum length and speed.

UTP: Unshielded Twisted Pairs, or unshielded twisted pairs. Cables designated for UTP have no braided or aluminum shielding, which makes the cable cheaper to produce and more flexible, but will sacrifice signal quality and increase vulnerability to interference.

STP: Shielded Twisted Pairs, or shielded twisted pairs. Cables with STP or SSTP designations are protected with braided shielding, which is usually made of copper or another conductive polymer. Shielding reduces interference and improves connection quality.

FTP: Foiled Twisted Pairs or foil twisted pairs. Cables with FTP or SFTP designation are protected with foil shielding, which helps reduce interference and improves connection quality.

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