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Cat5 vs Cat5e vs Cat6 - Which Should You Use?

This article discusses primary differences between the various types of computer and telephone (CAT) cabling available, specifically the difference between CAT5, CATe and CAT6. In a nutshell, the primary differences boil down to differences in the way each conveyance media handles network support, crosstalk, and bandwidth.



Cat5 vs Cat5e

  • Network support - CAT 5 cable will support 10BASE-T and 100BASE-T network standards, that is it supports networks running at 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps.  CAT 5e is an enhanced version of Cat5 that adds specifications for crosstalk (see below). Cat5e cable is completely backwards compatible with Cat5, and can be used in any application in which you would normally use Cat5 cable. However, the added specifications of Cat5e enable it to support Gigabit Ethernet (1000BASE-T), or networks running at 1000 Mbps.
  • Crosstalk - Crosstalk is the "bleeding" of signals between one cable into another, due to a process called induction. This effect can result in slow network transfer speeds, and can even completely block the transfer of signals over the cable. Cat5e cable has been improved over Cat5 cable in this respect, and crosstalk has been greatly reduced.
  • Bandwidth - The bandwidth of a given conveyance media is essentially it's information carrying capacity. The greater the bandwidth of a system, the faster it is able to push data across a network. Cat5 is rated at 100Mhz while Cat5e is rated at 350Mhz. This coupled with other more stringent specifications makes Cat5e ideally suited for networks which plan to operate at Gigabit Ethernet speeds.
  • Bottom Line: If you plan on to implement Gigabit Ethernet, go with Cat5e. Also, the small increase in price of Cat5e over Cat5 is more than made up for by "future proofing" your network's cabling infrastructure.


Cat5e vs Cat6

There is a great deal of debate among people about whether new cabling installations should use Cat5e or Cat6. Many people incorrectly assume that by running Cat6 they will then have a Gigabit Ethernet. However, in order to achieve true Gigabit Ethernet speeds, every single component on a network must be gigabit rated, such as the switches, hubs and network interface cards. This isn't to say that there aren't differences between Cat5e and Cat6, however. The general difference between category 5e and category 6 is in the transmission performance. While Cat5e can support gigabit speeds, Cat6 is certified to handle gigabit Ethernet. Additionally, the Cat6 specification is better suited toward environments that are generally unfriendly to twisted pair cabling. This includes areas that have lots of interference from things like power lines, lights, and manufacturing equipment. Still, for most applications, Cat5e is perfectly suitable and preferable to Cat6: it is more economical and performs almost as well. However, if you can be certain that all the components on your network are gigabit rated, and the volume of the data being transmitted calls for certified gigabit performance, then Cat6 is the way to go.


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