If you have a home computing experience, that means you’re looking at ethernet cables at some point. Most likely, they’re the thing that connects the modem or router to your laptop or desktop. There are other situations where these cables might see use, but for the average consumer, the internet is the context they’ll see these cables in.
Buying ethernet cables isn’t easy, though. It looks easy at first when you’re looking at ots bulk cable orders. Then you realize there are types and categories, special features and little details. Suddenly, you have so many options and things to consider that you feel like you’ve forgotten how to buy ethernet cables. If this is your story, let us help you get back on track.
The Standards, Old and New
Cat-5 cables are based on an older standard, made to support 10 to 100Mbps. While you can get gigabit speeds on shorter lengths of Cat-5, that’s not guaranteed, and they haven’t been properly tested for that level. These are unlikely to be seen in the store but may still come packaged with older routers or other devices. If you see these in the store, you don’t want them.
Cat-5e is an improvement and not the same thing. It can support “gigabit” speeds and cuts down on interference. They’re also largely more reliable than their predecessor. These are the most likely cable you’ll find in stores or offered by LAN cable manufacturers, as well as bundled with more modern equipment.
In general, the higher the number of the category, the better the performance. While this might make it simple to buy, there is the risk of overpaying. Cat-7 is much more expensive than Cat-5e or Cat-6. While there are greater speed and reliability overall, the ethernet cable is only one part of your network experience. If the rest of your hardware can’t keep up, all that potential is never put to any use.
Length is something that matters. The general rule is to never, ever buy a cable that’s under ten feet in length. At the same time, unless you want a repeater, you should expect the maximum length to be a hundred meters.
If you’re looking at the worst possible cables out there, you end up with $5 for every five feet. These are low-cost, but you will probably be sacrificing a great deal of quality in the process. At the same time, doubling the length doesn’t mean doubling the cost. If you look around, you can find 50-foot long cables for a measly $10.
It’s advisable to buy more than you need. This gives you some room to maneuver in case you need to reroute the cables, or what they’re connecting needs to be moved to a different place. The extra length will save you time, and a headache should you ever need to adjust anything in the future.
In addition, length can also affect signal strength. The greater the length, the higher the risk of interference and degradation. Make them run too long, and you’ll have a poor connection.
Take a moment to look at the environment you intend to put the cables in. Will they be running along with any machinery? Is there any chance of even minor vibrations that might disrupt them? Is there a risk of anything spilling on them or being near electromagnetic fields? Extreme temperatures, whether high or low, can also cause problems. All of these things can disrupt things like transmission speed and signal strength.
Shielding is something that might want, but you might not want it either. This is the use of material within the cable that helps reduce signal degradation, often used if you’re going to be using them in harsh environments. It’s also crucial if you plan on running a lot of them clumped together in one place.
If you’re just going for an environment where the above things are not a concern, unshielded can work out for you. There’s nothing pressing you to buy a cable with shielding if you don’t actually need it. Whether or not you want to acquire it as a precaution for future concerns is entirely your choice.
Jackets, on the other hand, are more important. These are what keep the cables remain undamaged when you’re moving it around the house and provide limited environmental protection. Stronger jackets last longer, and there are materials that will have protection from extreme heat or extreme cold. However, the most common one you’ll find is PVC, which are good enough for consumer purposes.
When buying the cables, it’s advisable to buy online. Buying from a physical outlet, unless it has a reliable brand, is generally ill-advised. If you intend to buy cables in bulk, it’s better to get them from a reliable manufacturer directly.
Buying ethernet cables isn’t about just buying the longest one you can get that fits the jacks and ports on your equipment. There are things you need to consider and decisions you have to make. If you know these things, you can make better-informed choices and, thus, make smarter purchases.