For those unfamiliar with the various types of Ethernet cables available for networking and connecting their computers to the Internet, making the choice between Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6 cables can be a rather confusing one. First you have to understand the differences between each version as well as getting to grips with the various related industry terms.
With the term Cat being short for category, the numbers and letters to follow are all used to indicate performance. These performance designations make it easier to choose the right type for various purposes such as networking computers together or using peripherals including hubs and routers.
All three types of cables, Cat 5, Cat 5e, and Cat 6, are comprised of four pairs of UTP (unshielded twisted pair), but the amount of transmissions the cable will be able to support is up to its category rating.
The Original Cat 5 Cable
An old standard in the industry, Cat 5 cable is able to perform up to 100MHz and is still widely used for a variety of applications, although most new installations will use Cat 5e or higher.
Able to support 10/100 Ethernet and fast Ethernet, Cat 5 cable is upwardly compatible with the Cat 5e version. However, do keep in mind that your network connections will only be as fast and reliable as its slowest component, not its fastest, unless, of course, they are all equal in this area.
The Improved Cat 5e Cable
With improved durability over Cat 5, the protective outer covering of Cat 5e cable is thicker and therefore more suitable and reliable for more situations than its earlier counterpart. There are several other differences between this version and its predecessor including its backwards compatibility, as it will work along with either 10BaseT or 100Base T networking hubs and cards. There is also less cross talk or electronic interference with Cat 5e as opposed to Cat 5 cable thanks to improved signal capabilities.
In terms of bandwidth, Cat 5e supports gigabit Ethernet connections of up to 350MHz, more than trebling the 100MHz of a Cat 5 cable.
Remember that Cat 5e cable is not rated for use outdoors, although many people do without incident. If you must use this cable outside, add a conduit such as one made from PVC to keep moisture away. The safe operating temperature for Cat 5e cable is anywhere from 10 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius.
Also, with this particular category cable, 100 meters is the maximum length you will be able to use the cable without the benefit of either a network bridge, hub, or amplification to strengthen the signal.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are ever unsure as to which type you should purchase either Cat 5 or Cat 5e, opt for the latter choice because of its backwards compatibility and overall performance improvements.
The Newer Cat 6 Cable
Certified and designed specifically for gigabit use, Cat 6 cable reduces cross talk even more than its predecessors by improving upon the original Cat 5 version with wires featuring extra twists.
The use of Cat 6 cable does not guarantee that the network will be a full gigabit network, for this to be achieved each and every one of the components must be gigabit certified. Unless your network meets this criteria, opt for Cat 5e which will provide high quality speeds while saving money in the process.
For quick reference, here are the ratings of the various category cables:
Cat 5 up to 100MHz
Cat 5e up to 350MHz
Cat 6 up to 550MHz
Author Resource:-> Derek Rogers is a freelance writer who writes for a number of UK businesses. For information on Cat-5, Cat-5e, and Cat-6 Cabling, he recommends Network 24:http://www.network24.co.uk/structured-cabling/