Cat5/5e, Cat6/6a, Cat7 and Cat8 Cable Buying Guide

Updated on Feb 24, 2024 by

Nowadays, the common types of Ethernet cables include Cat5, Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a, Cat7 and Cat8. Looking similar from the outside, but all of these Ethernet cable categories do have differences in transmission performance. Therefore, it is necessary to purchase the most suitable cable for the right application. This article will cover the categories and performance of Ethernet cables. Please keep reading to get an understanding of the differences between the above Ethernet cables.

Figure: Ethernet Cables

Figure: Ethernet Cables


Cat5 vs. Cat5e vs. Cat6 vs. Cat6a vs. Cat7 vs. Cat8 Ethernet Cables, What Are They?

Cat5 Cable

Cat5 cables have been the first choice for Internet connections for many years. If you're on a LAN, the cable running out of the back of your PC is probably category 5. This type of Ethernet cable is made up of four twisted pairs of copper wire terminated by an RJ45 connector, which has a bandwidth of up to 100 MHz, and supports 10 or 100Mbps speed. You may be able to get Gigabit speeds on a Cat5 cable, particularly if the cable is shorter, but it isn't always guaranteed.

Note: 100MHz/100Mbps/100m.

Cat5e Cable

Cat5e Ethernet cable conforms to a more stringent IEEE standard. The "e" stands for enhanced, which means it is a version with lower noise and less potential for crosstalk. Crosstalk refers to interference transmitted from adjacent wires. Cat5e network cable is the most commonly used type of Ethernet cable in deployments because it can support Gigabit speeds at an affordable price.

While both Cat5 and Cat5e support a maximum frequency of 100MHz, Cat5e has completely replaced its predecessor. Additionally, Cat5e supports speeds of up to 1000Mbps. It is flexible enough for installations in small spaces like residential areas but still finds use in commercial spaces.

Note: 100-250MHz/1Gbps/100m.

Cat6 Cable

Category 6 cable supports data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps at 250 MHz along with improved crosstalk protection. The standard only supports the 10 Gbps speed up to 55 meters (164 feet), so if you need higher bandwidth in your network, Cat6 is the entry-level choice. Both Cat5e and Cat6 begin to become part of the bottleneck in your network as we see continuously faster Internet connections in both the home and office environment.

Note: 250MHz/1Gbps/100m (10Gbps at 37-55m)

Cat6a Cable

The "a" in Cat6a stands for "Augmented". Cat6a Ethernet cables can maintain higher transmission speeds over longer network cable lengths. If your requirement is a 1 to 10 Gigabit Ethernet network, Cat6a cable is still currently the right choice for most circumstances.

The Cat6a speed supports up to 10 Gbps specifications, which is the same transmission speed as the Cat6 cable. Additionally, it is capable of maintaining this speed for distances of up to 100 meters (328 feet) and works at a frequency of 500 MHz. Furthermore, the Cat6a cable also further reduces crosstalk.

Note: 500MHz/10Gbps/100m.

Cat7 Cable

Cat7 network cable speed is 10GBASE-T Ethernet over the full 100 meters, both individual pairs are shielded, with an additional layer of shielding over the entire cable. Each individual pair is shielded and an additional layer of shielding over the entire cable. The shielding helps prevent external electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) from affecting the data transmission over the cable. The newer "Class F" cable is an ideal choice for application environments where transmission of frequencies up to 600 MHz is required.

Note: 600MHz/10Gbps/100m (40Gbps at 50m).

Cat8 Cable

Cat8 cable is the latest IEEE standard in copper Ethernet cable. The Cat8 Ethernet cable can eliminate crosstalk and enable higher data transmission speeds by wrapping each twisted pair in foil. Cat8 cable can support 25GBASE-T and 40GBASE-T Ethernet, which can be used in data centers, high-speed and bandwidth-intensive places. Thus, the Cat8 cable is more expensive than previous generations of Ethernet cable.

Note: 2000MHz/25Gbps for Cat8.1 and 40Gbps for Cat8.2.


Cat5 vs. Cat5e vs. Cat6 vs. Cat6a vs. Cat7 vs. Cat8: What Are Their Differences?

  • Speed: The ethernet cable speed of transmission changes according to the Ethernet cable categories, which determines the effectiveness of the cable.

  • Bandwidth: Normally, if a cable has a higher frequency of MHz, the transmission speed is more efficient.

  • Shielding: Cable shielding is a layer of material that is wrapped around the wires inside a cable to reduce interference and improve signal quality.

  • Crosstalk: The "bleeding" of signals between one cable into another due to "induction" will result in slow network transfer speeds, and even block the transfer of signals over the cable.

The performance of these different Ethernet cable categories from Cat5 to Cat8 is as follows:

Category Transmission Speed Transmission Distance Bandwidth Shielding Type Application
Cat5 100Mbps 100m (328ft.) 100MHz Unshielded 100BaseT Ethernet
Cat5e 1Gbps 100m (328ft.) 100MHz Shield/Unshield Gigabit Ethernet, residential homes
Cat6 1/10Gbps 100m (328ft.)
10Gb at 37-55m (121ft.)
250MHz Shield/Unshield Gigabit Ethernet, commercial buildings
Cat6a 10Gbps 100m (328ft.) 500MHz Shield/Unshield Gigabit Ethernet, data centers, and commercial buildings
Cat7 10Gbps 100m (328ft.) 600MHz Shield 10Gbps core infrastructure
Cat8 25/40Gbps 30m (98ft.) 2000MHz Shield 25/40Gbps core infrastructure

Cat5 vs. Cat5e vs. Cat6 vs. Cat6a vs. Cat7 vs. Cat8 cable: Which to choose?

In terms of Ethernet cable speed and bandwidth, the later version of Ethernet cable categories performs better than the former one, but one more important point you should keep in mind is that network cables support different speeds over different distances.

Take Cat6 speed for example, the max transmission speed is 1 Gbps at 100 meters, while 10 Gbps at 37-55 meters. Cat6a Ethernet cable speed can reach 10 Gbps over a distance of up to 100 meters. So you can choose the suitable network cable according to the cabling length and network speed you need.

After taking these key factors into consideration, then you can pay more attention to the shielding type of Ethernet cables as well as their applications. In addition, the price might be a factor that you need to consider when choosing the right Ethernet cable categories. Cat6a can perform just about the same as Cat7 but at a lower price point, and Cat8 cable is generally more expensive than the older versions like Cat6, or even Cat7. Keep reading: How to Choose the Best Ethernet Cable?

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How to Terminate and Install Cat5e, Cat6 Keystone Jacks?

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