When shopping for networking cables, plenty of consumers end up confused and intimidated by the options that are on the market. Two types of cable that you might come across frequently are Cat5e, or Category 5 Enhanced; and Cat6, or Category 6. Both cables serve similar purposes, albeit to a different degree, as Cat6 cable is somewhat more advanced. Depending on your needs and budget, you should be able to make a decision between the two with relative ease.

What is a Cat5e Cable?

Cat5e stands for Category 5 Enhanced, making it a step up from the regular Cat5 cable. This cable comes in two main varieties, which includes UTP and STP. UTP stands for Unshielded Twisted Pair, and is mostly used in low interference environments. The STP type stands for Shielded Twisted Pair, which is shielded against these possible transmission issues but is slightly more expensive. If you worry about interference, choose the STP type when buying Cat5e cables. You can also get it in solid or stranded, where solid is rigid and best for long-distance transmissions, and stranded is flexible and better for local use. Where the regular Cat5 cable can support up to 100 MHz with 100 Mbps Ethernet, Cat5e can handle ten times faster data transmission at 1000 Mbps. It is also more suitable for Gigabit Ethernet and experiences fewer issues with near end crosstalk.

What is a Cat6 Cable?

Cat6 is the next step up from Cat5e, and is the most up-to-date in performance standards of the two. Its composition is similar to that of Cat5e, with twisted copper wire, but its structure include a longitudinal separator that isolates each pair of wire. This prevents most near end crosstalk, which is a leading reason for slow data transfers. Amazingly, even though it is only one-step up from Cat5e, Cat6 cable can support twice the bandwidth capacity and runs at 250 MHz. It supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet, but it still features backwards compatibility with Cat5 and Cat5e cables that might still be a feature of older networking systems. Since most users will eventually upgrade their networks in some way, Cat6 is the safest choice and closest to any future-developing standards of performance that might change in the new future.

Some questions that you might want to ask yourself before choosing to upgrade to Cat6 include your budget for networking supplies, the status of your network as at-home or business, and whether you plan to upgrade in the future. If your budget is small, your network strictly for home purposes, and you do not plan to upgrade, then you can still get away with using Cat5e for a while. However, if you have space in your budget, use your network for professional purposes or want to upgrade your network eventually, Cat6 is the safest choice, and will meet your needs with more efficiency than Cat5e can handle.