Best Ethernet cables in 2023: CAT5e, CAT6a & more

Ethernet cable over a serverPexels

Ready to dig into the exciting world of Ethernet cables? Well, buckle up, because we’re about to get far too buzzed about them.

The world of Ethernet cables is so exciting. Buckle in, because it’s about to get wild. Here’s the best of the magical internet cable.

As the internet grows, pipes get fatter, cables become more important. Rather than lamenting the mass of wires you have housed in a cardboard box in the back of the room, rejoice instead. Rejoice to know that wireless technology mostly sucks.

Yes, sure, Wi-Fi 6E might genuinely be the first true Wi-Fi standard that isn’t terrible, but we’re still trapped in a world where not many devices support it just yet. It happened with Wi-Fi 5, and when 6 was introduced in the market, devices had only just caught up.

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To remedy this, all you really need is some Ethernet. The gold standard of cables, a design that has lasted multiple years and doesn’t come with a bunch of confusing names. Yes, we’re looking at you USB, just name things properly. Also monitors. Why can’t you just be normal?

This might all sound sarcastic, but it’s not. Seriously, Ethernet is genuinely one of the only cable connections that have outlasted so many others.

CAT6 and CAT6a: The best ethernet cable for power users

This is the type of cable you’ll probably be prompted to buy via Amazon these days. The number doesn’t actually mean it’s better than CAT5 in any real capacity. Your home internet probably doesn’t supply the maximum output of 10Gbps to flood the cable.

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No, this is mostly going to be used for those currently running home servers, or content creation machines that need to transfer hefty amounts of data quickly.

The major benefit of CAT6a is that it can carry that 10Gbps service over the maximum length of 100m, rather than just a gigabit. However, for smaller home setups CAT6 will do just fine, but will only supply a gigabit once you go over a certain length.

CAT5 and CAT5e: The workhorse cable for most people

Introduced in 1999, CAT5, and 2001 for CAT5e, this standard is able to support up to a gigabit from your connection. CAT5 can go a certain length, while CAT5e is able to go up to 100 meters (328 feet) before you start to see a poorer connection. Some claim it runs just fine at around 500 feet, but you’ll have to get lucky.

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This has been the de facto default for over two decades, with modern internet service providers only now just catching up in supplying this type of connection.

If you’re on a full fiber service and know that your cable won’t have to reach that far, you can save a lot of money by investing in CAT5e cable.

CAT7 and CAT8: Overkill

CAT7 and CAT8 Ethernet cables are designed for much larger operations. While you can acquire it right now, it’s completely unnecessary for home use.

Originally introduced in 2002, CAT7 is able to carry that 10Gbps over the 100m limit that 6a has. It offers faster frequencies and is overall more reliable for large-scale operations like data centers.

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However, the CAT7 cable available today is most probably 6a. This is due to CAT7 not actually supporting the traditional Ethernet connector, RJ-45. It had something else on the top, which wouldn’t do. 6a, introduced in 2008, modeled after CAT7 without the 10Gbps over 100m in place.

After that CAT8 was made eight years after CAT6a, released in 2016, and is actually able to supply up to 40Gbps over a 30m (100 feet) connection. After this, it begins to tail off but should be able to withhold above 10Gbps depending on the frequency available.

CAT8 is where you’ll want to look if you know that you’re going to be future-proofing a home, office, or setup. For your Xbox or PC to download games? Completely unnecessary. In fact, a lot of storage devices that you’d connect over Ethernet probably don’t even support that standard as of yet, anyhow.

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Grabbing some isn’t a bad idea, but you might as well save some cash and go all in on CAT6a cable.

Making your own Ethernet cable

You can actually buy unfinished spools of Ethernet that you will then “make” yourself. Using a crimping tool, you can shed the outer layer and twist the wires into the right positions. After that, you slide them into your Ethernet jack connector and crimp them down.

This is perfect for those who know they’ll always need to measure out and plan where their Ethernet is going. Store-bought cables will always be more expensive, and while the spool method will take more time and patience, it’s still a worthy investment to investigate.

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