Beginner's Guide to Network Cables (2023)


It doesn't matter what color you choose, and I have yet to hear a cable admit to an insecurity around this point. Color only matters to you. Choose your favorite color and go. The only caveat here is that the outdoor cable is almost always black, so you may not have a choice of color.


For simplicity, if you need a pre-terminated (patch) cable that's less than 20 feet long and you're connecting it directly from your router/switch directly to your TV or computer, select the cable speed blindfolded. The speed rating won't matter for cables this close and in this configuration. Honest!

Go right toQuality Department.

Beginner's Guide to Network Cables (1)

A short patch cord

Now, if your needs are for something more complex or longer than 20 feet, then we have to start asking the following…

(Video) UniFi: Beginner’s Guide to Network Cabling | Part 1 - Cable Types & Termination

What will you do with it?

Will this wire run outside or up the HVAC area (aka Plenum)? Your cable may need a special outer jacket. I seeFacts about Ethernet cable ratingsfor more information on the type of jacket you may need. Riser rating (also known as CMR) is the most common and least expensive type of jacket recommended for general indoor use only. The rules about what you can use and where are hard and fast for commercial construction, as defined by NEC (National Electrical Code) documents 800.48 and 800.113.

For residential installations, you can also use CMX rated (outdoor rating) as a general indoor/outdoor Ethernet cable as long as you follow these rules:

  • CMX jacketed Ethernet cable must not exceed 0.25" thick (OD or overall diameter)
  • You can install jacketed CMX cable this way only for single-family or two-story homes

trueCABLE recommends CMR (riser) rated Ethernet cable if your home installation is indoor only. The rationale is that strips are rated for lift and finish a little easier, have a degree of fire resistance, and usually cost less. That said, you can use CMX if it's not practical to have multiple jacket types and your installation will be both indoor and outdoor.

Will the cable be part of a larger system? Do you plan to use cables in the walls that connect to female plugs? In this case, you will have two choices to make:

  • Type of cable in the wall (bulk without terminal cable)
  • What patch cables will you use (pre-terminated with RJ45 plugs)

The cable inside the walls will go into either a pullbox or a wooden spool. Bulk Ethernet should always be solid copper conductors. Installing this type of Ethernet cable requires tools, patience, and research. For bulk Ethernet tips and advice, this white paper goes into great detail about a home setup that might be just what you want to do:Free White Paper: The Residential Ethernet Network Install from A-Z.

Beginner's Guide to Network Cables (2)Beginner's Guide to Network Cables (3)

(Video) UniFi: Beginner’s Guide to Network Cabling | Part 2 - Home Installation with UniFi Design Center

Pullbox vs Wooden reel

Check out this blog for more thoughts on bulk Ethernet setup:Top 5 Things to Consider When Running Ethernet Cable.

As for the patch cords you'll be using (which is the cord you connect from the female jack to your devices), the stranded wire is correct. The category of the patch cord must be the same or higher than the category used inside the walls. Patch cable speed matters in this scenario, no matter how short it is.

I used a term above that generally means speed, and that is Category. Class is the speed that the Ethernet cable can support over a distance.

On the package or label, you'll see something that says "Cat" followed by a number. It may also say "Category" followed by a number. They mean the same thing...the Category in which the cable was manufactured. This means the speed at which the cable can run. The Category you need depends entirely on what you plan to connect the cable to.

(Video) UniFi: Beginner’s Guide to Network Cabling | Part 3 - Small & Medium Business w/ UniFi Design Center

There are exceptions to every rule (like everything in life except death and taxes), but follow this handy reference:

  • If your network equipment supports Gigabit (1000 Mb/s) then choose at least Cat5e as this Category will support this speed without problems. This assumes you don't have big upgrade plans for expensive 10 Gigabit networking equipment.
  • If your network equipment supports 10 Gigabit (10,000 Mb/s) then choose Cat6A as this Category will support that speed at 328 feet.

Often, it just makes sense to pick Cat6 (a great middle ground) and go. If you're not sure what your network equipment supports or whether to upgrade, then Cat6 is a safe bet because it supports 10 Gigabit speeds over distances longer than most home users will ever install.

If you get stuck on the differences between Cat6 and Cat6A take a lookThe difference between Cat6 and Cat6A Ethernet cable.

Here's a helpful blog if you need help deciphering what's printed on the side of an Ethernet cable:Ethernet Cable Identification for Beginners: Reading Print Legends.


This is where you can run into problems by choosing the wrong Ethernet cable. There are a lot of wires to avoid like an angry badger off his meds. CCA or copper clad aluminum takes the Gold Award for the biggest thing to run from. Read this blog about why:Check your specs, CCA is different from solid copperStill not convinced? Does that price still tempt your wallet? So read onCopper Clad Aluminum vs. Copper: The Ultimate Test in a Fluke Versiv DSX Cable Analyzer.

Suffice it to say, you want an Ethernet cable that is:

(Video) Network Basics - Know Your Cable Types

  • Pure copper (solid or soldered depending on where it is placed)
  • Manufactured to ANSI/TIA specifications
  • Documented with Fluke certification results that prove it performs in the category stated on the jacket print
  • cETLus or UL Listed verification (for all intents and purposes, they mean the same thing in terms of quality) printed on the cable cover with an actual Certificate that can be viewed or downloaded

Shielding is a topic that comes up often in the DIY world as well. Shielded has to be better, right? No it's not really. There are times when you should use shielded, but only install it when you absolutely need it. Shielded cable must be installed correctly and improper installation can cause you many problems. If you're curious about shielded Ethernet cable or think you might need it, check it outShielded vs Unshielded Cable.

The last part of the primary criteria regarding cable selection is very close in your wallet.


If pricing is the dominant factor, then Cat5e will (generally) be the least expensive option. Just be aware that Cat5e precludes future upgrades if you do a permanent wall installation. Again, the best middle ground would be Cat6. Spending more actually gets you further here.

Instead, you don't want to overspend your cable. Cat6A is a great choice if 10 Gigabit networking beyond 165 feet is your current or future need. However, don't buy more than you need or can anticipate. Save that money for any necessary network tools and equipment. Ultimately, your network equipment will be the biggest determining factor in how fast you go!

As always, trueCABLE is happy to answer any of your questions to help you find the right Ethernet cable for your needs. Even if we don't sell it, we'll help when we can. We have no desire to see you pay more than you need to and fix your situation, which is why we spend a lot of time educatingCable Academy.


(Video) Ethernet Cables, UTP vs STP, Straight vs Crossover, CAT 5,5e,6,7,8 Network Cables


Beginner's Guide to Network Cables? ›

CAT 7 Ethernet cables support higher bandwidths and much faster transmission speeds than Cat 6 cables. As a result they are much more expensive than their Cat 6 counterparts, however, if you are looking for better performance, they are worth the extra cost. Cat 7 cables can reach up to 100 Gbps at a range of 15 meters.

What is better Cat6 or cat7? ›

CAT 7 Ethernet cables support higher bandwidths and much faster transmission speeds than Cat 6 cables. As a result they are much more expensive than their Cat 6 counterparts, however, if you are looking for better performance, they are worth the extra cost. Cat 7 cables can reach up to 100 Gbps at a range of 15 meters.

What are the 3 main cables in networking? ›

Fiber optic cable, twisted pair cable, and coaxial cable are the three main types of network cables used in communication systems.

What's better Cat5 or Cat6? ›

What are the Advantages of a Cat6 Ethernet Cable? Compared to Cat5/5e cables, Cat6 cables have stricter performance specifications and significantly higher data transfer speeds at greater distances. They are more tightly wound than Cat5 cables, and the cable conductors and cable sheath are thicker as well.

How do I know what Ethernet cable I need? ›

A Cat 6 cable is a good choice if your Internet plan is less than 1,000 Mbps and you are looking for higher bandwidth. If your Internet plan has speeds up to 10,000 Mbps, you might benefit from a Cat 6a cable. Cat 6a increases your speed and bandwidth.

Is Cat 7 overkill? ›

Best answer: No. Cat 7 cables aren't officially supported by any home networking equipment manufacturer so they will be operating as Cat 6 cables due to backwards compatibility.

Is Cat 8 cable worth it? ›

The primary benefit of Cat8 cabling is faster throughput over short distances: 40 Gbps up to 78' and 25 Gbps up to 100'. From 100' to 328', Cat8 provides the same 10Gbps throughput as Cat6A cabling.

Do you need all 8 wires for Ethernet? ›

Gigabit ethernet (or 10/100/1000 Mbps) gets all its super-charged data power from using all four pairs, or all eight wires, when transferring the full 1000 Mbps of data from one computer to another.

What are the 2 most common cable used in computer networking? ›

The main types of network cables are coax, fiber optics, and shielded and unshielded twisted pair.

Why does Ethernet have 8 wires? ›

More wires could lead to too expensive cables so 8 was chosen as a compromise. RJ31 to RJ61 (including RJ45) all use the 8P8C connection; so it was already produced and reasonably priced, but not commonly found in homes. Ethernet did the simple thing, grabbed what hardware was cheap and laying around.

Can I plug a Cat6 cable into a Cat5 jack? ›

Both cat5E and Cat6 cables are backwards compatible, meaning cat6 cables can be used in conjunction with Cat5, Cat5E, and even older Cat3 cables and equipment.

Is CAT5e obsolete? ›

What is a Cat5 Cable? The regular Cat5 cables were standard in most households before high-speed internet plans were widely available. As the availability of higher internet speeds continues to rise, Cat5 cables have become mostly obsolete.

Should I run CAT5e or Cat6 in my house? ›

So, if you're wondering which to buy, Cat5e vs. Cat6, Cat6 is the better choice, especially if you want to future-proof your network. Even if your network can't support above Gigabit speeds now, it may in the future.

Does the length of an Ethernet cable matter? ›

Although high-quality cable can support stretches of over 100 meters, you may experience a reduction in transmission speed. So, does the length of Ethernet cables matter? The simple answer is yes, though you will almost certainly never run into problems in most residential applications.

How many Ethernet ports should I have? ›

How many ethernet ports per location? Two ethernet sockets per location are really recommended. The UTP cables don't cost that much, and the additional cost for an extra ethernet port is minimal. But adding one later will cost you a lot more work and probably money.

What are three things to consider when choosing an Ethernet cord? ›

Essential Things to Consider When Buying an Ethernet Cable
  • Maximum Cable Transmission Capacity. The table above shows that each Ethernet cable category has its maximum transmission capacity. ...
  • Your Required Cable Length. Another key thing to consider is the length of your wired connection. ...
  • Internet Speed. ...
  • Application.
Mar 15, 2022

Do Cat7 cables make a difference? ›

The main distinction between Cat6 v Cat7 is the increased bandwidth and improved shielding. Cat7's maximum speed is 10.000 Mbit/s, and Cat6 cables have a maximum speed of 1.000 Mbit/s. Furthermore, the Cat7 frequency is higher than the Cat6. As a result, a Cat7 cable can transfer data faster than a Cat6 cable.

What are the disadvantages of Cat7 cable? ›

Cat 7 Cables:

Cons – They are a bit expensive. They require 40 to 60% more space to contain the cable and different connections. Their testing is trickier and requires modern test equipment. There is no real speed advantage over a good Cat6a system.

Will Cat7 work with my router? ›

This connector type is standard to almost all Ethernet connectivity setups, and will certainly be the plug required by the cable sockets on any standard home router or LAN switch.

Is it worth getting Cat7? ›

Cat7 cabling is definitely worth the money, but that's not to say it's cheap by any means. Cat7 cable can cost a lot, far more than Cat6a, so you need to have the kind of budget to allow for that investment. If you don't, Cat6 and Cat6a cabling still deliver great performance at an affordable price.


1. How to Wire Up Ethernet Plugs the EASY WAY! (Cat5e / Cat6 RJ45 Pass Through Connectors)
(Switched On Network)
2. On The Job Episode 4 Network cabling
(Mactelecom Networks)
3. Fundamentals of Fiber Optic Cabling
(Kevin Wallace Training, LLC)
4. CompTIA Network+ N10-008 Full Course for Beginners - Copper Cabling Types
5. Beginners guide to cabling a network
(The Networking Lair)
6. CompTIA Network+ N10-008 Full Course for Beginners - Fiber Optic Cabling and Connectors


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