This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.
How To Video: Pick the right cables for your home network
About Video Transcript

How To Video: Pick the right cables for your home network

2:54 /

We'll tell you what the difference is between Cat 5e and Cat 6 Ethernet cable, and when to use each.

Every so often, we get questions from people who plan to install Ethernet cable in their homes. The most frequent question we get is, "what's the difference between cat 5e and cat 6 cable, and which should I use?" Here's what you need to know. Around your house, you probably either have Cat 5 or Cat 5e wire. Cat stands for category. Cat 6 or Category 6 is cable that's more reliable at higher speeds than Cat 5 or Cat 5e. They look pretty much the same; in fact, Cat 6 is backward compatible with Cat 4 so you can mix and match. But they're labeled differently and they're different on the inside--where it counts. Until recently, most home routers supported speeds of 10 or 100 megabits per second. However, gigabit routers have become more common. All three cables can work with Gigabit Ethernet. The old- fashioned Cat 5 cable is no longer a recognized standard, but it technically supports gigabit speeds-- just not well. Cat5e cable is enhanced to reduce interference so that it can reliably deliver gigabit speeds. However, Gigabit Ethernet still pushes the cable to its limits. Cat 6 cable is full-on certified to handle Gigabit speeds. It's meant to handle it and it does it the best. It's also suitable for any 10-Gigabit uses that may come along someday; although at that point, your pushing the limits of Cat 6. And let's not get into Cat 7 and it's fairyland of 40-Gigabit speeds. Cat 6 cable also has more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise than Cat 5e does. That means you'll get fewer errors on a system operating via Cat 6. Cat 6 isn't all roses though. Some folks think Cat 6 is harder to install. Cat 6 conductors are twisted more tightly, and there's more insulation. So if you need to cut cables you need to go a little more slowly. Now for the cost. One hundred feet of Cat 5 cable will run you about $9. One hundred feet of Cat 6 cable runs a tad more than $11. So my short answer is choose Cat 6. But here's the longer rationale. If you happen to have a bunch of Cat 5e cable, don't throw it away. It's useful for many more years, and it should serve you well. If you're supercheap and can't stand the two dollar per 100 foot price difference, then sure, cat 5e will do fine for the next several years. However, if you're starting from scratch and want to be ready for whatever advances come down the line, you'll want to go with Cat 6 cable. You want to be as future-proof as possible. You wouldn't remodel your kitchen to look like 1992, right? Well, OK, maybe you would. But you wouldn't buy a 1992 model laptop, would you? Now you get me! I hope this helps you understand a bit more about Ethernet cables. Good luck in your home networking. I'm Tom Merritt, CNET.com.

New releases

The CraveCast remakes democracy...
34:26 October 22, 2014
In a special holiday CraveCast, we look forward to Halloween and plan ways to stay safe when the world is...
Play video
Tomorrow Daily 073: Robot actors,...
21:31 October 22, 2014
On today's show, we check out a gadget for your shoe that might help you escape a bad date, this year's updates...
Play video
Use your Android as a dSLR rem...
2:10 October 22, 2014
Some Android handsets have the capability to act as an infrared remote for a dSLR. CNET's Lexy Savvides shows...
Play video
Apple Pay sees problems as users...
2:59 October 22, 2014
Bank of America apologizes for a glitch that's causing duplicate Apple Pay charges. Also, Google creates a...
Play video
The LG Tribute is cheap and ch...
1:15 October 22, 2014
Virgin Mobile's LG Tribute is a winning budget Android.
Play video
Cree continues to shine with its...
1:54 October 22, 2014
At less than $20, there's a lot to like about Cree's bigger, brighter bulb
Play video
The 404 Show 1,569: ApplePay double-charging,...
20:30 October 22, 2014
Bridget Carey returns to the show to talk about ApplePay double-charging some Bank of America customers, a...
Play video
Apps to manage your phone's battery...
1:03 October 22, 2014
A quick-draining battery is a common complaint from mobile users. What you might not know is that some apps...
Play video