Cat5e vs. Cat6 vs. Cat5: Differences, Maximum Speed, & more

When you need a cable to use for ethernet, you will have to choose between Cat5e, Cat6, or Cat5. Each is compatible with older ethernet technology, but the Cat6 represents the market’s best and most performant ethernet cable. 

150 ft cat5 cable

The main difference between them is the transmission performance and the total bandwidth available on the cable. For example, you will find that Cat5 and Cat5e have a speed of 100MHz while Cat6 can reach faster speeds up to 250MHz.

If you don’t know what is the best for your internet needs, look at this article. We will explain to you in detail and talk about differences, maximum speed, and more. 

What is Cat5?

cat5 cable in bag

The Cat5 is a network cable with four twisted pairs of wire made of copper, terminated by a connector. These are also known as category 5 or LAN cables and are among the most commonly used in the internet industry. 

Cat 5 is often used in homes or business networks. It can provide up to 100Mbps, which is an ideal speed for all of your needs. The maximum length of such a cable is 328 feet, and exceeding this length could cause network issues and data packet loss. Luckily, you can use many bridges or network devices to solve this problem. 

It has 8 wires that are placed in a specific order. If this order is different, the ethernet cable will not work. Specific standards are insured for these, and manufacturers will follow them accordingly. There is no difference in these standards regarding performance, but you will have to use the same wire order in your Cat5 cables.

cat5 cables

Cat5 cable will offer higher transfer speeds at a lower cost. They can transfer up to 4 signals at once, and these cables can also support gigabit ethernet. They are versatile and can be used in numerous applications, from networking to telephone wiring.

As they come in stranded form, they offer great flexibility. It’s ideal for custom patch cablings or for installing them on the walls of your home or workplace. This way, they will be shielded from damage or exposure to external elements. 

They are easy to install by anyone, and you don’t need to be an expert in networking to do so. No special tools are required, and you can upgrade your network speed easily. 

This way, you will eliminate crosstalk. You can easily upgrade your Cat5 cables to Cat5e ones. Because they are flexible and have a low cost, Cat5 cables were the most common ones for many years. 

However, they also have some disadvantages. The main one is the limitation in the data transfer. Cat5 cables can only offer a 100 Mbps transfer speed. While this is ideal for home networks and small businesses, it won’t get the job done in large corporations or industrial workplaces.

You should also look for the future and the years to come. If you plan to upgrade your network after a couple of years, you wouldn’t want to use Cat5 cables now. They are getting outdated, and soon they won’t be compatible with some networks. 

Because they are not shielded, Cat5 cables are sensitive to noise from other wireless devices. It can further reduce the data transfer speeds. They are not recommended for new network installations. However, they will still get the job done if your internet needs are not demanding.

What is Cat5e?

The term Cat5e is short for Category 5 Enhanced, developed in 1999. This cable offers better performance than the Cat5 standard. It includes a greater ability to cross distances without being affected by crosstalk. 

Being up to 10 times faster than the traditional Cat5, thesy can support Gigabit networks at great distances.

Cat5e can reach speeds up to 1,000 Mbps which is also a Gigabit per second. It will be more than enough for the internet connection of most people. Chances are, most of them run a connection that can barely reach up to 500 Mbps speed. It makes the Cat5e a significant upgrade.

These cables use copper wires, with 8 wires placed as 4 twisted pairs. To get the maximum performance and speed from a Cat5e, the length of 328 feet should not be crossed. 

If the cable is longer than 328 feet, slow or failing connections will occur more often. You can use switches or bridges to aid you with extensions, and no internet speed will be lost in the process. 

In 2001, a newer Cat5 cable specification came out. It was named Cat5e. It offers support for gigabit ethernet speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. These cables have a bandwidth of 350 MHz and are also backward compatible with traditional Cat5. The standard Cat5 can also support gigabit speeds but will do so at shorter distances. 

Cat5e is 10 times faster than the previous versions. If you upgrade from Cat5 to Cat5e in your home network, there is a high chance that you won’t notice the speed difference. But if you install them in an IT company or businesses that deal with a large amount of information, this is a significant improvement. Physically, Cat5 and Cat5e cables can look the same. However, the newer version contains 4 pairs of copper wires instead of 2. 

Cat5e max speed

Because the Cat5e cabling supports networking at high performance, these cables can deliver Gigabit speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. You should ensure that the devices connected by this cable will support these desired data speeds. 

These cables are the cheapest but also the slowest. Cat5e provides enough performance for most applications today, but upgrading it in the future will be difficult. The Category 5 enhanced cable has less crosstalk and interference than the traditional Category 5 one. Because they are fast and affordable, the Cat5e is found in local area networks with high-performance needs. 

Max cat5 length

The maximum length of a Cat5 cable is 328 feet. This is the limit where maximum performance and the highest internet speed can be achieved. Beyond this length, you will notice a significant decrease in performance and functionality. 

However, bridges and connectors can extend this length to further limits without changing the parameters. This way, you will have a stable and continuous connection even at greater distances.

If you are interested in purchasing a Cat5e, make sure to check here. We bought this model for our office and noticed a significant increase in internet speed compared to the standard Cat5 cables we had installed. 

What is Cat6 used for?

blue cat6 cable

Cat6 is Category 6 ones used in the home or business networks. They are the 6th generation of twisted pair cables and are backward compatible with Cat5 and Cat5e ones that came before them. 

This high-performance cable support speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. However, it can accommodate 10-gigabit ethernet connections at a limited distance. They can function well at distances up to 180 feet for a single cable and have 4 pairs of copper wire used for obtaining high internet speeds. 

The end of a Cat6 will have an RJ-45 standard connector, making it compatible with the previous generations of cables. The printed text displayed on the insulation is the easiest way to identify a Cat6. There is also a special type of Cat6a which can support up to 10 gigabits per second at greater distances.

cat6 cable

While they are optimal at 180 feet, the maximum recommended length for a Cat6 cable is 328 feet. It’s in order to get satisfying performance and connection speed. You will often find Cat6 being used to connect computers to routers or switches to facilitate the distribution of files across a network. 

You can also use a Cat6 to connect devices together, such as printers or scanners that can be linked to computers. If you want to purchase a Cat6, you should check it out here. Although they are more expensive than Cat5 and Cat5e ones, these also offer higher connection speeds. It can be essential in many cases. 

Cat6 max speed

cat6 cables in different colors

Four twisted pairs of copper make up the Cat6 ethernet cable. With 250 MHz of bandwidth, they can transfer data at speeds up to 10 gigabits per second at a distance not exceeding 180 feet.

These are more tightly wound than Cat5 ones. They have stricter performance and better data transfer speeds are greater distances. Because they are more resistant and durable, Cat6 cables are also ideal for industrial settings with generators or motors present. 

Usually, a Cat6 will be more expensive than a Cat5 or Cat5e. They offer more than what a normal household needs in terms of internet speed. However, they are ideal for the long term since the needs will increase in the next 10 years. It is better to be prepared in advance.

cat6 network cable

Cat6 cables are perfect for transferring terabytes of data through networks without experiencing any signal noise. Even though these cables are more costly, the value is worth it as the performance is exceptional. 

Because these cables are thicker, you should also keep the physical space in mind. Their insulation makes them stiffer and less flexible. A Cat6a cable can be 50% thicker and heavier than a Cat6 cable while also being much more expensive. 

Cat5e vs. Cat6 vs. Cat5

cat5 & cat6 cables

We created a table for you to understand further the differences between Cat5, Cat5e, and Cat6 cables. Here you can see the direct comparison between them regarding cost, maximum length, and maximum speed data. 


FrequencyCostMax LengthMax Speed Data
CAT 5100 MHz20-30 cents per foot328 feet10 Mbps to 100 Mbps
CAT 5E100 MHz20-30 cents per foot328 feet100 Mbps to 1 Gbps
CAT 6250 MHz20% more than Cat 5E328 feet1 Gbps to 10 Gbps

Cat5 vs. cat6 connectors

There are lots of similarities between Cat6 and Cat5 cables. Among them, there are the RJ-45 connectors which are clear plastic male plugs, as well as female jacks. 

These connectors are optimal for backward compatibility. With RJ-45 connectors, we can use the familiar 4-pair wire. On the exterior, everything looks the same. However, it has to be physically compatible and make a clicking sound when you plug them in.

To prevent crosstalk, a separation distance of the twisted pairs is required for the Cat6 cables. Manufacturers often introduce a plastic insert situated on the entire length of the cable to achieve this distance.

Is cat6 compatible with cat5?

white cat6 cable

Yes, Cat6 cables can work on the Cat5 networks easily. They are backward compatible and can match previous specifications, which means they are ideal for Cat5 networks as well.

Because the components between Cat5 and Cat6 cables are similar, the differences are found mainly in the electrical specifications. Cat6 will have better specifications than Cat5 or Cat5e ones, enabling faster data transfer when installed with compatible devices.

It is common to use new cablers when upgrading the network infrastructure, even though the hardware is older. This way, the newer ones can be installed beforehand and be useful in the future when newer hardware is used.

FAQ

Is Cat5e better than Cat6?

While Cat5e is fine and just enough for most, Cat6 will always be better. It doesn’t matter if you are setting up your home network or you are looking to upgrade your workplace local area network. Typically, the Cat6 will always offer more and support faster data transfers. 

They are more durable and can offer better insulation against crosstalk or internal noise. However, not all networks will support the high speeds of a Cat6 cable. Make sure your devices can support up to 10 gigabits per second. Otherwise, a Cat6 will not be faster than your previous Cat5e. 

The router should support it too to take full advantage. Make sure the network is compatible with the upgrade. Otherwise, you will end up spending money without getting any results. However, Cat6 is backward compatible. You will still enjoy the extra features even if you don’t get the maximum performance.

One such benefit is represented by the insulation, which brings improved shielding. This way, you won’t have to worry about the durability of the cables or carefully handling them. They are also long-lasting, so you can be stress-free for the next few years. 

Why use Cat6 instead of Cat5e?

Cat6 is generally faster and more performant than Cat5e, so it is intended for networks with special requirements. For a household with not many needs for a perfect internet connection, Cat5e is ideal.

In an industrial workplace or households with lots of devices, Cat6 cables will meet all the superior needs. It will provide excellent internet speed where it is needed. 

Is Cat5e good enough for 4k?

Cat5e cables are absolutely fine for streaming 4k videos. A Cat6 will give you the same result, but there is no need to upgrade if this is the only reason. 

It’s like saying, “why should you get a stackable dryer and washer set when you have enough space already?”

Is Cat5e still good?

Cat5e cables are still good, especially for places that do not have an intensive network load. They are ideal for households with low requirements and basic internet services. 

Is Cat6 ethernet?

Cat6 are twisted pair cables for ethernet. They can be backward compatible with Cat5 and Cat5e standards and support gigabit ethernet for segments up to 328 feet.