This piece covers what to look for and how to choose high quality Ethernet cable for a local area network (LAN). Cables comes in lots of lengths, plug styles, colors, and prices. The most costly patch cables can run as much as four to five times what the cheapest grade patch cords. But the performance of the high end cables is rarely four to five times better than the cheapest ones. Indeed sometimes, it makes sense to spend the extra dollars. But often, a cheaper cable works just as well. So it helps to know these details when deciding what the best cable is for your scenario.
High Quality Ethernet Cable Patch Cord Intro
Now getting the most out of cheaper cables requires a bit of knowledge about Ethernet cables. E.g. Very short cables (say, those 10 feet or less in length) run pretty fast. That is, you will likely get good gigabit speeds, even if the cable is CAT 5. Sometimes even cables designed only for the 100 megabits per second fast Ethernet networks will allow gigabit speeds. Also, they fashion some cables with stranded wires inside. Yet others have solid copper conductors.
Each cable works best in different settings. So, there’s probably not a “best cable” for all uses. But each type of cable, even the cheapest ones, can be “best” for a specific network scenario. In the discussion below, we look at how to spot high quality Ethernet cable cords. We show how to look for cables that work well in most any scenario.
Generally speaking then, how do you recognize a generally good quality cable that will work pretty well in most circumstances? In short, KNOW all the nuances of your particular setup. Then choose the best cable for that situation. Below, we outline some tips and advice for choosing the best cables for your environment.
Look at the Cord Itself for How to Choose High Quality Ethernet Cable
The data signals spend much of the travel time in the cable. So the choice of cable (the wire) really affects the speed and integrity of the data. The key measure of how well a cable works, is how fast and honestly it handles data.
Highly Twisted Pairs is Best
Cord with lots of twists of the wire pairs is a sure sign of high quality Ethernet cable. They call Ethernet cable “twisted pairs” for a reason. The four pairs of solid or stranded wires within are twisted together. The more twists per inch, the less the cable picks up outside noise sources.
Beware of some very cheap cables that have their wires not twisted. To find them, run your fingers up and down the cable. Then you should feel the twists inside. Be suspicious if you do not. No twists could mean that the cable, while sold as Ethernet wire, probably will not work well in that capacity.
Use Shielded Ethernet Cables
Now maybe you’re setting up a network in industrial spots, with lots of arc welding or brush motors. In these spaces, a high quality cable needs shielding of each of its four twisted pairs. It also should have a separate shield that wraps up the whole bunch.
Choose CAT 7, 750 Mhz. Cable for the Future for How to Choose High Quality Ethernet Cable
Currently, gigabit Ethernet is the standard for connecting computers. But 10 gigabit modes is gaining steam. It will likely become the new standard within the next few years. So you may install a gigabit net today. You can assure that your cables will work with 10 gigabit later. How? Use at least category 7, 750 Mhz cable in new networks.
They still consider CAT 6, 250 Mhz. a high quality Ethernet cable. This wire works well with gigabit Ethernets, and was designed to support future, higher speed network standards as well. But for the greatest future proofing of your network, we suggest CAT 7. This added cost now, is still far less than running higher speed cables later, when ten gigabits becomes the norm.
How to Choose High Quality Ethernet Cable: The Connectors Also Affect How Well the Cable Works
The RJ-45 plugs, if kept clean and dry, do not impact Ethernet signal integrity much. But do not connect more than a few cables in a daisy chain. The more RJ45 plugs you have in the signal path, the more important the choice of high-grade plugs becomes. So if you must daisy chain cables, do it with only the highest grade plugs.
Use RJ45 Plugs with Gold Plated Contacts
Yes, the contacts with silver or nickel plating may work well when new. But the “trueness” of the connections they make degrades as they age. Why? Because over time in moist air, these metals tarnish and corrode. Gold plated contacts though, generally do not corrode, even over longer periods. E.g. They work just as well after ten years, as when the cable was brand new.
Connectors Should Have Good Strain Relief
The strain relief seen above, protects the Ethernet cable from repeated sharp bending where it enters the plug. It “softens” such bends. Further, many high quality Ethernet cable models clamp the cable in place. This way, if pulled, the tension does not yank where the wires connect with the contacts inside.
Use Tab Protected Plugs
The RJ45 plug lock tab with no side guards is quite fragile. It can snap off if you drag the cable end across a carpet floor. This tab can snag on carpet fibers, other cables, shoe laces, and clothing. Plus, once broken, you can no longer secured the plug to a device. As a result, you lose reliable long-term connections. So the best cables have tab covers or side guides. See this on the orange cable above. These stop the tab from snagging on anything.
Use Shielded RJ45 Plugs
In high quality Ethernet cable patch cords, shielded plugs yield a small raise in protection against noise. But you’ll only benefit from this in those very noisy places. E.g. Industrial sites, plants, and other places where lots of machinery runs.
But the home user probably does not need shielded plugs. He usually has no machinery that makes enough RFI to warrant shielded plugs. Yet if you can get them for roughly the same price as the non shielded ones, then go for it.
Ethernet Cables to Avoid, for How to Choose High Quality Ethernet Cable
Based on the discussion above, we advise not buying Ethernet cables with the following obvious signs of trouble.
Protruding locking tabs
Avoid cords with exposed locking tabs. They protect the better plug tabs with flexible plastic or rubber covers.
Non Gold Contacts
Connection quality falls more quickly with contacts made of “lesser” metals.
No Flexible Strain Relief Wire Holders
ALL connectors should have strain relief for highest reliability.
Categories 5 and Lower
It’s true that CAT 5e cables work well in today’s networks. But you will likely have to replace them when you move to ten gigabit nets.
Missing Category Number
Some vendors package poor grade Ethernet cables. Further, they label them as CAT 6, CAT 6a, CAT 7, Etc. Yet no label showing the category appears on the cable jacket. So we suggest that you Buy only clearly marked Ethernet cable, as pictured above on the green cable. This helps assure that you’re getting the grade of wire you want.
Non Twisted Pairs Inside
You should feel a ribbed texture when running fingers along the length of the cable. If you see no ribs, the wires inside may not have enough twist for best noise rejection. Note on the green cable above, the rib texture on the shiny surface of the cable jacket.
Extra Long Ethernet Cables
Don’t connect more Ethernet cable than you need. E.g. Don’t use a 50-foot cable, where a 6 foot one would reach. Needlessly long cables can slow Ethernet data rates. They also can create less reliable network connections.
Also, avoid cables longer than 100 meters. Why? Because these do not conform to the Ethernet standards. Most Ethernet standards these days spec a max cable length of 100 meters or just over 300 feet.
Now LANs often do fail. But you can avoid one source of puzzling failure, is the wrong cable. So take the time to choose high quality Ethernet cable to begin with. Then, you’ll never have to worry about data slowdowns and dropped connections due to poor cable quality. Be pound wise, and not penny foolish.
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References for How to Choose High Quality Ethernet Cable
- 2019-06-07: Added key phrase targeting for ‘High Quality Ethernet Cable’, removed ad code, and added more links and tags. Also added mention of the CAT 7 standard cables.
- 2015-12-29: Added more appropriate tags.
- 2015-10-04: Added appropriate tags.
- 2015-06-22: Originally published.