Cat 5 vs Cat 6 Ethernet Cables: What are the differences?

All Ethernet cables have one basic purpose – to connect devices to a network, such as the Internet. However, not all Ethernet cables are exactly the same. If you need to buy an ethernet cable but have no idea which one to choose, trust us, you are not the only one. However, you have come to the right page since we compare Cat 5 vs Cat 6, which are two powerful cables! 

Cat 5 vs Cat 6: Quick comparison 

If you have ever searched for cables online, you have probably noticed that they are almost always classified as Cat 5, Cat 6, or something similar. “Cat” simply means “Category,” and the following number indicates the version of the cable. In general, the higher number represents the higher speeds and higher frequencies, measured in MHz.

Cat 5Cat 6
Frequency100 MHz250 MHz (max 500 MHz) 
SpeedUp to 100 MbpsUp to 10 Gbps

Maximum Cable Length

100 meters
Slow network speed: 100 m
Fast network speed: 55 m
High crosstalk environment: 33 meters
ConnectorsRJ45 (8P8C)RJ45 (8P8C)
Average cost$0.10 to $0.20 per foot$0.25 to $0.35 per foot
ShieldingUnshieldedShielded or Unshielded

Cat 5

Pros:

  • Suitable for home users
  • Ideal for slower network speeds (up to 100 Mbps)
  • Price
  • Thin

Cons: 

  • No crosstalk protection
  • Not compatible with the Cat 6 networks

Cat 6

Pros: 

  • Backward compatibility
  • Higher frequency
  • Higher speeds
  • Shielded from interference

Cons: 

  • Price
  • Thickness

Cat 5: What is it?

Cat 5 cables connect different types of hardware such as computers, printers, routers, etc. If a device has an ethernet port, it can be connected with the Cat 5 cable. 

Today, since there are more improved cable versions, like the Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable, the Cat 5 cable is considered slightly outdated technology. This is no surprise since the production of the Cat 5 cables began in 1995. Still, it is capable of running high speeds for everyday internet use such as streaming Netflix content, gaming, etc. 

Cat 6: What is it?

Cat 6 cables support a larger bandwidth than Cat 5, but their cost is also higher. These cables are more tightly winded than the older versions. They often have foil (thin layer of aluminum or copper) or braided (woven lattice from copper or tin) shielding. The Cat 6 can support speeds up to 10 Gbps. However, the maximum distance is 55 meters. 

Features face to face

Bandwidth

When you are trying to determine which is better, cat5 vs cat6, there are many things to consider. The first and very crucial feature is bandwidth. Bandwidth is a frequency range over which a signal spans itself. It is measured in Hertz. 

As an example, we can take the frequency range of the human voice. The lowest frequency is around 300 Hz, while the highest frequency is around 3,000 Hz. So, the actual frequency range, in this case, is 2,700 Hz. 

Difference Between Bandwidth and Data Rate
Bandwidth example

However, bandwidth is not only related to the frequency range. It is also related to speed. From that point of view, bandwidth is the amount of data transmitted per unit of time. It is measured in bits per second or megabits per second.   

To conclude, bandwidth describes the range of frequencies and cable’s capacity to transfer signals from one point to another with minimal signal degradation. The higher the bandwidth, the more data can be transmitted through the cable.

Bandwidth is measured in megahertz (MHz) for copper cables, and each cable category has maximum bandwidth. The max bandwidth for Cat 5 cables is 100 MHz, while Cat 6 cables can reach 500 MHz. 

Winner: Cat 6 

Speed

The transfer speed is also very important when you want to pick a new cable. Therefore, you should choose the one that fits your needs. The Cat 5 cable can withstand the fast ethernet speed of 100 Mbps with a frequency of 100 MHz

The Cat 6 cable, on the other hand, can support the higher speeds of 10 Gbps with a frequency of up to 250 MHz (maximum of 500 MHz). The Cat 6 cable is suitable for residential use, but you can use it for business, as well. So, you can use it at home if you need higher speeds or have a lot of users. But this cable is also able to withstand the high demands of every business. 

As you can guess, the obvious winner in this category is Cat 6 since it can support the speed of 10 Gbps and be used for various purposes.

Winner: Cat 6

Performance

The easiest way to choose a cable is to choose the one with the range and speed you need. But what do you need?

First off, start with the speed of your home internet connection. If your internet speed is over 1 Gbps, the old Ethernet cable will only slow you down. But, if you have a slower internet connection, like 10 or 20 megabits per second, any Cat 5 or later version can meet your expectations. 

Secondly, consider the speed of your network. This is usually irrelevant to most home users. But, if you often use the network to transfer large files from one computer to another, a better Ethernet cable like Cat 6 can make a significant difference in that case.

Last but not least, define your requirements and determine which group you belong to. If you are a home user, the Cat 5 cable is probably the best solution for you. On the other hand, if you want to start a business that requires high internet speed, you should choose at least Cat 6. So, the choice depends on your needs. 

Winner: Draw 

Compatibility

The Cat 6 cable is backward compatible with the previous versions, meaning that the Cat 6 cable can work on the Cat 5 network. However, you can’t use the Cat 5 cable on the Cat 6 network. The Cat 6 network requires more capabilities and performance that Cat 5 simply can’t reach. 

But, Cat 5 is also backward compatible, meaning it is compatible with its previous versions. Since the Cat 5 cable can’t be used on the Cat 6 network, the Cat 6 cable stands out in this segment. 

Winner: Cat 6

Crosstalk

When you place a lot of cables too close, they can interfere with each other and cause errors. This is called crosstalk. In short, crosstalk is a situation in which one telecommunication signal affects the other one

Each signal has electric or magnetic fields. When these fields are mixed, we get electromagnetic interference or EMI. This usually leads to crosstalk. 

Cat 5 or Cat 6 are not resistant to crosstalk. However, newer versions of ethernet cables handle this problem better. Usually, the best mechanisms to reduce the effects of crosstalk are twisted cables and cable shielding

UTP and STP cable
Shielded cable and unshielded cable

Cat 6 cables use both of these mechanisms to avoid errors. Their wires are more tightly wound, and the shields are usually made of foil or PVC. And sometimes, it has a plastic wrap around it for additional protection.  

Because of their structure, Cat 6 cables can provide high speed and better data transfer performance.    

Winner: Cat 6

Maximum length

The maximum length of the Cat 5 cable is 100 meters. When it comes to the maximum length of the Cat 6 cable, it is also 100 meters but for the slower network speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps. For the higher speeds, the Gigabit Ethernet of up to 10 Gbps, this length drops down to 55 meters. 

Also, in an environment with high crosstalk conditions, this length shortens even more – and drops to 33 meters. 

So, both cables offer a length of up to 100 meters. The Cat 6 cable is still a better choice since it can offer higher speeds (even though the length shortens at higher speeds) and more options. On the market, you may find both of these cables longer than these recommended maximum lengths, but it will undoubtedly affect data transfer quality. If the length exceeds 100 meters, the quality of data transfer will drop significantly.

Winner: Cat 6

Visual differences/thickness

The Cat 6 cable has four pairs of copper wires, and therefore it is usually relatively thicker when compared to the Cat 5 cable. The reason is that Cat 6 uses more wires which are twisted tighter, but also it is wrapped with a plastic shield. 

Cat5 vs Cat6 cable
Cat5 vs Cat6 cable

The Cat 5 cable also uses four twisted pairs of wires. But, compared to the Cat 6 cable, this one is thinner. If cable thickness is important because you lack space for the installation, the Cat 5 cable might be the better option. 

Winner: Cat 5

Price

The average price of the Cat 5 cable is $0.10 to $0.20 per foot. And the average price of the Cat 6 cable is $0.25 to $0.35 per foot. So, the Cat 5 cable is much cheaper than the Cat 6. 

If you are not too demanding when it comes to data transfer speed, you should consider buying the Cat 5 cable. Since both cables can reach the length of 100 meters, which is approximately 328 feet, the overall difference in price can vary significantly. 

Conclusion

The main difference when comparing Cat 5 vs Cat 6 is the crosstalk resistance. Cat 6 prevails since it uses more twisting and improved shielding. Another big difference is the speed of data transfer. 

Both cables have the same end plug, but keep in mind that you can’t use the Cat 5 cable on Cat 6 networks. So, if you want to plan for the future and invest in something that won’t become outdated in the near future, maybe the Cat 6 is the way to go.  

Here are the final results of our Cat5 vs Cat6 comparison: 

Use the Cat 5 cable if you:

  • Plan to use it at home
  • Don’t need a higher speed than 100 Mbps 
  • Are able to avoid crosstalk environment 
  • Don’t want to spend too much money

Use the Cat 6 cable if you:

  • Are a business user
  • Need a high transfer speed (above 1 Gbps)
  • Want to have the crosstalk protection for your network
  • Prefer highly compatible cables
About Nathan

Hello! I'm Nate. I work for an internet company during the week, so you'll probably see me on here jabbering about the internet and building websites, which is my main side hobby.

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