How To Choose Network Cables For Your Home – Faster Speeds

Ethernet Network Cables affect Network Speeds

Most people who are not IT professionals never look at their LAN network cables. They install whatever cables they find lying around and never think twice about it. Ethernet network cables are not created equally. There are important differences that will affect your network speeds. This guide will help explain how to choose network cables for your home.

How to choose network cables for your home
Ethernet Network Cable

Wired Ethernet is Still King

Although wireless networking (WIFI) is commonplace in our homes today it has not overcome the bandwidth and latency advantages of wired Ethernet network connections. Wired Ethernet may not be convenient for every application but it reigns supreme for stationary devices. Where possible and practical you should use a wired connection. This is true even for semi stationary devices such as a laptop that is primarily located at a desk.

Gigabit Ethernet Network Speeds at Home

Today we see many home devices that are capable of gigabit network speeds. Older 10/100 Mbps networked devices including laptops and routers are rapidly being replaced with their modern gigabit network capable equivalents. With these upgrades it is worth paying attention to the network cables you are using in your home network.

Common LAN Network Speeds at Home

1 Gbps (1000 Mbps) is the current standard.
100 Mbps was the prior standard.
10 Mbps is a very old standard that is outdated and SLOW!

You probably don’t own any networked devices or network cables that are only capable of 10 Mbps. This Ethernet standard is extremely old. However it’s likely many of you still have an older device such as a laptop or router that is capable of 100 Mbps but not 1 Gbps. Keep reading to decide if and when it matters.

Let’s relate these network speeds to a real world scenario. You bought an album of digital music in mp3 format. A common size would be around 100 MB. Or let’s say you need to download and install a large application – 1000 MB.

Take note that 100 megabytes (MB) is 800 megabits (Mb). We’re dealing with two different units because we commonly refer to connection and transfer speeds in bits and storage space in bytes.

Music Album
100 MB File
Large Software Installer
1000 MB File
10 Mbps1 minute, 28 seconds14 minutes, 40 seconds
100 Mbps8 seconds1 minute, 28 seconds
1000 MbpsLess than a second8 seconds
File Transfer rates at different LAN network speeds.

First Check All Your Network Components Including PC’s

Before we look at how to choose network cables for your home we need to see the big picture. Your highest network speed will be determined by the weakest link. The network interfaces on either end of the wire will only be able to negotiate speeds that all components support. If your laptop or your router supports 100 Mbps as its top speed you will need to upgrade it to take advantage of gigabit wired Ethernet speeds. In addition to examining your network wiring you should also take an inventory of network speeds among all your network gear and wired client devices.

What Home Network Speed Do I Need?

Do I need 1 Gbps network speeds? Or is 100 Mbps enough?

The answer is it’s all relevant to what you are using your network for. If your internet package limits you to 100 Mbps or less of bandwidth you will not get faster internet speeds by upgrading a 100 Mbps home router to 1 Gbps or by upgrading your network cables above Cat 5. If you have internet speeds above 100 Mbps you will see a difference when your PC and other devices are wired to your router and you resolve problems that are limiting your network connection to 100 Mbps.

On the other hand if you are transferring files directly between two PC’s on your wired home network you will see faster transfer rates for this specific task if you upgrade from a 100 Mbps network to 1 Gbps. The most common case for this would be network backups. Consider how you use your network. Do you only use it to access the internet or do you transfer files and data between devices within your local network?

Home Network Router
Home Network Router

Ethernet Network Cable Standards

Before we talk about how to choose network cables we must understand what the different types are. They are referred to as categories. The “cat” in Cat 5 is actually short for category.

  • Cat 3 cabling (10 Mbps max) is a very old standard. It hasn’t been used for data networking in a very long time. It is still used to this day for telephone wiring.
  • Cat 5 cabling (100 Mbps max) is an old standard. While 100 Mbps is the industry determined max throughput there is more to the story. In short cabling runs such as the distances used in most single family homes you can frequently achieve 1 Gbps. Yes that’s right. If you have old Cat 5 wires going to different rooms in your house you should absolutely continue to use them.
  • Cat 5e cabling (1 Gbps) is fully capable to support your home needs today.
  • Cat 6 cabling (1 Gbps) is possibly more future proof. The Ethernet devices found in the average home have a top end of 1 Gbps. However there are IEEE standards to push much faster speeds over distances of Cat 6 that are common in homes. Will those standards ever make it to home technology devices? Who knows.
  • There are additional categories of cabling beyond Cat 6 but they are well beyond the current needs of typical home needs and capabilities.

Verdict: How To Choose Network Cables For Your Home

If you are buying LAN cables or patch cords today for your home you just can’t go wrong with Cat 6. You can also use Cat 5e though it may (possibly) be less future proof. Home network devices haven’t yet surpassed 1 Gbps to take advantage of faster Cat 6 speeds. With the average home internet speed significantly lower than 1 Gbps it is unlikely we will see common home network devices accommodating speeds greater than 1 Gbps any time soon. Currently you will not notice a difference between Cat 5e and Cat 6 in the distances used in homes.

What is The Difference?

The main difference between the types of network cabling is the twist ratio of the wire pairs inside the cable jacket. Shielding and conductor sizes also can vary. These electrical characteristics overall help to block out interference and cross talk to allow faster network speeds. This is a good article that provides details about the differences.

How To Determine the Category of Existing Ethernet Network Cables

You will find specifications printed on the jacket of all Ethernet network cables. Follow the specifications down the wire and you will eventually find the category of the wire. In the below example photo we can clearly see this is a Cat 5E cable.

How To Choose Network Cables
Cat 5E Un-shielded Twisted Pair Patch Cable

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