Maybe you’re asking, “Ethernet cables? Why do I need to know what the “best” Ethernet cable is? Aren’t they all about the same, really?
Physical factors like durability aside, that might seem true if you’re just connecting your computer to an Internet router in your house. You might get acceptable performance, if not the best.
But for more sophisticated connections, especially for even basic Audio over Ethernet (AoE) applications that distribute real-time digital audio, you’ll need cables that can handle large amounts of continuous data with minimal latency. The latest AoE designs typically require 1 Mbps per audio channel (see below for a deeper discussion of speeds) on a high-performance network.
So the truth is that using the Best Ethernet cables can make a significant difference in network performance, and any extra investment you make to get the best cable possible will pay big dividends.
Let’s examine the science of Ethernet cables more closely, then compare some real cables as we find the perfect option for your needs…
- 1 Top 10 Best Ethernet Cable In 2021 Review
- 2 Best Ethernet Cable Buyer’s Guide – Ethernet Cables Under the Microscope
- 3 Our Selection Of The Best Ethernet Cables
- 3.1 1 Monoprice Cat5e Ethernet Patch Cable – Best Cat 5e Ethernet Patch Cable
- 3.2 2 CableCreation CAT 5e Ethernet Patch Cable – Best Value Cat 5e Ethernet Cable
- 3.3 3 Mediabridge Ethernet Cable Cat6
- 3.4 4 Cable Matters 5-Color Combo Snagless Shirt Cat6 Ethernet Cable – Best Value Cat 6 Ethernet Cable
- 3.5 5 Cat6 Ethernet Cable, Ultra Clarity Brand – Best Cat 6 Ethernet Cable for Low Signal Loss
- 3.6 6 Cable Matters Snagless Long Cat6A (SSTP, SFTP) Shielded Ethernet Cable – Best Cat 6A Ethernet Cable for Long Runs
- 3.7 7 Cat 7 Ethernet Cable, Shielded, Jadaol Brand
- 3.8 8 Cat7 Ethernet Cable, Double Shielded, Ultra Clarity Brand – Best Value for the Money Ethernet Cable
- 3.9 9 Cat 7 Shielded Cable 6 Pack, CableGeeker Brand – Best Budget Cat 7 Ethernet Cable
- 3.10 10 CAT8 Ethernet Cable, Outdoor&Indoor, Dbillionda Brand – Best Premium Ethernet Cable
- 4 Looking For More Superb Cables And Adapters?
- 5 So, What Is The Best Ethernet Cable?
- 6 Final Thoughts
Top 10 Best Ethernet Cable In 2021 Review
Best Ethernet Cable Buyer’s Guide – Ethernet Cables Under the Microscope
What Exactly Are Ethernet Cables?
Physically, Ethernet cables have 8 wires made of pure copper, with a snap-in connector at each end. The wires are grouped into pairs. These are usually twisted together and covered by a thin metallic shield to block electromagnetic interference. The entire group of wires may have a second shield. And all of that is surrounded by a soft plastic casing.
Ethernet allows simultaneous data transmission in both directions. One wire pair, designated Tx+ and Tx-, is used to “transmit” data, and another pair (Rx+ and Rx-) to “receive.” The other four wires are unused.
At each end of the cable is an RJ-45 connector. It resembles the one used for land-line telephones, but wider. Some types of Ethernet cables use a newer connector that’s backward-compatible with RJ-45 jacks. All cables reviewed here have RJ-45 connectors with 50-micron gold-plated contacts, which is required to achieve communication speeds.
Bandwidth And Transmission Speed
These two terms are used to measure Ethernet performance, and they’re often confused.
Without getting too deep, transmission speed is the total amount of data that can pass through a cable. It’s typically measured in millions or billions of bits per second (Mbps or Gbps), a bit being a single 0 or 1. An individual audio sample requires either 16 or 24 bits of data, plus a few more bits for error checking and synchronization.
Typical Ethernet transmission speeds range from 100 million bits per second (10 Mbps) to 10 billion bits per second (10 Gbps).
Copper wire has some electrical resistance that reduces the signal and limits the transmission speed. So Ethernet cables usually have two speed ratings, one for lengths of 10 to 30 meters and another for 100 meters.
Bandwidth, on the other hand, is the actual rate at which data is transferred. Modern Ethernet cables have a maximum bandwidth ranging from 100 MHz to 2 GHz.
When you shop for Ethernet cables, you’ll notice that they’re identified with a “Cat” rating. This is an abbreviation for Category, and the number indicates the Ethernet specification version it supports. It defines how a cable will perform over a certain maximum distance. Higher Cat numbers are newer specifications, which generally support higher bandwidths and speeds.
Higher frequencies require thicker wire and more twists in the cable pairs, all of which raises the cost. Also, shielding for higher frequencies requires improved construction quality and the use of more expensive materials. So, in general, the higher the Cat rating, the higher the cost,
- Cat 5e
This is the oldest cable standard you should even consider using. It’s an “enhanced,” faster version of the now-obsolete Cat 5 design. Cat 5e cables are manufactured with more stringent standards that reduce crosstalk between communication channels.
Cat 5e operates at 100 MHz and allows a maximum transmission speed of 1 Gbps as opposed to 100 Mbps for a standard Cat 5 cable. Until recently, Cat 5e has been the most commonly used cable type, primarily because of its relatively low production cost.
- Cat 6
These cables have a bandwidth of 250 MHz, and support speeds up to 10 Gbps for a distance of up to 55 meters. They’re tightly wound and are usually shielded with foil or metal braid, which also protects the twisted pairs of wires inside the cable. Cat 6 cables are more expensive than Cat 5e.
- Cat 6a (“augmented”)
Cables support twice the maximum bandwidth of Cat 6, up to 500 MHz. They can also maintain higher transmission speeds over longer cable lengths. They’re shielded with a thick sheath that makes them much denser and less flexible than Cat 6 cables.
- Cat 7
These cables support a bandwidth up to 600 MHz and a significantly faster transmission speed of 100 Gbps at up to 15 meters. Each wire pair is always shielded, and they often use a modified GigaGate45 connector that’s backward-compatible with older RJ-45 Ethernet jacks.
The modified connector is a proprietary design, and some compatibility issues exist. Because of this, some manufacturers have avoided the Cat 7 standard in favor of Cat 6a. Some vendors refer to Cat 6a as “the new Cat 7.”
- Cat 7a
This is one of the fastest Ethernet cables available, with a bandwidth up to 1000 Mhz. It’s not widely available, with only a few supporting networking hardware options.
The standard was developed to support 40 Gigabit Ethernet connections up to 50 meters. The improvement may be useful in some applications, but the cables are far more expensive. Cat 7a cables are hard to find, generally replaced by even newer Cat 8 models.
- Cat 8
And finally, we have an emerging technology that looks to be taking over as the new Ethernet standard. And cables are already available for purchase.
This standard operates at a blazing 2,000 MHz and can transmit up to 40 Gbps at 30 meters. Cat 8 cables cost somewhat more than other options (except for Cat 7a), but they’re quickly becoming more affordable. As an added bonus, they use the standard RJ-45 connector, avoiding the Cat 7 connector confusion.
Cat 8 cables are the only ones to meet the latest IEEE standards, so they’re the perfect choice for future-proofing your system.
Flat Or Round?
Flat cables are flexible in only one direction, and too much repeated bending can damage them. On the other hand, they’re more unobtrusive when placed under carpeting or around walls. This means they’re better suited for permanent installations, out of the way.
Round cables have a thicker outer layer and are more flexible in all directions. So they’re a good choice if they’re going to be moved around, or used outside, especially if they’re buried underground.
Most cables use stranded wire, which can easily survive repeated flexing in any direction. However, it has more signal loss for a given distance, so they’re not as good for very long cable runs. Solid copper wire is best for long distances, but the cables are stiffer and more subject to damage from repeated bending.
Wire is measured using the American Wire Gauge (AWG) system, with smaller numbers counterintuitively indicating larger wire. AWG30 is generally the smallest wire found in Ethernet cables. For Cat 6, AWG24 wire is often used. This gauge is about twice as thick and has one-fourth the resistance of AWG30.
So, let’s move on to our reviews of the best options you can buy…
Our Selection Of The Best Ethernet Cables
Let’s now compare some high-quality, commercially-available cables, starting with the…
1 Monoprice Cat5e Ethernet Patch Cable – Best Cat 5e Ethernet Patch Cable
Monoprice flat Cat 5e cables are an excellent value for non-critical applications. Available in a large assortment of lengths from 0.5 to 100 feet, they use 30AWG stranded pure copper wire pairs.
Cables feature snag-less strain relief boots. Because they’re 100 percent bare copper wire (rather than copper-clad aluminum), they’re fully compliant with UL Code 444 and National Electrical Code TIA-568-C.2 fire and safety standards.
- Very low cost.
- Pure copper wire.
- Relatively thin AWG30 wire.
- Cat 5e is a minimal standard.
2 CableCreation CAT 5e Ethernet Patch Cable – Best Value Cat 5e Ethernet Cable
Another Cat 5e option, CableCreation round Ethernet cables are available in blue or gray, in varying lengths from 25 to 150 feet. You can also get 5-packs of shorter cables, one to 15 feet long. All cables come with a two year manufacturer’s warranty.
CableCreation cables use AWG24 copper wire for less resistance, and they have an outer diameter of 5.1 mm to provide greater durability. They’re a good value choice for 1000BASE-T Ethernet (1 Gigabit) applications.
- AWG24 wire.
- 2-year warranty.
- Single cables not available in short lengths.
3 Mediabridge Ethernet Cable Cat6
Cat 6 represents a significant performance improvement over Cat 5e with only a moderate cost increase, and Mediabridge Ethernet cables are an excellent option. They’re available in white or gray, in lengths from 10 to 100 feet.
As with all the Cat 6 cables reviewed here, these are round and feature AWG24 stranded copper wire. Mediabridge cables have an outer diameter of 5.8 mm and conveniently include a Velcro strap.
- AWG24 wires.
- Velcro strap included.
- No short cable lengths are available.
4 Cable Matters 5-Color Combo Snagless Shirt Cat6 Ethernet Cable – Best Value Cat 6 Ethernet Cable
This is a package of 5 Cat 6 cables in different colors (red, green, blue, black, and white), which can be useful for quickly identifying connections in a complex setup. They are available in lengths of 1 to 14 feet. With AWG24 wire, the manufacturer claims these cables meet or exceed Cat 6 performance standards.
- Handy color coding.
- Limited length selection.
5 Cat6 Ethernet Cable, Ultra Clarity Brand – Best Cat 6 Ethernet Cable for Low Signal Loss
These cables from Ultra Clarity are another Cat 6 Ethernet cable option. They feature solid AWG24 copper wire, which makes them a bit stiffer, but the lower electrical resistance means that longer cable runs suffer less signal loss.
Available in blue or black with an outer diameter of 5.8 mm, they’re available in lengths from three to 25 feet. Ultra Clarity provides a one-year warranty against defects.
- Solid wire has less resistance.
- One-year warranty.
- More expensive.
6 Cable Matters Snagless Long Cat6A (SSTP, SFTP) Shielded Ethernet Cable – Best Cat 6A Ethernet Cable for Long Runs
Cat 6a represents a doubling of bandwidth, from 250 MHz to 500 MHz, for about the same price as Cat 6 cables. These Cable Matters cables let you run very long Ethernet lines, from 10 to 200 feet.
- Double Cat 6 bandwidth for the same cost,
- Up to 200 feet.
- No short cables.
7 Cat 7 Ethernet Cable, Shielded, Jadaol Brand
With Cat 7 comes a significant speed improvement. It’s the fastest Ethernet standard in common use. Jadaol Cat 7 cables are an excellent value option.
- Low price.
- Cable clips included.
- Relatively thin AWG30 wire.
8 Cat7 Ethernet Cable, Double Shielded, Ultra Clarity Brand – Best Value for the Money Ethernet Cable
These Cat 7 cables from Ultra Clarity are sold individually in lengths of 10, 15, 25, or 50 feet, and in two packs of 1.5, 3, or 5 feet. They’re available in white only and have an outer diameter of 5.8 mm.
Ultra Clarity cables use AWG26 copper wire. They’re very well shielded, featuring individual foil shielding around each twisted pair, plus an outer foil and mesh braiding to further reduce crosstalk and electromagnetic interference. Surprisingly, they don’t cost more than many Cat 6 cables.
- AWG26 wire.
- Excellent price.
- White only.
9 Cat 7 Shielded Cable 6 Pack, CableGeeker Brand – Best Budget Cat 7 Ethernet Cable
CableGeeker offers packs of six Cat 7 cables in black or white in lengths of 1.5, 3, 5, or 10 feet, plus a pack of five foot cables in assorted colors (red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black).
These flat cables are made with relatively thin AWG30 stranded copper wire. On the other hand, they’re priced lower than the other Cat 7 cables we reviewed.
- Assorted colors.
- Attractive price.
- AWG30 wire.
10 CAT8 Ethernet Cable, Outdoor&Indoor, Dbillionda Brand – Best Premium Ethernet Cable
Cat 8 is the latest Ethernet cable specification. However, devices that can take advantage of its increased bandwidth and transmission speed are only just beginning to be introduced. The new heavy-duty Cat 8 cables from Dbilliona meet all the specification requirements and more.
These round, black-only cables use AWG26 copper wire and four layers of shielding to guarantee a 2 GHz bandwidth and 40 Gbps transmission speed. They’re available in more than a dozen sizes from three to 150 feet and are suitable for indoor or outdoor use, including direct burial.
They cost a bit more than equivalent Cat 6 cables, especially at greater lengths, but weighed against their data throughput and longer useful life before obsolescence; the price is very reasonable. And Dbillonda backs them up with an 18-month warranty.
- Latest Cat 8 specification.
- Indoor or outdoor use.
- 18-month warranty.
- Somewhat pricey.
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So, What Is The Best Ethernet Cable?
There’s no real contest here. The…
Dbillionda Cat 8 CableEaseGave Store Laptop Bag for Women
…vastly outperforms all earlier categories. Maybe you can’t take full advantage of its bandwidth now, but you will in a few years. Make your system future-proof; lay these cables down and forget about them. Their heavy-duty construction means they should last for many years, inside or outside, and the extra cost is well worth it.
And the runner-up is the…
Ultra Clarity Cat 7 CableEaseGave Store Laptop Bag for Women
If you’re on a tight budget and can work with a somewhat lower (but still excellent) bandwidth, these cables offer outstanding value. And the one-year warranty is reassuring.
In our view, this is an easy decision: Buy the newest category of cable you can afford, and don’t scrimp on wire thickness. You should see significant improvement in system performance now, and in five years, you’ll be very happy you made the investment.