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Cat 5e vs. Cat 6a - Which to Buy?

Compare the differences between Cat 5e and Cat 6a Ethernet cables. We'll discuss which is the fastest and which is the best for different scenarios.

Ethernet Cable Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: January 5, 2023

Written by Kevin Jones

How Fast Is Cat 5e vs. Cat 6a?

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Cat 5e Ethernet cable can reach 1 Gbps when used with a Gigabit Ethernet device. Cat 5e can maintain this speed up to 100 meters (328 feet) in length.

Cat 6a Ethernet cable can reach 10 Gbps when used with a 10 Gigabit Ethernet device. Cat 6a can maintain this speed up to 100 meters (328 feet) in length.

Suppose you use a Cat 5e or Cat 6a Ethernet cable with a device that doesn't support Gigabit Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet speeds. In that case, your network speeds will be limited to the supported level of the device.

Max Distance of Cat 5e vs. Cat 6a?

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Cat 5e and Cat 6a will work at their maximum speeds for up to 100 meters (328 feet).

If you want to extend the cable past this distance, you'll need a network switch. Network switches are powered devices that can both repeat and split network cables. Learn more in How to Connect Ethernet Cables - Network Switches & Couplers

Which Ethernet Cable Type to Buy

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Ethernet cables, the wires used for connecting most home and office networking equipment, all use the same connector type, RJ-45. However, there are many types of Ethernet cables to consider: Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a, Cat 8. They have progressed over time to support increased speeds while thankfully remaining backward compatible. The most commonly used Ethernet cable is currently Cat 5e.

The speed you'll reach depends on the cable type and support by your network devices.

Cat 6a is my recommendation for new in-wall installations and future-proofing, as it's fast but less flexible than Cat 5e. Find Cat 6a Cables on Amazon (affiliate link).

Tripp Lite Cat6a Cable 10G-Certified Tripp Lite Cat6a Cable 10G-Certified Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Cat 5e is my recommendation for in-room usage due to its increased flexibility. However, if you want to reach speeds over 1 Gbps, stick with Cat 6a and up. Find Cat 5e Cables on Amazon (affiliate link).

Cat 7 isn't very popular because it uses an uncommon GG45 connector; other Ethernet cable categories use an RJ-45 connector. Additionally, it never gained much market traction. If you see something marketed as Cat 7 but has an RJ-45 connector, then it's not Cat 7 cable. Your best bet is to avoid Cat 7, as it will likely not be worth the extra expense.

Cat 8 is more expensive than Cat 6a. Assuming you won't be reaching speeds over 10 Gbps with your home networking equipment, I'd recommend sticking with Cat 6a over Cat 8. Find Cat 8 Cables on Amazon (affiliate link).

Tripp Lite Cat8 Cable 25G/40G-Certified Tripp Lite Cat8 Cable 25G/40G-Certified Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

While not typically considered an Ethernet cable, you can use new or existing coax cables for Ethernet communication using MoCA adapters. MoCA 2.5 adapters allow for speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps.

Ethernet Cable Max Speeds and Distances
Cable Category Max Speed and Distance Notes
Cat 5
  • 100 Mbps @ 100 meters
Cat 5e
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Recommended for In-Room. More flexible than Cat 6 and up.
Cat 6
  • 10 Gbps @ 55 meters (37 meters if high cross talk)
  • 1 Gbps @ 100 meters
Cat 6a
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Recommended for In-Wall.
Cat 7
  • 100 Gbps @ 15 meters
  • 40 Gbps @ 50 meters
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
Not recommended or intended for use as a typical Ethernet cable; go with Cat 6a rather than this type. Most home network equipment would run at Cat 6 or Cat 6a speeds. This is also more expensive than Cat 6a.
Cat 8
  • 40 Gbps @ 30 meters
  • 10 Gbps @ 100 meters
More expensive than Cat 6a, which is why I don't recommend these currently. Most home networks don't currently support over 10 Gbps.
Coax (MoCA 2.5)
  • 2.5 Gbps @ 91 meters
Not typically considered an Ethernet cable, but it can allow for Ethernet communication using existing wiring. Learn more about MoCA adapters in Ethernet Over Coax?! A Complete Guide to MoCA Adapters.
  • 2 Gbps @ 300 meters (actual speeds are often lower)
OS2 Single-Mode Fiber
  • 100 Gbps @ 10 km
  • 1.25 Gbps @ 160 km
OM4 Multi-Mode Fiber
  • 100 Gbps @ 10 meters
  • 1.25 Gbps @ 2 km

Note that your equipment will need to support the appropriate speeds:

Ethernet Port TypeEthernet Cable Needed for Max Speed
Fast Ethernet (10/100)Cat 5
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000)Cat 5e
10 Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000/10000)Cat 6a or Cat 8
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Finding Ethernet cables that comply with their category rating can be tricky. Some manufacturers use misleading or incorrect naming, and their cables do not allow you to get the maximum expected speeds.

Here are some cables which I recommend:

Ethernet Switches

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Ethernet switches can connect multiple devices to a router via one Ethernet cable instead of each device needing a cable going to the router. Ethernet switches are helpful for when your devices are far away from a router, reducing the need for multiple long Ethernet cables.

Most types of Ethernet cables have a maximum distance of 100 meters. By using a switch, that distance can be extended.

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  • The TL-SG108 is a well-known and reliable network switch.
  • I own this exact switch model and have been using it without any problems for many years.
  • It supports Ethernet speeds of up to 1 Gbps.
  • Due to the fanless design, it is silent.
  • It uses solid capacitors, which means that it should last a long time.
  • It's an unmanaged switch, meaning that it's plug and play, and no configuration is required. TP-Link TL-SG108 - 8 Port Gigabit Unmanaged Ethernet Network Switch TP-Link TL-SG108 - 8 Port Gigabit Unmanaged Ethernet Network Switch Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Building Your Network

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If you want to learn more about cable internet equipment, networking, wiring, or troubleshooting, check out these articles: