Who’s the real winner between CAT5 vs. CAT5e? It might not come as a shock, but the newer cable is the clear winner. Before you run off, there are some very important reasons as to why this is the case. Network cabling is one of the key factors in determining an organization’s local area network speeds.
Now, when choosing a specific type of cable, you’ll have to weigh out the capabilities versus the cost. A single cable might be cheap, but when you’re buying hundreds to thousands of feet of cable, it adds up quite quickly.
CAT5 has served as the standard for network cabling adequately for well over a decade. Its time in the sun has come to an end, and newer standards like the CAT5e serve as a suitable stopgap until the pricing for newer standards reaches a more affordable price.
If you’re new to cabling, it certainly is a rich subject to explore and is the subject of this shootout.
CAT5 vs. CAT5e: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Twists per inch||3||4-5|
|Maximum Speed per 100 ft||100Mbps||1000Mbps|
|Shielding||Minimal plastic sheathing around wire pairs||More robust plastic shielding around wire pairs|
|Backward Compatibility||None||Fully compatible with CAT5 devices|
|Date of Introduction||1991||1995|
The three major differences between CAT5 and CAT5e can be summed as the maximum operating frequency, the maximum speed, and more robust shielding.
CAT5 vs. CAT5e: What’s the Difference?
Both of these cable standards are in wide usage around the world. While CAT6 and CAT7 cabling have started to make an appearance in network closets, most organizations are likely still going to be on the older and cheaper cabling.
CAT5 operates at a lower overall frequency and supports slower speeds. Decades ago 100Mbps could be seen as a fairly nimble network connectivity rate. These days, especially with the advent of affordable fiber connections, it comes off as far less impressive.
CAT5e is simply just a better version of the older standard, and what your organization or network should be using at the bare minimum. It supports up to gigabit speeds, which should be the bare minimum for Ethernet standards especially when factoring in network interface cards, switches, and routers.
CAT5e has a higher operating frequency, nearly quadruple what CAT5 has to offer. The 350MHz on offer from CAT5e leads to higher signal strength across cabling distances, while still maintaining that gigabit of upload and download rates.
If you’re looking into cabling from a pure performance perspective, then CAT5e is the only way to go.
Interference and Crosstalk
Interference of the signal for cabling can result in lost transmission or degraded transfers. To avoid this, network engineers generally opt for using shielded cabling. This can prove to be more expensive, significantly raising the price of cabling per foot.
CAT5 has very minimal shielding, which would denote the plastic sheathing over the cable pairs. If you’re running single lengths of cable to switches, this might not be an issue. However, if you’re running cabling to workstations from a router or switch, it can lead to a compromised network.
CAT5e has better overall shielding, providing a thicker plastic sheath that goes around the wire pairs. Wire pairs are further twisted, increasing strength at nearly triple the rate of CAT5. This means you’re looking at around six twists per inch as opposed to the recommended two or so inches for CAT5.
Both CAT5 and CAT5e are not long for this earth. If you’re in the profession of networks, you’ve probably already taken a closer look at upgrading your organization’s cabling to CAT6 or CAT7. Costs can be prohibitive, especially as every business operates on a budget.
CAT5e is the more future-proof choice overall, with the previously stated higher speeds. It won’t remain future-proof for very long, but it is a good stopgap measure for organizations looking to upgrade their cabling.
CAT5 cabling has all but been discontinued. You will have to scrounge and do quite a bit of searching just to find a suitable length for any serious use. CAT5e is readily available and still fits the same general standards for endpoint termination.
CAT5e is also backward compatible with CAT5 cabling, meaning you just need to swap out the cables to retain connectivity. There aren’t additional considerations you need to make. CAT5e is a temporary fix, but it has a few more years of life left than CAT5.
Costs and Installation
As it is exceedingly difficult to find CAT5 spools, you’re likely not going to be installing it anytime soon. CAT5e cabling can be found relatively easily still, being a lower-cost alternative to CAT6 and CAT7 cables.
You’ll be looking at around $0.25 to $0.33 per foot, which certainly places it in the more affordable range. Installation is fairly standard, you’ll be terminating endpoints with a T568b connector. All of the other details you’d expect of networking cabling remain the same.
All CAT5e cabling is going to work with Ethernet devices in a local area network. It uses a standard RJ45 connector, which is true of the CAT5 as well. If your organization can afford to upgrade CAT5 cabling to CAT5e, it definitely should.
It might take a week or two to fashion the cables to the required length, but it will make a marked improvement in overall performance when implemented. Hopefully, the next five or so years yields lower prices on CAT6 cabling.
CAT5 vs. CAT5e: 6 Must-Know Facts
- CAT5 is deprecated but still in common use with older network installations.
- CAT5 only supports maximum speeds of 100Mbps.
- CAT5 can utilize T568a or T568b endpoint terminations.
- CAT5e is an older standard but still perfectly functional.
- CAT5e is fully compatible with all devices wired for CAT5.
- CAT5e is deprecated but is lower cost than newer cabling standards.
CAT5 vs. CAT5e: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?
With network standards, newer is better. As such, the CAT5e cabling standard is the only recommended cabling you should be running. If feasible, it is heavily recommended to upgrade to CAT6 or CAT7 cabling. These are newer standards that support faster network transmission and benefit from advanced shielding.
For network engineers on a budget, CAT5e is perfectly adequate. You might run into issues if your organization is relying on a super fast fiber connection to deliver access to the extranet, but by and large, you’ll be fine with gigabit speeds for most uses.
As with adopting any network technology, you’ll need to perform audits to actually ascertain the needs of your network. CAT5e is a solid choice, and will at least be a great measure to implement before the world as a whole switches fully over to more recent cabling standards.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Eakrin Rasadonyindee/Shutterstock.com.