Ever wonder why some networks seem slow even when they are utilizing top of the line servers? The reduced speeds can sometimes be attributed to the use of inferior patch cords; like most things, a network is only as strong as its weakest part. Think of patch cords as the 'highway' for data going between the patch panel and the routers/switches, or an office PC to a RJ45 jack in the wall.
Common Patch Cords and What Goes Into Them
A patch cord can be manufactured in several different lengths and colors to fit the needs of the installer. Patch cords consist of two RJ45 modular plugs, one placed on each end of a stranded cable. Stranded cable is made up of four pairs of twisted wire, and is used for patch cables because of its ability to be bent without causing damage to the wire or interruption of data transfer. As their name implies, patch cords are used to "patch" the computer to a network by connecting to a NIC card, or linking network equipment together in data rooms.
How to Differentiate Between Cat5e and Cat6 Patch Cords
The major difference between Cat5e and Cat6 is the quality of performance they provide. Cat5e is typically used for networks using 100 Mbit/s or a gigabit network, with performance of up to 100 MHz. For networks that can handle up to 250 MHz, you would want to make use of Cat6 cabling, as it offers more than twice the performance of a Cat5e. Although Cat6 may be able to handle greater data loads than Cat5e, it's always best to use the proper patch cord to match the cabling in your building; it pays to find out what is already in use at your location before installing the network.
Are Cat5e and Cat6 Compatible?
You may be asking yourself 'What if my building is set up to use Cat5e but all I have are Cat6 patch cords? Am I still able to use them?' The answer to the question would be 'Yes, you can!" As stated before, it's preferential to match cable types; however, it is possible to mix and match Cat5e and Cat6 if necessary. If you're unsure of the wiring of the building, you may also want to go with Cat6. To ensure maximum performance, you will want to use the best components possible all throughout the network.
Is it Possible to Patch Computers in Close Quarters?
When patching two computers in the same area, a special patch cord called a crossover will be needed to make the connection. A Crossover patch cord uses reversed pins on either end to ensure the connection of the two computers, and enable them to share data. If you need to patch more than two computers, a switch and a standard patch cord for each computer will be necessary. A switch acts as a cross section of incoming data, and directs it to the proper computer.
What are Shielded Patch Cords and Why They Are Used?
In most cases, unshielded patch cords are used in networking, but if your surroundings have strong radio signal interference, a shielded network system and patch cords will most likely be required. Shielded patch cords have a metal inner jacket protecting the 4 pairs, and a metal jacket covering the RJ45 modular plugs. Shielded patch cords are for only specific applications and are not compatible with unshielded network equipment
Current Standards for CAT Patch Cords
- Cat 1: Wiring used in POTS telephone communications, ISDN and wiring for doorbells. Not recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat2: Was used on a 4 Mbit/s token ring networks. Not recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat3: Typically used on 10 Mbit/s Ethernet networks and can be used up to 16 MHz. Currently recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat4: Typically used on 16 Mbit/s token ring networks and can be used up to 20 MHz. Not recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat5: Typically used on 100 Mbit/s Ethernet networks and can be used up to 100 MHz; however, Cat5 is not suitable for 1000BASE-T gigabit Ethernet. Not recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat5e: Typically used on 100 Mbit/s Ethernet networks and gigabit Ethernet networks; can be used up to 100 MHz. Currently recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat6: Performs at more than double the MHz of Cat5 and Cat5e, going up to 250 MHz. Currently recognized by TIA/EIA
- Cat6a: Standard for future 10 Gbit/s applications.
- Cat7: Standard used to describe ISO/IEC 11801 Class F cabling. Cat7 is a protective shield covering 4 individually shielded pairs (STP) for transmission of frequencies of up to 600 MHz