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Thinking of setting up your own home network? You may have even bought the router, modems, and cables. Finally, you go online to buy connectors to go with those wires, and you realize that there are two different types: Cat 5 and Cat 6.
While you would want to future-proofed your network by using Cat 6 cables, you can’t help but consider buying Cat 5 connectors as they are relatively cheaper. They connect to the same ports and physically look alike, so you might be thinking: why not save money and get the Cat 5 connectors?
Well, before you make the final call, read why manufacturers charge more for Cat 6 connectors and why there are important differences between the two, even if they look alike from the outside.
Cat 5 vs Cat 6 Connectors
Cat 5 and Cat 6: Differences
Cat 6 is, as the name suggests, an iterative improvement over the Cat 5 standard. It has to adhere to more technical specifications, such as having thicker copper twisted wires, thicker insulation, and minimum separation requirements.
So whilst the connectors might look the same from a passing glance, they do have some intricate and minute differences among them. Mentioned below are the differences.
Cat 6 is the same as Cat 5 but with more stringent conformity to standards. Cat 6 is required to have a minimum distance between the twisted pairs, a set wire insulation thickness, and minimum transfer speed requirements. Cat 6 connectors are designed with these requirements in mind.
This is why they are more expensive than Cat 5 connectors. Manufacturers must conduct tests and quality assurances before labeling their connectors as Cat 6. This ramps up the cost. Meanwhile, Cat 5 have a tolerance range in terms of their final quality.
Cat 5, on the other hand, has no standard to which it must conform. While separation is still necessary, it is up to the person terminating the wires to ensure they are separated.
Some manufacturers add a ‘guiding’ piece to the connectors to make sure each wire is separated, but the chances of failure of that system are quite high after installation.
Cat 6 twisted wires are thicker, but the connector size is the same as Cat 5. This is made possible by having a zig-zag pattern to lay down the wires in the connector. Doing so allows the thicker wire to station in the connector easily and maintains the separation distance.
On the other hand, Cat 5 connectors lay down the wires in a linear fashion, with the aforementioned guiding pieces among them to maintain distance.
The advantage of separating the twisted pair wires, both in the cable and the connector, is that it prevents ‘cross talk’. Cross talk is really just “leakage”. The same ability of ours to send a tone down a wire and listen to it through induction is the effect of one wire leaking its signal into another wire adjacent to it.
Due to this, receiving equipment would need to ask for retransmissions of data due to data corruption. To maintain speeds of up to ten gigabits per second, this becomes a bottleneck in the system.
The Cat 6 standard of separation distance in the connector and wire thickness mitigates this problem by eliminating or at least minimizing any sort of ‘cross talk’ through wire separation. Cat 5 can have some degree of ‘cross talk’, which is why different Cat 5 cables might deliver you different transfer speeds.
On top of reduced ‘cross talk’, data is sent at a 150% faster rate on Cat 6 compared to Cat 5. 250Mhz for CAT6 as opposed to 100Mhz for CAT5. To make that possible, you need thicker copper wires as those have reduced resistance and thus can transmit at a higher frequency.
So, manufacturers use a thicker gauge for Cat 6 cables than they do for Cat 5. Again it is a stricter adherence to standards for Cat 6. Technically, Cat 5 can also use thicker cables, but there is no check and balance or any standard set for it to be that way. Meanwhile, Cat 6 has to have thicker wires for it to be labeled Cat 6.
Cat5 and Cat6 have different AWG (American Wire Gauge) specs. AWG is a standard for measuring wire size. While they can overlap in size, their specs allow different ranges. Cat 5 tolerates 24-26 AWG, while Cat 6 tolerates 22-24 AWG.
Therefore Cat 6 connectors are slightly larger to accommodate the thicker wires. Because of the wire size range overlap, sometimes the two connectors can work with each other but be on the safe side; the specified connector should be used for either Cat 5 or Cat 6 wire.
Another difference is that the conductors in CAT5 RJ45 ends are generally not strong enough to pierce the thicker insulation and the thicker wire in CAT6 cables. So you won’t get a quality connection even if you can physically fit the cables.
As discussed previously, Cat 6 cables have thicker twisted pair wires and thicker insulation walls as well. Due to these reasons, when you use a Cat 5 connector with a Cat 6 cable, the conductor tips within the connector might not be long enough to get through the thicker insulation and get a good connection with the wire.
To keep it simple, if you have Cat 5 cables use Cat 5 connectors otherwise, for Cat 6 cables, use Cat 6. There is no reason to mix and match their connectors to save a few bucks, especially when these are parts that won’t be needing a replacement for a long time.
To sum it all up, here is a table depicting all the differences between the two connectors:
|Qualities||Cat 5||Cat 6|
|Standards||Lax conformity to standards||Strict conformity to standards|
|Wire Pattern||Zig zag wire pattern||Linear wire pattern|
|Cross Talk||Possibility of ‘cross talk’||Elimination of ‘cross talk’|
|Connector Size||Smaller than Cat 6 connectors, accommodate thinner wires||Slightly larger to accommodate the thicker wires in Cat 6 standard|
|Conductor Length||Shorter in length as have to pierce thinner insulator.||Longer in length to pierce thicker insulating material|
To sum it all up, Cat 5 and Cat 6 have a lot of differences when it comes to cable standards and quality. These differences also have an effect on how the connectors are designed. Thus if you want to take full advantage of Cat 6 wires, then you should pair them with the same standard connectors as well.