How To Shop for Network Cables

Even with the popularity of wireless networking, wired local area networks (LANs) have several advantages. First, they tend to be more secure, since computers have to be physically connected through cables. Second, they are potentially faster, especially if you use Gigabit Ethernet. Third, there are less potential compatibility issues.

When you buy a router or network switch, most of the time, this would already come with one or two Ethernet cables, which are intended to connect the router to the broadband modem. However, these are oftentimes just about one meter in length. This might prove to be problematic if your modem is situated far from where the router will be. You might also face several other situations in which you would need to buy network cables, such as when you are networking your home or office with wired Ethernet.

If you’re setting up a wired network at home, school or office, you have several options. Here are a few tips in shopping for network cables.

Ready made. Most computer shops carry cables and adaptors of different kinds. Ethernet LAN cables are one of these. Ready made LAN cables are already crimped with RJ-45 jacks at the ends, and usually come in lengths between one and five meters. This off-the-rack solution would be ideal if you are just connecting devices on your desk, or across a small distance.

However, when you need to connect computers across rooms or walls, then this might be inadequate. For this purpose, you would need to ask for assistance in cutting a length of cable to your specifications.

Choose the right cable. LAN cables, by standard, are unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cables that either come in Category 5 or Category 6 classification. CAT-5 cables are used in standard 10/100 Megabits per second networks, while you would need CAT-6 cables if you want to support Gigabit Ethernet, which can reach up to 1 Gigabit per second. Depending on whether your network card and network router supports Gigabit Ethernet, you might want to choose CAT-6 to support higher transfer speeds.

Practically speaking, though, even the fastest broadband Internet connection does not reach these speeds, and Gigabit Ethernet is often only useful for transferring large amounts of data within one’s own network.

Define the length. If you need a custom length other than the off-the-rack 1, 3 or 5 meter cable, you can ask a technician or salesman to assist you with cutting LAN cable to your desired length. This is often charged on a per foot or per meter basis. While it might be a bit more expensive to buy longer cables, be sure to have adequate allowance, so you don’t run short. Also, don’t purchase cable that’s overly longer than necessary, because performance often degrades as the cable length increases.

Have the ends crimped. Lastly, you should ask the sales person to have the ends of the cable crimped with RJ-45 jacks. Be sure that you define where you will be using the cable. Will you be running a network with a hub or router? Or will you be directly connecting two computers. If you will be using a router, then a one-to-one correspondence of the twisted pair wires will do. If you are directly connecting two computers, then you will need a “cross over” connection.

RJ-45 jacks are often priced separately from the cable itself. You will need to buy two of these, one to go on each end. If you are unsure, you can buy an extra few pairs, in case you need to make adjustments or repairs later on.

Purchasing a network cable can be a straightforward affair if you only need a certain ready-made length. However, if you need a custom length, then you would have to define this, and how you will be connecting networked computers.


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