Cat 8, the next generation of Ethernet cables, is on the way, but for now, Cat 7a (Cat 7 "augmented") is the best Ethernet cable available. The Cat 7a cable, like the Cat 6a and Cat 7 cables, provides speeds of up to 10,000 Mbps, but the maximum bandwidth is substantially greater at 1,000 MHz. A cable with this designation can handle up to 100 meters without a repeater, whereas regular Cat 7 can only run 60 meters without an amplifier.
Ethernet's ability to connect many computers together in a network makes it popular for computer labs, so speed is very important. Cat 7a cables are optimal for connecting servers and workstations directly together because they provide fast enough data rates for most applications while being affordable. Regular Cat 6 cables are sufficient for most personal computers due to their higher bandwidth capabilities but they can handle only 30 meters without an amplifier. Cat 5 cables are even slower than Cat 6 cables and are suitable for shorter distances only.
There are three different types of cabling used with Ethernet: twisted pair, fiber-optic, and wireless. All versions of Ethernet use twisted pair cabling as its physical layer, which means that each wire in the cable carries one bit of data. The number of wires in the cable determines how fast it is. For example, a standard CAT 5e cable has eight wires; a CAT 6 cable has four pairs of wires; and a CAT 7 cable has two pairs of fibers.
While some Cat5 connections can theoretically achieve gigabit speeds, the little cost of switching to the more dependable Cat5e or Cat6 cables is certainly worth it. In practice, your actual Ethernet speed is determined by a variety of factors, and you may never reach gigabit rates regardless of the gear and connections you use. The speed at which data is transmitted over a network connection is called throughput. There are two ways to increase throughput: by increasing the speed at which data is transmitted over the connection, or by increasing the number of bits that can be transmitted per second. A faster transmission speed uses digital technology to send one bit at a time over a wire; slower speeds such as those used with traditional phone lines use analog signals. Digital connections are preferred because they do not delay or distort transmissions.
As for the quality of the cable itself, there are several factors that determine how well it will transmit data. If you're connecting two devices that were manufactured by the same company, then you can trust that they will be on a compatible network protocol, so they should have equal abilities to transmit data. If the manufacturers differ, then consider the type of cable that was used in constructing the network. Coaxial cables, which are usually made from aluminum or steel wires wrapped around a core, provide better bandwidth than regular twisted-pair cables. As for the material it's made from, gold and silver tend to conduct electricity better than copper, so these materials are often used when designing network connections.
Ethernet data delivery is quick and getting faster all the time. IEEE 802.3bz Ethernet standards are currently 2.5 Gbps for 2.5GASE-T and 5 Gbps for 5GBASE-T. It won't be long until normal speeds on a Cat6 cable reach 10 Gbps. Cat5e is capable of rates of up to 1 Gbps. Older versions of Ethernet were only rated at 100 Mbps but today's cables and equipment are able to handle much higher rates.
An Ethernet cable can carry data as fast as its fastest link. For example, if one end of the cable is connected to a device using a 500 Mbps connection and the other end to another device with a 1000 Mbps connection, then the cable can transmit data at 500 Mbps. However, since there are two different types of connections, one between the cable and each device, it is important to use cables with identical speeds or else data will be lost during transmission.
Cables are measured by their speed in bits per second (bps) and their distance by their size category. There are seven size categories from which to choose when purchasing cables. The choice of size category depends on how far you plan to run the cable from your router/switch to various ports on your computer devices.
The most common sizes of cable are CAT5 and CAT6. These come in five and six pairs respectively. A pair of wires carries one signal so three pairs make up a single transmission line. A cable is called a bundle unless it is listed as individual lines.