A few years ago, we bought our house. This was my first house that I owned instead of rented. I was super excited to run patch cables through the walls, set up a networks switch and patch panel, and have keystone jacks strategically placed throughout the house. It was a silly engineering fantasy to have a garden of cables growing in a closet somewhere.
I dug in and did my research on what I should get and what I should buy for everything. I counted rooms and did a bulk order on Monoprice for RJ45 connectors. I did found an excellent crimper and stripper in a pack on Amazon. I invested in ENT tubing (a.k.a. "Smurf" tubing, because of how blue it is) and spent my first weekend in the house running it behind all the drywall. I then got to looking at cable. I chose Cat5e.
Now mind you, Cat5e was not an arbitrary choice. There were several factors which ultimately settled me on this choice. I still get flack from friends and colleagues for this choice, but I'm still happy with it and here's why:
- Cost: I initially saw how much more Cat6/6a cost than Cat5e. Cat7 was barely tickling the market when I started on this journey so I left it off my list. Generally speaking, the best prices I found at the time showed Cat6 costing about 50% more than Cat5e when buying spools. Since this was the biggest purchase across everything, and I was trying to be a responsible homeowner, I decided to interrogate and justify the added expense of higher quality cable.
- Speed: Cat5e is rated to cap out at 1GbE whereas Cat6 and "better" cables are rated for 10GbE. Even now, years after my installation, my ISP isn't capable of providing 1GbE to my house, so higher quality cables provide no benefit there. Source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/differences-between-ethernet-cables/
- Signal Quality: 1GbE, or officially 1000BASE-T, sets the standard for signal degradation at 100m. The longest run in my house is under 15m. If I were running to a property across the street, I might consider something higher quality. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gigabit_Ethernet#1000BASE-T ... Similarly, the next biggest expense in my install was the switch, and 10GbE switches were similarly more expensive than 1GbE switches as well.
- Ease of Installation: Cat6 cables have a plastic divider down the length of the cable. Cat6a got rid of this divider, but increased the wire gauge. Both are far less pliable than Cat5e and the divider makes crimping a major pain.
Considering all this, I chose to adopt Cat5e. I decided that for now I did not want to invest the extra coin into the higher standard. It ultimately wasn't worth it for me until they could run faster than 1GbE to my premises. If I were serving production traffic from my home and needed rapid synchronization of cache across racks, then sure, but I have a single server in my closet and a couple raspberry pi devices.
If for some reason I have the motivation to replace my cables, then I'm all set with my smurf tubes. 3/4" was sufficient to support redundant cables, so each drop has two runs. I hardwired my wife's desktop, a few entertainment devices (e.g., the Roku), and the "docking station" (series of dongles) for my workstation. The bulk of network traffic in my house now happens over hard wires instead of wireless, and all the cables are buried behind the drywall.
I decided to write this because of two reasons:
- The recently discovered flaw in WPA2 (https://www.wired.com/story/krack-wi-fi-wpa2-vulnerability/) is yet another example that wired is inherently more secure. Broadcasting everything you're doing is far less safe than sending signals down a wire.
- Every time I write down Cat5e, there's someone who jumps up and says "Why not Cat6/6a/7 or fiber?" So now I can copy-paste a link to this write-up and have a canned response.