After spending hours picking out parts, tightening cables, and making sure their case lights up as desired, gamers could be forgiven for forgetting about their ethernet cord. But does an ethernet cord really matter? The answer is yes.
It’s easy to forget about the ethernet cord. It’s not flashy, doesn’t have fancy LEDs, and hides behind the tangled mess of wires behind every computer. But it’s one of the most important parts of a PC build. And manufacturers haven’t made picking out an ethernet cord very easy, either. Searching “ethernet cord” on Amazon reveals over 6,000 options with vague names like “R93” and “Cat8,” so that’s not helpful either to a player who just wants to plug in the final wire and hop on Discord. But there are actually only a few things that players need to keep an eye out for when picking an ethernet cord.
Unlike some computer parts, ethernet cords are pretty easy to define. That’s thanks to the fact that they’re used in industries outside of PC builds and consoles. The actual categories define three things:
What kind of connector do they use? There are many different kinds, but consumers will be looking for the RJ45 consumer connector. Retail stores like Best Buy usually only stock cables with these connectors, but larger, specialty stores like MicroCenter may also sell others. Find an RJ45 connector and that’s it!
How fast can the ethernet cable transfer information between a modem or router and the device? These types are defined using terms such as “cat5,” “cat5,” or “cat7.” The most recent version of the ethernet cable is named “cat8.”
How much information can the cable transfer to and from the PC at the same time, otherwise known as bandwidth. This is usually shown in mhz.
Let’s start with the connector type. The RJ45 ethernet connector is exactly what people think of when they think of an ethernet cable. It looks like a bigger version of a telephone cable and makes that wonderful clicking noise when plugged in. Since these are the most common type of connector, users won’t have to worry about this part too much. The connector type is always well labeled on the packaging and on the actual cable itself.
Choosing between these cables can get a little confusing, but there’s a simple way to eliminate almost all of the options without getting into the technical details.
Does the cable say “cat3” or “cat5” on the packaging? Put it back. Both cat3 and cat5 are ancient compared to the newer, yet technically still old, types of cable. Those on a budget could be fine with a “cat5e” cable that can support transfer speeds of up to a gigabyte, but their slow bandwidth could limit what users can do at the same time.
Overall, players want to focus on “cat6” cables and above. Even though the international standard hasn’t been officially updated since 2008, the cat6 minimum specs include the ability to transfer 1 gigabyte of data per second at a bandwidth of at least 250 mhz. But users have to consider that the cat6 cables are not future proof, nor are they compatible with all new routers.
Thanks to the growing technology around internet speeds and delivery, it’s recommended to grab a cable rated at as a cat7 or above. These cables boast transfer rates of 10,000 megabytes per second, meaning that if users have the right equipment, their cables can handle downloading 10 gigabytes of data per second, speeds that are already an option in some areas. They’ll also likely support any speed increase that might occur moving forward, giving them lasting power over their cat6 cousins.
In short, yes. Especially with many users today doing multiple things at the same time. Here’s a quick way to explain bandwidth, since it’s actually a fairly important term that is rarely talked about. Imagine an ethernet cable as a road. The road’s speed limit is the max transmission speed. So a cable with a max transmission speed of 1 gigabyte has a speed limit of 1 gigabyte. That’s fast, but a maximum speed doesn’t matter if heavy traffic blocks the cars on the road from reaching that speed.
Here’s a quick chart courtesy of ElectronicsNotes that compares the different types of ethernet cables, their speeds, and their bandwidth.
That’s where bandwidth comes in. If transfer speed is the road’s speed limit, then bandwidth is the number of lanes on the road for traffic to use. High transfer speeds combined with high bandwidth is a super highway and allows information to travel quickly and simultaneously to wherever it’s going. On the other hand, slow transfer speeds and narrow bandwidth are a one-lane road with a lower speed limit.
In other words, the more things a user does using their internet connection at once, the more their bandwidth matters. If players are watching a video, downloading a game, and are playing a different game all at the same time, they’re going to want the extra bandwidth. Players looking to future proof their setup might decide to go with even the higher-specced cat8 cable, but until fiber internet becomes more widespread, their price won’t translate into performance for consumers.