Ethernet CableComputer cables can be highly confusing, but they don’t have to be.  If computer makers have done any thing correctly, they’ve made sure the different styles of cables have very different connectors so you can quickly identify them just by shape.

Take this cable to the right.  It does look a bit like a telephone line, but if you saw it in comparison, you would see it is quite obviously broader.  We’re starting a series about cables with this one because it is probably one of the most misunderstood cables.

This one goes by many names, but the three most common are “RJ45″, “Cat 5″ and the most popular, “Ethernet”.  If you aren’t connecting your computer via Wi-Fi network, than more than likely you are using one of these cables.

Ethernet cables are almost always “Category 5″ (hence the “Cat 5″ name), meaning they run at 100 MHz and are used for 100 Mbit networks.  In plain English, this means they are perfect for transmission of data over a home network, and most other networks to be quite honest.  You will usually find  the connection on the back of desktop computers, and on laptops they usually are on the sides, but sometimes can be found on the back.

As with most cabling, the price will vary depending on the length you purchase, but do keep in mind that it is not recommended to go past 100 feet; the longer the cable, the weaker the signal, and the more it degrades.  For people who travel extensively, I always recommend carrying a 25 foot cable in their computer bag as that should allow you to wander around a hotel room pretty well.  While you’re at home, or in your office, I always suggest 14 feet or shorter just for the strongest signal, though I do run some 50 foot ones so I can run cables through different floors of the house and have seen no discernible loss of quality.

A lot of people ask me why you should use a cable over Wi-Fi, and the thing is while it ties you down physically, it is a faster connection, and more reliable.  Wi-Fi can be affected by things such as weather, physical obstacles and any other number of circumstances, but the cable just chugs along.  Being connected by a cable may be “old school” but I see no reason to mess with success when you don’t have to.

What other cables do you wonder about?

Categories: General Computing Tips, What Is   

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