Cat 5 and Cat 6 wires (more properly referred to as cables) look alike and both use copper wiring to connect Ethernet devices, but Cat 6's interior shielding gives it superior performance with less interference.
Ethernet Cable Categories
The Petri IT Knowledgebase lists several categories for Ethernet cables, ranging from Cat 3, the slowest current standard in 2009, to Cat 7, also known as Class F.
According to CableOrganizer.com, Cat 5 cable comes in solid or stranded forms, with the solid form more effective over long distances. Its maximum bandwidth of 100 Megahertz makes it ideal for standard Ethernet speeds.
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While Cat 6 consists of four pairs of twisted copper wire just like Cat 5 cable, it can handle twice the bandwidth. Cat 6 contains an extra component that prevents crosstalk between the pairs of wire. The resulting performance boost allows Cat 6 to handle up to 250 Megahertz.
Reason for Difference
CableOrganizer.com explains that Cat 6 contains an extra component that prevents crosstalk between the pairs of wire. The resulting performance boost allows Cat 6 to handle up to 250 Megahertz.
CableOrganizer.com points out that Cat 6's compatability with existing Cat 5 installations makes it both backward-compatable and future-proof, making it the wiser choice for new installations.