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Cat 5 Cable – How to Test the Quality
If you have been involved in the construction of a new home, office, church or any other type of building in the last five years, you have probably noticed that one of the basic elements is the network cable or Cat 5 cable. Even if a resident does not plan to use a network in their home, this is an easy and inexpensive way to “future-proof” any building.
What is Category 5?
Cat 5, commonly known as a network cable, is basically the cable that makes it easy to network multiple computers or ensures that all the computers in your house can access the Internet. Wi-Fi may be more convenient initially, but the speed is never quite as fast as good old-fashioned wires and that introduces a host of security issues (imagine your neighbor intercepting your credit card number credit while you make an online purchase).
Cat 5 is so common that it is now available in 1000′ bulk spools. That sounds like a lot, but consider that even if you have a small house, you’ll be going through and around walls and corners. Bulk cable pricing is also very good – the one thing to keep in mind, however, is that you will be responsible for terminating the cable. It’s not as hard as it looks and a good crimping tool isn’t expensive at all (make sure you buy some heads too).
The most expensive ingredient in any network cable is copper – when copper prices rise, cables naturally become more expensive. While manufacturers have to adapt quickly to these price shocks (they typically buy their copper on the spot market), consumers are not as flexible. Imagine walking into a store and seeing a price that is double what you saw at the same store last week. What manufacturers are doing instead, to avoid consumer sticker shock, is using less copper and discarding other metals, resulting in a copper-clad aluminum alloy, also known as the name of CCA.
Be careful when you hear the term “CCA” that you don’t just throw it all in one bucket. There are good CCA cables that rival bare copper cables and there are bad ones that have so little copper that they simply cannot perform basic networking tasks. Here are some ways to tell a good CCA cable from a bad one:
- Tie a knot in the cable – continue working in a loop. If it breaks within the first 15 loops, it’s a bad cable.
- Strip the cable sheath. Take a knife and cut the copper – if in one stroke the cable becomes aluminum in color, it is too thin. It takes 2 or 3 strokes to get to the aluminum core with a good cable.
- Weigh the cable – a decent CCA weighs at least 15 pounds for a 1000′ reel – if it’s less than that it doesn’t have enough copper to be a good cable.
- Do a speed and distance test – try connecting two computers more than 500 feet from the cable and see if it works – bad things won’t, good things will. (Note that you will either need to reverse the termination to make the cable a crossover, or use a hub between the computers).
Another thing to watch out for with cheap Cat 5 cable is the quality of the jacket – when you bend the cable if the jacket splits you have a poor quality cable. This is at best a bad cable, at worst a serious imminent fire hazard.
Don’t take any chances with the wires you run around your home – make sure that when you select Cat 5 cable, you get something that will get the job done at a reasonable price with safety in mind. Always remember to test a cable before installing it behind a wall – getting it out may be difficult or impossible depending on your setup.
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