Ethernet is a protocol that describes how information travels through a cable. Ethernet cables are simply wires that comply with Ethernet protocols. These cables are made of copper or optical fiber. Patch cables are simply ethernet cables which have connectors at both ends. So, when comparing Ethernet cables vs. patch cables, what’s the difference? In addition to having connectors at both ends, patch cables are usually much shorter than standard Ethernet cables. Large networks with many devices, switches, routers, and “patch panels” use both long ethernet cables and shorter patch cables. Patch panels are a sort of network switchboard, with lots of ports for connecting devices to a network. These panels make it much easier to switch out or reconfigure certain devices without disturbing others. The short cords that connect devices to a network through a patch panel in a stack or network closet are called “patch cables.”
Patch cables are compatible with the type or category of ethernet cables over which the network runs. This is because even though the cat6 ethernet cable is backward compatible with the cat5, the cat6 has greater bandwidth and is capable of transmitting data at higher speeds than the cat5. If a cat5 patch cable connects devices that run over a cat6 network, things might start to slow down.
Most patch cables are known as “straight through” or “pass through” cables that send signals directly from a device to a switch, router, or panel. A specialized type of patch cable is the “crossover” cable. These cables reverse the direction of sending and receiving data on one of the connectors. Ordinary ethernet patch cables connect two different types of devices, like a router to a computer or a modem to a router. However, when connecting two of the same kind of devices, like a computer to a computer, a crossover cable is necessary to allow the machines to simultaneously send and receive signals between each other. If the wiring within the cable didn’t “cross over,” or connect to different pins on one end, the signals would be trying to go in two different directions over the same wire and the signal would get nowhere.
It’s rare for a home user to need a crossover patch cable. A much more common use of patch cable is to connect a computer or laptop to a wired network through a wall jack, or a computer to a switch or router. Data centers or large structured cabling systems within large buildings or over several buildings may buy ethernet cables in bulk, running them hundreds of feet within walls or above ceilings, where they may terminate in a patch panel which then employs much shorter patch cables to connect devices.
If you need answers about regular ethernet vs. patch cables, contact Cables.com and we’ll be happy to find the cables that fit your needs.