Whether you have a super-powered gaming PC, a high-end console, or a laptop restricted by onboard graphics, nothing stops you from competing in online games with friends and rivals the world over. You do need to be able to get online though, and whether you're a casual or competitive gamer, nobody likes their connection interrupted mid-game. That's where Ethernet cables can really make a difference, and the best Ethernet cable even more so.
While Wi-Fi is perfectly fine for most gaming, especially some of the latest Wi-Fi 6 and 6E connection options, it does have its flaws. Walls, furniture, distance from the router, and how busy the channels are, can all affect the quality of your connection, and in a latency-sensitive scenario like gaming, that can have a detrimental effect on your experience. With Ethernet cables, you don't have that problem, but not all Ethernet cables are created equally.
The best Ethernet cables for gaming make sure that your connection is fast, and protected. That means adequate shielding, as well as high bandwidth. You can run them through walls, under carpets, or through cable management systems to make them neat and tidy, and even hide them from view entirely, too.
You need to make sure you get the right kind of Ethernet cable, however. Older cables won’t provide enough bandwidth to ensure your gaming latency isn’t affected, and they lack the kind of shielding to protect the integrity of your gaming signal.
Here’s everything you need to know about picking the right Ethernet cable for you.
The best Ethernet Cable for Gaming
Ethernet cables come in a variety of different lengths, shapes, and types. But while flat or rounded cables are an important choice when it comes to routing them through your home, the most important consideration to make is the cable category. That's the name and standard of cable that's most often used to describe them on sites like Cable Matters. Cat 5e, Cat6, Cat6A, and even Cat8, are all types of Ethernet cable worth considering.
But which are the best Ethernet cables for gaming? Some are overkill. A Cat8 cable is designed for professional scenarios and data centers, so it is beyond what is really needed for gaming. Cat7 cables are typically no better than the Cat6a cables and don't use the kind of header connections that are easily found on most gaming PCs and consoles. Read more about what's Cat7 and why you don't need Cat7 cables.
The real debate to be had when it comes to the best Ethernet cables for gaming is Cat5e vs Cat6. And maybe Cat6A if you also do a lot of heavy data transfers.
Cat5e vs Cat6, which is best for gaming?
Although Cat5e and Cat6 are both good choices for gaming over Ethernet connections, Cat6 cables are often the preferred type. This isn’t necessarily because of speed, however since 1000Mbps is fine for most gamers. Cat6 cables are better at handling interference than Cat5e cables. They have to adhere to stricter standards when constructed, and though the methods for achieving those standards vary among manufacturers and individual cables, Cat6 Ethernet cables are almost always better protected against crosstalk and external noise than even the best Cat5e.
Whereas Cat5e only has tightly twisted pairs to help reduce crosstalk/ interference, Cat6 cables often employ what's known as a "spline," which is a separator within the cable itself to divide the individual copper wires of the twisted pair. That makes crosstalk between the wires far less likely, improving the signal quality of the cable even more and making for a more stable and accurate connection.
Cable Matters Cat6 Cables
Other Cat6 cables achieve greater crosstalk protection through a tighter twisting of the wires within them, while others employ shielding on individual wires. These cables will be sold with different acronyms to help differentiate them. "S" for shielded, "F" for foil wrapping (for additional noise protection), and "U" for unshielded.
More advanced cables, or those rated with the greatest shielding, can employ multiple layers of protection, including wrapping the individual wires in foil and protecting all twisted pairs with a metallic braid which can provide additional rigidity for the cable. That also improves its overall durability and makes it less susceptible to damage during installation.
Cat6 cables also enjoy a greater bandwidth than Cat5e (10Gbps vs. 1Gbps) at cable lengths up to 55 meters, which is more than enough distance for most homes. That is more than most will need, especially if just gaming, but the option is there. Cat6 cables can also operate up to 100 meters but at the more restrictive 1Gbps speeds of Cat5e. If you need to run at 10 Gbps above 55 meters, then a Cat6a’s extra shielding will allow that to happen up to 100 meters.
That said, traditional gaming doesn’t demand much when it comes to bandwidth, with most games only really needing an internet connection of just a few megabits per second to remain responsive. Almost all Ethernet cables regardless of a category can provide that. Where you do need to consider higher bandwidth cables and connections, however, is game streaming. If you’re looking to use a service like GeForce Now, Amazon Luna, or Xbox Game Pass, a higher bandwidth connection and a higher bandwidth Ethernet cable, would be a good idea.
If alongside gaming, you perform large file transfers across your network on a regular basis and your networking hardware like your router and/or switch can support up to 10Gbps Ethernet, then using Cat6 cables is a great idea.
Can you use Cat5 cables for gaming?
Cat 5 cables aren't the same as Cat5e, even if their names are very close to one another. Cat5 is the older standard and because of that its features and performance are significantly worse. Although it theoretically can support Gigabit Ethernet, this is only at very short distances. As such, it is traditionally advertised to only support 100Mbps Ethernet connections, rather than the Gigabit connection of Cat5e (or the 10Gbps of Cat6).
But raw performance doesn't matter too much for gaming, as most titles don't use anywhere near the kind of bandwidth that could stress even Cat5 Ethernet cables. What does, is shielding and the quality of the connection. Where Cat5e and Cat6 handle crosstalk and interference quite well most Cat5 cables are unshielded, which makes them more vulnerable to cross-talk and noise from other devices contaminating the signal and degrading its quality. In theory, that could lead to you missing your next headshot.
With so little cost savings to be made by opting for Cat5 over newer standards, the best Ethernet cables for gaming are Cat5e and Cat6. Luckily, Cat5 cables are hard to even find these days. Between Cat5e and Cat6, it is a tossup but go with Cat6 if you’re looking to future-proof your network for significant upgrades down the road.
Which Cat6 Ethernet Cables Should I Buy?
With Cat6 cables being the best choice for gaming, it’s important to purchase your cables from a trusted source. Cable Matters carries Cat6 cables in many lengths, styles, and colors for every need. Whichever cable you pick, you can rest assured that the cables are high quality, with gold-plated connectors to ward off corrosion and improve signal integrity, shielded twisted pair wiring, and a Snagless design which makes unplugging easier.