The introduction of Ethernet was a major step forward in the advancement of computer networking. Today, an Ethernet port is a standard feature on virtually all desktop computers and laptops. Ethernet cords, hubs, and switches are used to create small networks of computers in many homes and workplaces. The cords are specially made to handle high speed data without loss of signal. Knowing how to identify the various cord types is a useful skill for any computer user.
A local area network (LAN) is the most common way of connecting together a small number of computers. It is useful for sharing information between computers that are close to each other, and for connecting many computers to one device, such as a server or printer. Ethernet is by far the most common networking standard used, with virtually all networking devices having at least one Ethernet port. Wireless networking is becoming more popular every day but Ethernet will still be needed well into the future.
Ethernet was developed at Xerox in the 1970′s and went on to replaced most of the networking standards that were in use at the time. It has evolved from a slow system that used thick coaxial cables to a very fast system that uses thin Ethernet cords. These are most commonly made from twisted pairs of wires but can also be made from optical fiber. Originally, computers needed a special networking card to use Ethernet but that capability is now built into almost all computer made today.
The majority of Ethernet cords contain several twisted pairs of wires inside a plastic outer cover. By twisting two insulated copper wires together, most of the interference between them is canceled out, so there is less signal noise than if the wires were placed side by side. The cords have one registered jack (RJ) plug at each end. These are similar to the plugs used for phone cables but have more pins. Optical fiber Ethernet cords are mostly used for large capacity network backbones and are not commonly used for smaller networks.
Twisted-pair Ethernet cords are either patch or crossover cords. The most common type is the patch cord, used for connecting a computer to a hub or switch. The other type is the crossover cord, used for directly connecting two computers together. Both types look very similar on the outside, making it difficult to tell them apart. The difference lies in the way the wires are connected to the plugs. A comparison of the plugs at both ends will show what type it is. A patch cord can be used in place of a crossover cord if it has an Ethernet crossover adapter connected to one end.
As the Ethernet standard evolved over the years, the types of cord used with it also changed. In order for an Ethernet network to operated at its maximum speed, the Ethernet cords also need to operate at that speed. Currently, the most widely used Ethernet version is Category 5, known as Cat5 for short. When buying Ethernet cords, check that they have Category 5, Fast Ethernet, or Gigabit Ethernet on the label. The maximum length of a Category 5 cord is 328 feet (100 meters) because problems begin to occur with cords that are longer than that.
Learning how to make Ethernet cords is an essential skill for anyone who installs and manages computer networks. While the cords are inexpensive and can be bought at most stores, they tend to be either very short or very long. Short cords can be chained together with Ethernet adapters but having a single unbroken cord is better. To avoid having lots of excess cord lying about, long cords can be cut to length and a new plug attached to the end. Special crimping tools are available that can do this job in seconds.