Wi-Fi is amazingly handy because it gives you a network connection without wires. But if you're looking for the best speed, performance and reliability then wired is the way to go - if your device has an Ethernet port, that is.

Regardless of whether you call them Ethernet cables or network cables, it isn't as simple as grabbing the first one you see and hoping for the best. Not all Ethernet wires are created equal, and to make sure you’re getting the best speed, you need to make sure you buy the right ones. That’s where we come in.

And if you're looking speed up your whole network, remember you could see massive gains by upgrading your router - check out our router reviews to see what we recommend.

Ethernet cable buying advice

There are basically three main factors to consider when buying an ethernet cable: category, length, and style.

Category

This is the most important thing to consider, as different ethernet categories can carry wildly varying speeds and levels of interference. The options you’re mostly likely to see are Cat5e (the ‘e’ stands for enhanced), Cat6 and Cat7.

As you might have guessed, higher numbers tend to mean faster speeds. Cat5e is rated for 1Gbps and bandwidths of 100MHz, Cat6 offers up to 10Gbps at up to 250MHz bandwidth, and Cat7 can go as high as 100Gbps with bandwidths up to 600MHz.

The other major difference is that Cat7 cables are always shielded, which helps reduce interference and crosstalk. Cat6 cables are sometimes shielded, though retailers often aren’t clear when they are and aren’t, and Cat5e cables never have shielding.

Since most ethernet cables are fairly cheap, there’s an argument for buying Cat7 cables - especially for shorter (and thus cheaper) cables. However, most users won’t see any real speed benefits from Cat7, so Cat6 is probably the sweet spot for most - unless you want to be certain you’re future-proofing your cabling.

Length

Alongside category, length is the next most important element of an ethernet cable. Partly that’s obviously just a question of how far you need the cable to reach, but it also relates to speed and performance.

Speeds can drop off over longer distances, especially with the more modern cables - for example, that Cat7 speed of 100Gbps is only up to a range of 15m, while a Cat5e maintains its highest speed for up to 100m.

Still, the average consumer isn’t likely to be cabling anything anywhere 100m, and even 15m is probably longer than many people will need for their homes, so we wouldn’t worry about this too much - just try to avoid buying a 50m cable when you only need it to stretch across one room.

Style

Finally, one small thing: many ethernet cables are available in a flat design. This may bump up the price ever so slightly, but could be well worth it if you expect to thread the cable under any doors or lay it under a rug or carpet. You’ll thank us later.

Outdoor ethernet cable with faceplates

Outdoor Ethernet cable

The advice above applies mainly to cables for indoor use. However, if you're going to run cables externally, it's not a great idea to buy standard indoor Cat5, 6 or 7.

Outdoor cable should have a PE coating which won't degrade and turn brittle as standard PVC coatings will. Also, outdoor Ethernet cables have solid copper wires, not the multi-strand wires that indoor cables have. 

This means outdoor network cabling isn't as flexible, but it's designed to be tougher and for those solid cores to be installed into Ethernet faceplates. And it's a good idea to use faceplates instead of just attaching RJ-45 connectors to the ends. Faceplates are inexpensive and lend a much more professional finish.

Outdoor ethernet cable with faceplates

If you're going to run the cable in the ground, then you'll need 'direct burial' cable which is designed to withstand moisture. It's also possible to buy shielded outdoor Ethernet cable which prevents interference. 

Outdoor cable generally comes on reels from 20m up to 305m, and you'll need a special 'push-down' tool to push the wires into the connectors on the faceplates. When choosing, watch out for cheaper 'CCA' cable - copper-coated aluminium. This will not carry power, so is no use for conntecting CCTV or PoE (power-over-ethernet) devices.

In the UK, Kenable is one of the best places to buy outdoor cabling, along with faceplates and any tools you might need. 

Best Ethernet Cables

AmazonBasics Cat6 Cable - Best overall

AmazonBasics Cat6 Cable

Don't want to shell out for Cat7? Then go for AmazonBasics' Cat6 cable, which should be fast enough for most people's needs.

It is available in lengths ranging from 0.9m/3ft all the way up to 15m/50ft. You can even buy some of the sizes in multipacks, perfect if you know you have a few different things to network together.

AmazonBasics Cat7 Cable - Best for speed on a budget

AmazonBasics Cat7 Cable

We're big proponents of the AmazonBasics range for simple tech accessories and peripherals, and it's no different with ethernet cables.

This is a pretty standard Cat7 cable, so it'll be plenty fast, and you can grab it in lengths ranging from 0.9m/3ft all the way up to 9.1m/30ft.

Veetop Flat Cat7 Cable - Best high-speed option with length diversity

Veetop Cat7 Flat Cable

These cables from Veetop have a few things going for them. For one, they're Cat7, which means they offer about the fastest speeds you can get from ethernet.

They're also flat, so ideal for wiring through the house, and they come in varying lengths including a very short 0.5m/1.6ft option.

There's also a white option which is perfect for running along the top of your skirting boards without being noticed.

UGreen Flat Cat7 Cable - Best for under-carpet use

UGreen Cat7 Flat Cable

This UGreen cable is flat and made to support Cat7 speeds.

Being flat it's ideal when you need to route a network cable under a carpet, or through a doorway or any other situation where a standard round wire won't work.

It comes in lengths from 1 to 20m and only in black.

Rhinocables Cat5e Cable - Best budget

Rhinocables Cat5e, 5m

If 1Gbps is enough for you (and it will be for a lot of people, because it's still faster than your broadband connection) then a Cat5e ethernet cable will get the job done.

In fact, it's worth remembering that it will be faster and more reliable than even the best Wi-Fi systems. That's only useful if the device you want to connect has an ethernet port, but you could use Cat5e cables as backhaul for mesh Wi-Fi nodes: many systems support this.

These Rhinocables come in a variety of colours and lengths, from 12cm to 10m. We've picked the 5m cable here, but you can change the colour and length on the Amazon listing page.

UGreen Extension Cable - Best for trip hazard risks

UGreen Ethernet Extension Cable

At first an ethernet extension cable might seem like an unnecessary bother - surely you can just buy a longer cable for about the same price - but there's an extra benefit you might not think of. 

If you're going to run the cable anywhere it could be a trip hazard, this extension could protect your computer or router's ethernet port in case the cable gets yanked out unexpectedly. Instead of risking damaging the hard-to-replace port on your device, the extension lead could take the brunt of it, leaving you with a much cheaper replacement to worry about.

This version is also Cat6 with shielding, so should ensure high enough speeds - just make sure you pair it with a similarly speedy cable.

It you already have several short ethernet cables lying around, search for RJ45 couplers on ebay or Amazon as they let you join leads together and usually cost very little.

Kenable Outdoor Cat6 Unshielded, 50m - Best for outdoor use

Kenable Outdoor Cat6 ethernet cable

Some outdoor ethernet cables come with RJ-45 connectors at each end, but if you're routing the cable through a wall, you'll have to cut those off anyway - or drill unnecessarily large holes.

The best way is to buy a reel as long as you need, and cut it to length. Kenable's unshielded outdoor cable has solid copper cores and a PE sheath which is weather resistant and can be buried underground. For wall mounting, use 7mm cable clips.

It only comes in black, but as it's Cat6 it's capable of gigabit speeds - if the rest of your home network is up to it. 

Kenable also sells a push-down tools as well as faceplates.