ethernet cables
September 12, 2005 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Is a patch cable the same as an ethernet cable?

I am looking to buy about 20 7-ft ethernet cables for work. They are just for connecting laptops to the ethernet outlet (I guess it is a network), and I thought it was a simple search. Turns out there are a lot of networking/patch/etc cables but few just call themselves "ethernet cables" which is what everyone I know calls them. Bonus points for ideas on where I can get them cheap.
posted by gingembre to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
A patch cable is a short ethernet cable, yes. Do no confuse a patch cable with a cross-over cable though.
posted by benzo8 at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2005

You can get 'em cheap on Ebay.
posted by fixedgear at 9:50 AM on September 12, 2005

OK - it looks like the terminology has become confused these days. Certainly, when I was managing networks the cables which you patched the patchbays with to connect a socket on a hub to a socket in the wall somewhere was not a crossover cable - it just extended the connection (effectively).

Looking at that advert (and many others from the google search terms: "patch cable cross-over") it would appear that these days, "patch cable" and "cross-over" cable may be synonymous.
posted by benzo8 at 9:52 AM on September 12, 2005

They're likely the same thing, but look for CAT5/CAT5e/RJ45 to make sure.
posted by odinsdream at 10:00 AM on September 12, 2005

it would appear that these days, "patch cable" and "cross-over" cable may be synonymous.

No, they're not synonymous. Patch Cables and Cross Over cables are two different things. Patch Cables are just the normal CAT5 networking cables that 'patch' your PC to the hub/switch. Cross Over cables are the ones with the 'crossed' wires.

If you're buying cables for your home network, and you're buying from typical stores (Office Max/Depot, Best Buy, etc) you're good with buying CAT5 patch cables. You won't need a cross over cable to plug your laptop in the network hub.

I haven't seen them used interchangeably where I buy cables from.
posted by schnee at 10:05 AM on September 12, 2005

Yes, patch cable is just a short ethernet cable. Good for patch panel to switch connections or just plain connecting your machine. Don't buy cross-over cables because you don't need them (although they may still work -- my PowerBook autodetects). Cross-over cables are used to connect two switches together or two machines together, not generally a machine to a switch.

Also, I think the phrase you are looking for is {network,ethernet} {jack,port}. I've never heard them called an "outlet" but it doesn't really matter anyway.
posted by sbutler at 10:14 AM on September 12, 2005

BTW, the cable from the ethernet wall socket to your computer isn't a patch cable, it's a "drop cable". But it's just an ethernet cable too... ;-)
posted by benzo8 at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2005

Also, to add even more confusion, lots of network hardware is now auto-sensing, so it doesn't matter if you use a crossover cable or a straight-through. I know for certain Powerbooks can do this, and I'm fairly certain newer Dells can.
posted by odinsdream at 10:19 AM on September 12, 2005

Maybe (probably!) this is old school, but "patch cable" or "patch cord" isn't specific to Ethernet / network usage. Any short cable can be a patch cable -- for example a short guitar cable with 1/4 inch plugs on the ends used to patch 2 guitar EFX boxes together.

I suspect the usage goes back to the days when an operator had to insert a patch cable into a switchboard in order to connect a phone call.
posted by omnidrew at 10:21 AM on September 12, 2005

omnidrew - that's exactly right, both your observation, and the etymology of the phrase. This is why sometimes, on old movies, you'll hear people on the telephone saying "Can you patch me through to..."
posted by benzo8 at 10:23 AM on September 12, 2005

The difference between a standard ethernet cable and a "patch cable" is that a patch cable is a short cable with connectors on either end which is flexible and is used to "patch" from one piece of equipment to another. In theory a patch cable is designed to be more flexible and to better handle the stresses of frequent connection and disconnection then cables intended for permanent installation. To make them flexible, patch cables are generally made with stranded wire and may have better protected RJ-45 connectors. Ethernet cables with solid core wires are more often used in permanent wiring and may be sometimes referred to as network cables. These cables aren't as flexible (and will break if repeatedly flexed). I don't know if manufacturers really make such careful distinctions when marketing their products.

You can buy 7' CAT5e patch cables from CDW for $3 (CDW# 073987).
posted by RichardP at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2005

Wow! Thank all y'all for the info. Cyberguys looks like they have the winning price of $1.59 for a Cat5 RJ45 patch cable (do i sound like a geek yet?). And in stylish blue. Many thanks!
posted by gingembre at 10:38 AM on September 12, 2005

Oh! Speaking of colours.. Whilst not a hard-and-fast rule, in general for ethernet cabling:
Blue = 'normal' cabling (patch, etc)
Red = cross-over cable

They can come in other colours (I've seen green, yellow, and orange), but the blue/red dichotomy is usually pretty accurate. Unless someone is rolling their own cables, in which case all bets are off.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:23 PM on September 12, 2005

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