New testing methods developed at Anixter Levels Lab, Skokie, Ill., reveal a computer network can be undermined by something as simple as a $5 patch cord. The new procedures measure a system's ability to transport actual data. For the first time, this provides insight into how components like HUBs, switches, NIC cards, and cabling affect information as it travels through a network.

"Our tests show that 50% of all network problems are related to cabling systems. Often, the real problem may be as simple as replacing a patch cord," says Pete Lockhart, Anixter's vice president of technology and product design. According to Lockhart, patch cords are inherently difficult to manufacture consistently and are hard to test using traditional methods. Many users install their cords after the outlets and horizontal cabling have been tested, resulting in incompatible components.

To make sure your patch cord is compatible with the network:

• Install patch cords recommended by the manufacturer of your existing cabling system.

• If you can't match the existing channel, match the cable in your patch cord to one in the walls.

• If you can't match the cable, match the plugs and jacks.

• If you can't match the plugs and jacks, look to Anixter Level 6 cords for increased performance.