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This $27 Ethernet wire tracker will ID the mystery cables in your walls

Oct 01, 2023

By Lewis Wallace • 1:00 pm, July 1, 2020

The Elegiant Wire Tracker looks unassuming, but it helped me solve a frustrating problem: identifying the Ethernet cables buried behind the walls of my house. The inexpensive kit consists of a little plastic probe about the size of a Polish sausage and an emitter about the size of an iPhone (only it's an inch or so thick).

It's made of blue plastic, so it doesn't pack that heavyweight "pro" feel, but it seems fairly durable. And if you need to figure out which Ethernet cable goes where, it gets the job done.

As frequent listeners to Cult of Mac's weekly podcast might know, I suffered each week from a lousy internet connection. Even after bumping up to gigabit speed (in theory), I still suffered from latency, which made recording the podcast problematic.

The CultCast host Erfon Elijah kept saying it was my Wi-Fi, and frankly I didn't believe him. He practically begged me to go with a hardwired connection. So I plunked down $15 for a 75-foot Ethernet cable to prove him wrong. I strung it from my living room router through the kitchen, up the stairs, through the bedroom and into my attic office.

Boy was I wrong. The hardwired connection worked wonders for my streaming connection! Erfon and Leander could tell an immediate difference. However, with one problem solved by that direct physical connection, I now had a new annoyance: a gigantic cable strung through my house during recordings. The wife undoubtedly loves doing the limbo, but that Ethernet cable stretched tight through our house seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.

I knew we had Ethernet cables buried in our walls, including one that jutted out near the router. Whoever installed them never labeled anything, though. And the tangle of Ethernet cables behind the attic wall looked like a rat's nest. I had no idea what went where — or how to figure it out, short of cutting and crimping a bunch of them one at at time in the cramped space behind the knee wall. The thought of doing that over and over, fumbling around in the dark as I narrowed down which cable went where, filled me with dread.

After plenty of research down the online rabbit hole, I came up with a few devices that looked like they would help identify the buried Ethernet cables. But I had no experience with this type of tool, and the reviews were all over the place. Many of the tools cost more than I wanted to pay for a job I figured I’d never do again. (A highly rated kit from Fluke Networks goes for more than $200.)

However, the Elegiant Wire Tracker retailed for just $26.99. The reviews on Amazon looked mostly good, so I gave it a shot.

Elegiant is one of those brands you’ve probably never heard of, complete with a disconcerting "about us" page filled with buzzwords and not-quite-right English. But this inexpensive wire-tracking tool made quick work of figuring out which strand of Ethernet cable in my attic connected to the wall box behind my router.

After I plugged the emitter into the Ethernet jack and switched it on to generate a tone, all I needed to do was press the probe on the various cables tangled up in the attic crawlspace.

When I found the right one, I heard an unmistakably loud tone. Then I took that cable and plugged it into my MacBook Pro using an inexpensive USB-C Ethernet adapter. I plugged the other end into my router, and instantly benefited from a hard-wired Ethernet connection.

During this work-from-home period due to COVID-19, my wife has been giving piano lessons remotely. And for that, she needed a hard-wired connection as well. I found an Ethernet jack in her music studio, connected the tone emitter, sent a signal, and climbed back into the crawlspace with the probe. With a couple of quick swipes, I quickly identified the Cat-5 cable that ran to her piano room. The I simply cut the cable, stripped its twisted pairs and crimped on a new RJ45 jack (using a cheap crimp tool I’ll likely never use again).

I needed to buy an inexpensive gigabit network switch to connect both my office and her studio to the main data vein from the router, but an extra $16 seems like a small price to pay for getting everybody online at the maximum possible bandwidth.

The Elegiant Wire Tracker comes with the aforementioned plastic probe and emitter, plus a couple of short cables. One cable has RJ45 (Ethernet) jacks on each end — it's basically just a short Ethernet cable. The other comes with an RJ-11 (telephone) jack on one end and alligator clips on the other. These cables let you connect to various things you need to test, which could come in handy, since this multipurpose tool lets you work with telephone lines. It supposedly even works with speaker wires and unpowered electric lines. However, I didn't test any of these features. The set also comes with a chintzy earphone you can plug into the probe, in case you need to run tests in a noisy environment.

I did use the emitter and probe to test some random Ethernet cables I had lying around, and it worked perfectly for that. (To do so, you just plug one end of the cable into the probe and one into the emitter, then press a button to test. Eight lights blink in sequence simultaneously on the devices if the cable's twisted pairs are functioning properly. It's perfect for testing homemade, or otherwise suspect, Ethernet cables.)

If you buy an Elegiant Wire Tracker, take this simple advice: Make sure you use brand-new batteries. This might seem like a total no-brainer, but still … I tried using some partially discharged batteries and it almost turned into a critical mistake. With the lame batteries in, all of the Elegiant Wire Tracker's lights lit up like you would expect. However, it did not emit a detectable tone over the long length of Ethernet cable buried in our house's walls.

I was ready to return the whole thing to Amazon. Luckily, my wife recommended trying a fresh set and voila — it worked like a charm. The wire tracker sent out a loud tone that helped me make quick work of sorting out my Ethernet cable mysteries.

So that's two times I made foolish mistakes, two times other people set me straight, and one time I got incredibly lucky with a $27 kit that saved me a ton of Ethernet cable sleuthing. Thank god for smart people and cheap tools.

Buy from: Amazon

Under Review is a recurring feature on The CultCast, the official podcast of Cult of Mac. The segment gives us a chance to talk about products we’re using on a daily basis.

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