Saturday, January 16th, 2021

Gaming Router Explained and How to Pick the Right One to Win

Asus RT AX86U On Standing
This Asus RT-AX86U is more game than it looks.

You play online games a lot and think it’s now time to get the best gaming router so you can move to the next level. You’re onto something there! But have you ever asked your what exactly constitutes one?

This post explains what a gaming router is and what you should for in one. One thing is for sure, though, the router won’t give you that much of an advantage. In the end, it’s all about skilz. But you already know that.

What is a gaming router?

I ask myself this question each time I review a “gaming” router, especially a self-claimed one that has little to offer gamers. If you read the review of the TP-Link Archer AX11000, you’d note how Iamented it was such a “fake.”

No official definition

There’s no official definition of what a gaming router is. You can play most games via any router. For this reason, vendors can just paint a router bright red and calling a gaming machine for marketing purposes, like the case of the TP-Link above.

And truth be told, you’ll experience many games the same no matter which router you use. For example, if you lose an online Poker tournament, you probably only have yourself to blame.

So, no, we can’t necessarily fault the marketing ploys. Who can say this one or that is not a gaming router?

Lag kills

But with games that require real-time interactions — all those qualified as online gaming these days — a router can play a significant role in your scores. That’s because of a simple fact: Lag kills. And I don’t mean your enemy.

Lag, or latency, is the delay in a network connection. The higher the lag the longer the delay.

In online gaming specifically, it’s the amount of time it takes for the effect of the command you give — via a mouse click or a press on a controller — to appear on the screen. And you want that to be instantaneous.

For example, in a shooting game, if your console has a terrible lag, chances are your target has moved when your bullet arrives, even if you had impeccable timing.

Or on the flip side, your character might stand there to be blown into pieces by a grenade, despite how you have repeatedly ordered it to duck behind a wall while screaming angrily at the screen.

What ping means in gaming

High latency sure is frustrating. Again, in online gaming, you want your command to take the least amount of time to reach the game server.

We use ping in milliseconds (ms) to measure that time — the latency — of a connection. For gaming, keep in mind these ping values:

  • 100 ms or higher: Horrendous. You probably can’t play any real-time interactive effectively. Find a new hobby.
  • 40-60 ms: Acceptable. Still not ideal for shooting games, especially in competitions.
  • 30 ms or lower: Excellent. All games are a go.
  • 10 ms or lower: Ideal. You have only yourself to blame.

Wondering what your ping is right now? Hit the Go button below for an Internet test to find out.

(Note: This test will use up your data. Also, Ooka may collect certain information from your connection.)

How does a router manage ping?

It’s important to note that each Internet connection comes with a certain lag determined at the provider’s end. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Most land-based connections — fiber, cable, or DSL — have extremely low lags of 15 ms or even lower. Wireless broadband connections — satellite, 4G, disk, etc. — tend to have higher pings, around 30 ms. (The new 5G cellular is supposed to have extremely low lags.)

Whatever this lag is, it’s the base of your connection. A router can’t lower it. In other words, that’s the best possible latency level a good router can give you.

So, when it comes to lag, the job of the router is to eliminate any extra. In gaming, a router reduces pings by:

  • Figuring out the closest or best-performing server to use. Or
  • Creating a virtual network of parties with the best connections.

On top of that, it can also manage the local network effectively.

QoS is important, too

That’s right. The latency, which is, again, ultimately at the mercy of your Internet provider, is just part of the equation. You also need a congestion-free local network.

Specifically, your gaming gear — be it a computer, a mobile device, or a console — must get the first dibs of the Internet before all other devices, especially your BitTorrent seeder.

And that’s where the router’s Quality of Control (QoS) comes into play. It’s a feature that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic.

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Most routers have QoS to a certain extent and allow you to set priority to a few specific connected devices.

A good (gaming) router, though, should at least also have the ability to prioritize based on applications. A game needs prioritizing no matter on what computer you play it.

The bling

Finally, the look seems to matter.

In a gaming party, the flashing lights can help boost morale or just get you pumped up. Or it’s just marketing. But you’ll note that all gaming gear tends to come with excessive lighting or certain design to look different.

Though it’s not my cup of tea — I care more about the function of a router and hate unnecessarily distractions. But if weird designs, crazy paint jobs, or color-changing lights tickle your fancy, I’m nobody to judge.

OK. So, a gaming router is…

In conclusion, in my opinion, to be qualified as a gaming gear, a router needs to first be excellent for general purposes. And then it must have at least two of the following.

  • Regularly-updated pre-programmed settings for a good selection of popular games. Pick a game and the router will adjust its settings for you accordingly.
  • A robust application-based QoS feature.
  • The ability to keep latency as low as possible.
  • Looks the part (optional).

That said, in most cases, the QoS is the most important feature for gaming. That’s because, in most games, you don’t have the luxury of picking a server since there are just so many worlds. In this case, just set the QoS to prioritize gaming or the game console, and you’re set.

However, if you play those with lots of custom servers (like Fortnite) or hosted by your friends, a router that can manage pings will also come in handy in helping you pick the best server to connect to.

So, a gaming router is a matter of nuance. A real one can enhance your gaming experience — by a little or a lot, depending on how your current router works out for your Intenet connection and the status of your local network.

Getting a gaming router is not a guarantee that you’ll win, but a right one sure will give you an edge. Looking for one right now? Check out this list for the best options to date.

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