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Gaming Routers, Explained: How Lag Kills DPS and the Best Way to Overcome It

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You often play online games and think it's time to get the best gaming router to reach the next level. You're onto something there! But have you ever asked yourself what exactly constitutes one?

If you're new in the game—a noob—and don't even know what "noob" or "DPS" means, this post is an excellent place to start. You'll learn what those mean, and that's enough to comprehend the rest—I won't make you run into any more silly lingo.

Based on my assessment and extended experience, I'll explain what a gaming router entails and the things you should look for in one. Remember, though, that even the best router won't give you many advantages in online gaming.

For street cred, among other things, I was once part of a group of friends who shared a passion for online gaming. All of us lost at least a real-life relationship and a huge chunk of our youth due partly to World of Warcraft. Some still play that game today, albeit with a more measured dedication. It was worth it, I guess.

While getting owned is almost always on you, a well-functioning router can give you an edge. Sometimes, that's precisely the little extra you'd need.

Most importantly, having the best gaming router means you'd be sure what happened in the last game was your best, even if it wasn't good enough.

the Asus GT-BE98 Pro in action
The Asus GT-BE98 Pro is Asus's latest gaming router. And it's quite a beast.

What is a gaming router?

Each time I review a "gaming" router, especially a self-claimed one with little extra to offer gamers, I ask myself this question.

If you read the review of the TP-Link Archer AX11000 or its substitute, the Archer GX90, you'd note how I lamented that they were "fake." I could be wrong, but there's a reason the upcoming and promising Wi-Fi 7 Archer GE800 is slated to be a completely different beast.

No official definition

There's no official definition of what a gaming router is. You can play most, if not all, games via any router.

For this reason, some vendors paint a router bright red and call it a gaming machine for marketing purposes, like the case of TP-Link above.

Truth be told, you'll experience many games in the same way, no matter which router you use.

For example, if you lose an online Poker tournament, you probably only have yourself to blame. That's because poker doesn't require a lot of dexterity or crazy timing—the skills are in your head, not your hand-eye coordination.

So, no, we can't necessarily fault the marketing ploys. Who am I to say this router or that one 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.

Here's 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 you must wait for things to happen.

In online gaming, lag is 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, if your console has a terrible lag in a combat game, chances are your opponent's face has moved when your fist arrives, even if you had impeccable timing on the controller. In this case, lag will adversely affect or kill your damage per second (DPS) stat.

DPS is often used to measure a player's skill level.

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

Low latency is also critical in real-time strategy games like StarCraft, which, by the way, is yours truly's first video game. To be good at this type of game takes more than just strategizing. You also need to be excellent with the keyboard and mouse—your hands practically have to fly on the keyboard—and you want a matching broadband connection to transfer those commands instantly.

TP-Link Archer GX90 AX6600 Wi-Fi 6 Tri-Band Gaming Router
The TP-Link Archer GX90's look screams gaming.

The point is high latency is frustrating in online gaming. All players want their commands to take the least time to reach the game server.

What ping means in gaming

To visualize lag, we use ping in milliseconds (ms) to measure the delay of a network connection—the higher, the less desirable. For gaming, keep in mind these ping values:

  • 100 ms or higher: The latency is horrendous. You probably can't play any real-time interactive effectively. Find a new hobby.
  • 40-60 ms: Acceptable but still not ideal for shooting games, especially in competitions.
  • 30 ms or lower: Good. All games are a go.
  • 10 ms or lower: Excellent. You have only yourself to blame.

Wondering what ping you're rocking right now? Hit the Go button below for an Internet test to find out.

⏱️ Dong Knows Tech custom Speed Test transfers data between your device and an Ookla test server

How does a router manage ping?

It's important to note that every broadband plan comes with a certain lag determined at the Internet service provider's end—almost all connections have a certain level of latency. And then, there's the latency between your ISP and the game server.

There's nothing you can do about these. And no router can give you a literal latency-free experience.

Most land-based connections—fiber or cable—have low lags of 15 ms or even lower. Wireless broadband connections—satellite, 4G, disk, etc.—tend to have higher pings, around 25 ms and more.

The latest 5G cellular is supposed to have low latency, too, though that depends on the service and locale.

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—in most real-world cases, it will be slightly worse.

So, when it comes to lag, the router's job is to eliminate any extra. In gaming, a router tries to reduce pings by:

  • figuring out the best-performing server to use when applicable. A geographically closer server might not always have a lower lag than a farther one. Or
  • creating a virtual network of remote parties with the best connections. Or
  • managing the local network effectively so that there's no lag in the connection between your gaming console and the router itself.

The last item on the list above is crucial. Lag is a common issue within your local network, especially if you use Wi-Fi to connect your game console.

Wi-Fi and gaming: The important connection rules

Generally, get your home wired for the best online experience—including online gaming or whenever you want to ensure the connection is reliable and has the lowest latency.

Get your home wired (almost) like a pro today!

After that, connect your gaming rig to your network via a cable. No matter how fast, Wi-Fi is always less ideal and will put a few extra milliseconds, or even a lot, on your broadband's latency.

Reliability and low latency are more critical than fast speeds in gaming or any real-time communication applications. So it's more a question of wired vs. Wi-Fi than Wi-Fi 5 vs. Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-Fi 7.

But we can't always use wires. That said, the rule in Wi-Fi for gaming is to avoid multiple hops.

Specifically, here is the order of best practices when connecting your gaming device to the network via Wi-Fi:

  1. Use a single broadcaster—just one Wi-Fi router or access point.
  2. If you must use multiple broadcasters (like a mesh system), then:
    • Use a network cable to link them together (wired backhaul).
    • If you must use a wireless mesh, then:
      • Connect the game console directly to your home's first broadcaster—the primary router. Or
      • Connect the gaming device to the first mesh satellite node using a network cable. Also, in this case, it's best to use mesh hardware with an additional 5GHz band unless you have Wi-Fi 7.
      • Avoid the daisy-chain mesh setup.
  3. Avoid using extenders. If you must use one, make sure it's a tri-band.

Again, the idea is that the Wi-Fi signal should not have to hop wirelessly any additional time before it gets to your device—you'll get significantly worse latency after each additional hop.

Gaming routers: QoS is essential

Again, the latency, which is ultimately at the mercy of your Internet provider, is just part of the equation. A congestion-free local network plays a significant role, too.

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

And that's where the router's Quality of Service (QoS) comes into play. It's a feature that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic and comes in various flavors and customization—the more robust QoS you have, the better.

Quality of Service: How to better online experience using QoS

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

A good (gaming) router should at least be able to prioritize based on applications. A game needs prioritizing no matter what computer you use to play it.

Best gaming routers: The Aura RGB gaming lights on an Asus gaming router.
This bling in a gaming router can bring about that much-needed moral boost.

Gaming routers: The bling

Finally, the look seems to matter.

The flashing lights can help boost morale or get you pumped up at a gaming party. Or it's just marketing. But you'll note that all gaming gear tends to have excessive lighting or a specific design that makes it look different.

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

(Seriously, I find all those colorful lightings extremely distracting. Decorating your rig can be an art, but I don't see how that'd help with game-playing.)

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:

  1. It regularly updates pre-programmed settings to provide a good selection of popular games. Pick a game, and the router will adjust its settings for you accordingly.
  2. A robust application-based and client-based QoS feature ensures games get the bandwidth they need at any given time.
  3. The ability to keep the Internet latency as low as possible, including automatically picking the best game server or creating a private gaming network.
  4. The appealing look.

The QoS, specifically the customizability and effectiveness of this feature, is an essential element for gaming on a router.

In most games, you don't have the luxury of picking a server since there are only many. In this case, the best QoS setting is the only thing at your disposal.

However, for games with multiple custom servers (like Fortnite), a router that can manage pings or the ability to select servers within specific parameters will also come in handy.

The takeaway

A gaming router is a matter of nuance. A fitting one can enhance your gaming experience—by a little or a lot, depending on how your existing (non-gaming) router works out, given your Internet connection and the status of your local network.

In conclusion, getting a gaming router is not a guarantee that you'll win, but the right one sure will give you an edge. Ready to pull the trigger? Below is the link to the frequently updated best list.

Dare to crack that can of no more excuses? Pick one of these best gaming routers!

Dong's note: I first published this post on September 20, 2020, and updated it on February 24, 2024, to add more relevant information.

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11 thoughts on “Gaming Routers, Explained: How Lag Kills DPS and the Best Way to Overcome It”

  1. Dong,
    Due to my home layout and cost to put in ethernet to rooms, I’m tempted to try the Asus ZenWiFi XT8 or XT9. They’re not “gaming routers”, but in my case I think they may be the least evil of the evil wireless mesh systems when it comes to gaming. AFAIK they have the same QOS settings and Gamer Private Network as routers such as the RT-AX86U. But what about the settings where the router can be set to optimize for particular games (#1 on your list)? I suspect the XT8 and XT9 (and XT12) do not have those, is that correct? My two boys play a variety of games and those may change from time to time, so I’m actually not sure it matters though. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  2. Hi Dong,

    Just read this and I think it’s being overly prescriptive on mechanism vs outcome. Algorithms like “fq_codel” or “cake” can keep low-volume, latency-sensitive connections (which is what we are talking about here with gaming traffic) responsive without needing per-game or per-client configuration. In laymans terms you can think about it as preferentially serving low throughput connections over high throughput connections. So I think your point 1 and especially point 2 can lead you down the wrong path.

    As a bonus, you can get an Edgerouter X which does this (with a bit of one-off configuration) for under $100, much less than “gaming” routers. Once that’s done, every game on every device gets good, steady ping. Best piece of “gaming” hardware I ever bought. OTOH they don’t “look the part” (it’s your small black metal box), and it does take a bit more tech savvy to use than your typical consumer router.

    • I hear you, Matt. We’re talking about home devices here. If you’d like to write a detailed piece on this matter in layman’s terms, I’m happy to publish it. 🙂

    • Hi,

      I read the article and did latency test.

      Well this comment will probably never see the day light.
      However even if thats the case at least you will learn something.
      All the information you provided means nothing considering the poor test quality, its soooo poor its misleading. That test checks only idle latency which means nothing. What players need is live/download latency and those are two different things. Idle can be great but live can be 1000ms. If you go e.g. Speedtest.net (has to be on a pc or anywhere with full browser experience – usually notnl on the phones, etc) you will see 2 different latencies when testing speed. That is the real life measure with real data.
      Hope you can improve your article.

      Have a good day.

      • Like all speed testing, the test embedded in this post is to demo the idea of latency. It’s for reference, and I also mentioned that the result would generally be the best-case scenario.

        Everything on the Internet is about real-world action. You can’t take the speedtest results as to what you can expect from daily stuff (gaming or not), which varies significantly from one application to another since there are so many variants.

        Anyhow, I’d advise that you learn to pay attention when reading, but I guess for you, that might be a bit too late. 🙂

  3. Hi Dong, I really appreciate your posts and have spent the day reading through dozens of them. I’m trying to figure out the best solution for my apartment setup. I play a lot of games (and work for a gaming company), but my modem is quite far from my PC. I can’t wire the unit without risking my security deposit. Currently I’ve got an ethernet cable tracked throughout the apartment but its not a very elegant or nice looking solution. I’m trying to figure out what my next best alternative is to take advantage of my 1gb internet speed.

    I’ve looked into:
    – ethernet powerline adapters
    – wifi mesh systems
    – other wifi extenders

    I’m curious if you have any recommendations on what I could use to get the most out of my internet?


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