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Gaming Routers Explained: How Latency Kills (Your DPS)

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 yourself what exactly constitutes one?

I’ll explain in this post what a gaming router is, based on my own experience, and what you should look for in one. Remember, though, that the router won’t give you that much of an advantage. In the end, getting owned is almost always all on you — I’m sure you already know that.

But a good router does give you an edge. At the very least, you know that for sure what happened in the last game — it was just you.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 20, 2020, and updated it on December 8, 2021, to add more relevant information.

The Asus RT-AX86U is an Excellent Gaming Router
This Asus RT-AX86U is more game than it looks.

What is a gaming router?

Each time I review a “gaming” router, especially a self-claimed one with little 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.”

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 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. That’s because poker doesn’t require a lot of dexterity or crazy timing — the skills are in your head, not how you use your hands.

So, no, we can’t necessarily fault the marketing ploys. Who can 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. 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 it takes 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 shooting game, chances are your target has moved when your bullet arrives, even if you had impeccable timing on the trigger.

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.

Low latency is also critical in real-time strategy games like StarCraft, my first video game. That’s because to be good at this type of game, you need to use lots of mouse clicks and keyboard combos — your hands practically have to fly on the keyboard — and you want the connection to transfer those commands instantly.

Asus GT-AXE11000 Gaming router's Aura RGB Lighting
The Asus GT-AXE11000 Gaming router’s Aura RGB lighting

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.

⏱️ 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 each Internet connection comes with a certain lag determined at the provider’s end — almost all connections have a certain level of lag. There’s nothing you can do about this.

Most land-based connections — fiber or cable — 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 low latency, too, though that’s not always the case.)

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 router’s job is to eliminate any extra. In gaming, a router tries to reduce pings by:

  • Figuring out the geographically closest or best-performing server to use — a closer server might always be better than a farther one. Or
  • Creating a virtual network of remote parties with the best connections.

On top of that, it can also manage the local network effectively. But lag can be an issue within your local network, too, especially if you use Wi-Fi to connect your game console.

Wi-Fi and gaming: Important rules

For the best online experience — including online gaming or whenever you want to make sure the connection is the most reliable and with the lowest latency — it’s always best to get your home wired.

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

After that, connect your gaming rig to your network via a network 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.

In gaming or any real-time communication applications, reliability and low latency are actually more critical than fast speeds. So it’s more a question of wired vs Wi-Fi than Wi-Fi 5 vs Wi-Fi 6.

But we can’t use wires all the time. That said, here’s the rule in Wi-Fi for gaming: Avoid multiple hops.

Specifically, here is the order of best practice 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 the very first broadcaster — the primary router — of your home. Or
      • Connect the gaming device to the first mesh satellite node using a network cable. Also, in this case, it’s best to use tri-band mesh hardware.
      • 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 through one extra hub 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. It would help if you also had 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 Service (QoS) comes into play. It’s a feature that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic and comes in a range of different 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 also have the ability to prioritize based on applications. A game needs prioritizing no matter what computer you use to play it.

Asus RT AX82U Front
The Asus RT-AX82U is quite big in the bling department.

Gaming routers: The bling

Finally, the look seems to matter.

The flashing lights can help boost morale or get you pumped up in a gaming party. Or it’s just marketing. But you’ll note that all gaming gear tends to come with excessive lighting or specific designs 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, seriously, I find all those colorful lighting extremely distracting. Decorating your rig can be an art, but I don’t see how that’d help with playing games.)

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. 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.
  2. A robust application-based QoS feature to make sure games get the bandwidth they need at any given time.
  3. The ability to keep the Internet latency as low as possible. Bandwidth doesn’t mean much if the game can’t get it timely.
  4. The appealing look (optional).

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

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 those hosted by your friends, a router that can manage pings will also come in handy in helping you pick the best server to use.

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.

That said, getting a gaming router is not a guarantee that you’ll win, but the right one sure will give you an edge.

Looking for one right now? Check out this list for the current best options that you can buy today.

Best gaming routers: Opening that can of no more excuse!

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5 thoughts on “Gaming Routers Explained: How Latency Kills (Your DPS)”

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. 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?

    Reply

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