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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?

This post explains what a gaming router is and what you should look for in one. Keep in mind, though, that the router won’t give you that much of an advantage. In the end, getting owned is 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.

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, I ask myself this question, especially a self-claimed one with little to offer gamers. If you read the review of the TP-Link Archer AX11000, you’d note how Iamented how 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. (That’s because poker doesn’t require a lot of dexterity or crazy timing.)

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, 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.

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. That’s because this type of game requires your hands to fly on the keyboard, and the connection needs to transfer the 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.

• This test will use up your data and Ookla may collect certain information from your Internet 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 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 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 tries to reduce pings by:

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

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


Extra: Important Wi-Fi notes on gaming

For the best gaming experience — or whenever you want to make sure the connection is the most reliable and with the lowest latency, for that matter — getting your home wired is the key.

See also  How to Get your Home Wired with Network Cables (Almost) Like a Pro

Wi-Fi, no matter how fast, is always less ideal than using network cables. In gaming or any real-time communication applications, reliability and low latency are actually more important 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:

  • Connect the game console (or PC or a mobile device) directly to the very first broadcaster of your home. The signal should not have to hop through one extra hub before it gets to your device — you’ll get significantly worse latency after each hop.
  • If you must use a mesh system, try to connect the gaming device with a wired connection to the mesh node.
  • Avoid using extenders. If you must use one, make sure it’s a tri-band.

Gaming routers: QoS is important, too

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 Control (QoS) comes into play. It’s a feature that allows you to prioritize Internet traffic.

See also  QoS Explained and How to Get Better Voice and Video Calls over Wi-Fi

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 on the bling department.

Gaming routers: The bling

Finally, the look seems to matter.

In a gaming party, the flashing lights can help boost morale or 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 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 lightings extremely distracting. Decorating your gig can be an art, but I don’t see how that’d help with playing games.)

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.

  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 latency as low as possible. Bandwidth doesn’t mean much if the game can’t get it timely.
  4. Looks the part (optional).

That said, the QoS is the most important feature for gaming in most cases. 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 Internet connection and the status of your local network.

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.

See also  Best Gaming Routers of 2021: That FTW List

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 20, 2020, and updated it on April 12, 2021, to add more relevant information.

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4 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. 🙂

      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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