If there is a hell for online gamers, the worst punishment might just be a lightning fast connection with a junk router. In the end, the speed of your internet doesn’t matter if your router can’t keep up with it — and a bad router can ruin any online gaming experience.
In other words, if you’re paying an extortionate amount for a super-fast connection from your ISP but still get a significant amount of lag or packet loss, then the culprit may be your router. In this article, we’ll cover some features, tips, and tweaks that may help you out.
Why Gaming Routers Are Overhyped
A gaming router is a router that’s specifically designed to optimize network settings for the best gaming experience possible. Or at least, that’s what marketers want you to think. They want to convince you that gaming routers offer something that normal routers don’t, in the hopes that you’ll be willing to pay a premium for better-quality internet.
To be fair, gaming routers were superior in the past. They just aren’t anymore.
The simple fact is that most modern routers, even basic ones, support the features necessary for a smooth gaming session. That doesn’t mean you should cheap out on a router, though. A $20 model might have the right specs on paper, but probably won’t be reliable in day-to-day use and likely won’t last more than a year.
If after shopping around you find that the best value is a gaming router, then go ahead and buy it! All I’m saying is, just because one is marked “for gaming” doesn’t necessarily make it better. If you can find a respectable non-gaming router with the right specs, it should more than suffice.
Key Router Features and Tips for Gaming
Making use of the following features and tips will minimize network issues, maximize network performance, and hopefully result in interruption-free gaming sessions.
1. Quality of Service (QoS)
Quality of Service is a router feature that prioritizes certain data packets for certain connected devices. It comes in handy when multiple users are on the same network and all doing network-intensive activities.
For example, if your spouse is watching Netflix in HD and your son or daughter is video chatting with their girlfriend or boyfriend via Skype, that alone can hog a lot of bandwidth, leaving precious little for gaming. When the network is congested, your data packets can stall and result in lag.
With QoS enabled, you can prioritize gaming data over Netflix, Skype, and even torrent download data. As soon as gaming data arrives on the router, it is immediately forwarded to your device. To learn more, see our guide to setting up QoS on routers.
2. Gigabit Ethernet Ports
When gaming, you should always prefer Ethernet over Wi-Fi. While gaming on Wi-Fi is certainly possible, you’re sacrificing speed and latency for the convenience of being cable-free. Learn more in our article on Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi.
To ensure future-proofing and maximum performance, you should use a router with gigabit Ethernet ports. Gigabit Ethernet can handle speeds up to 1,000 Mbit/s (or 25 MB/s), assuming your connection can deliver those speeds. Gigabit Wi-Fi also exists, but due to interference and other Wi-Fi hindrances, it can be much harder to reach the theoretical maximum speed.
What if your router is in another room? Use powerline adapters! Powerline adapters let you transfer internet data through normal power outlets. They come in pairs. The first one connects to your router via Ethernet, and the second one connects to your device via Ethernet. It’s an easy way to get Ethernet across rooms.
3. Wireless AC and Dual-Band Support
If Ethernet isn’t an option, then you should at least have a wireless AC router. The wireless AC standard introduced a 5GHz band, which is faster and more reliable than the older 2.4GHz band. The downside is a shorter range.
A dual-band Wi-Fi router supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Because older devices (e.g. certain smartphone models) still only support 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, you may not want to go full 5GHz just yet. Having both bands allows you to use 2.4GHz on those older devices, but 5GHz on your gaming and media devices.
Use the 5GHz band when gaming. In a small apartment, you don’t have to worry about the shorter range. In a large house, try to rearrange things so that the router isn’t more than a room away from your gaming device.
MU-MIMO (Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output) is an important feature if your network serves many different devices. Again, it’s common enough for someone to stream Netflix, another to download torrents, another to video chat on Skype, all while you play games.
Without MU-MIMO, your router actually has to serve each device one by one, and this can reduce overall network speed. With MU-MIMO, the router is able to set up multiple “mini-networks” and serve each device simultaneously. You can learn more about this in our overview of MU-MIMO.
5. Wireless Channels
One of the main reasons to avoid Wi-Fi for gaming is that Wi-Fi signals can interfere with each other. When a signal meets interference, it fails to reach its destination and the data needs to be resent. With enough interference, latency and packet loss will increase.
Interference can occur on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but it’s way more common when using 2.4GHz. The 2.4GHz band can only broadcast on 11 channels in the U.S., and only three of them are non-overlapping. The 5GHz band has 23 non-overlapping channels. The more broadcasts on a channel, the greater the congestion.
Regardless of which band you’re using, you should absolutely analyze your Wi-Fi network, find which channel is least used, and manually set your router to use that channel. This should help with interference and congestion.
6. CPU and RAM
CPU and RAM are the first considerations we make when choosing computers and mobile devices, but not so for routers. Why is that? Sure, routers don’t have to run resource-intensive apps like Photoshop, but they do have to handle tons of network data every single second.
If your router’s CPU is weak, it may not be able to keep up with heavy network demand. Games send and receive a lot of data every second, and once you add in the constant data influx of video streams, file downloads, video chat, etc. from multiple connected devices, a weaker router could struggle under the load.
If your computer and smartphone are the only devices on the network, you may be able to get away with a cheaper router. But if you have dozens of tablets, laptops, other smartphones, smart TVs, and various other internet of Things devices, then a fast CPU should be a priority.
7. Scheduled Reboots
If something ever goes wrong with a device, the first troubleshooting step is always the same: turn it off and on again. This is especially true for older routers, which can suddenly drop connections and freeze for unknown reasons.
For this reason, you may fare better by automating a router reboot schedule. You can do this by replacing your router firmware with DD-WRT. If that’s not an option, you can always buy a programmable timer switch to plug your router into.
What Are Your Worst Gaming Issues?
There are other ways to improve your gaming experience too, especially if you’re gaming on a PC. Check out these gaming optimization tweaks, these optimized Windows 10 settings, as well as these hardware upgrades for better performance. But if your PC is really old, you may just want to build a new rig altogether.
Let us know if this helped. If you have any other tips for improving one’s home internet, share them with us in the comments below!