Hardware companies target gamers with all kinds of special gaming hardware. There are gaming mice, keyboards, headsets, sound cards, and more. There are now even “gaming routers” — routers specially marketed towards gamers offering an improved online gaming experience. But what exactly do these gaming routers do differently from standard routers, and do their features really matter?
We’ll also cover the “Gaming Mode” included on many D-Link routers, which is different from a gaming router. Gaming Mode is an option included on many D-Link routers, even the cheapest ones, and has nothing to do with improving your gaming performance.
Quality of Service on Gaming Routers
Some routers are marketed as “Gaming Routers,” like D-Link’s DGL-5500. In addition to having a gamer aesthetic and a higher price, this router promises “StreamBoost” technology. Now, we haven’t benchmarked the DGL-5500 itself, but we can explain exactly what’s going on here. StreamBoost is a type of “traffic-shaping” engine. This is also often known as Quality of Service (QoS).
A typical router doesn’t care about which type of traffic is which. Your roommate using BitTorrent at maximum speed, Dropbox uploading and downloading files, web browsing, Netflix, gaming — it’s all the same to your router. All of it has equal priority when it comes to your Internet connection.
Of course, this is actually bad. You want your gaming traffic prioritized ahead of your roommate’s BitTorrent downloads. Heck, you want everything — web browsing and Skyping, for example — prioritized ahead of things like BitTorrent and background file-syncing.
D-Link’s StreamBoost feature is an intelligent QoS traffic-shaping feature. Crucially, QoS isn’t only available on routers marketed as “gaming routers.” Any router with QoS support will be able to prioritize your gaming traffic. You can even install third-party firmware from your router — like DD-WRT or OpenWRT — to add QoS support to a router without it. Of course, these may not support the router you currently have.
Of course, some of these QoS features may have more confusing, arcane interfaces. D-Link pitches their StreamBoost feature as having an easy-to-understand drag-and-drop interface, while the QoS features built into firmwares like OpenWRT and business-grade routers can be more confusing to new users.
In Summary: QoS is definitely useful and can make your online gaming more reliable if you’re struggling with a roommate that just can’t give up on their BitTorrent habit. However, bear in mind that any router with QoS can do the same thing.
Other “Gaming Router” Features
Gaming routers generally also have a few other important “gamer” features that give you faster network speeds, whether you’re using a wired or wireless network connection:
- Gigabit Ethernet Ports: These offer the fastest wired network speeds. Wired connections are still faster and lower-latency than wireless ones.
- 802.11ac Wireless: 802.11ac is the new wireless standard, and gaming routers generally have high-end Wi-Fi hardware that supports it. Of course, this only matters if you have 802.11ac-compatible hardware.
- Dual-band Wi-Fi: Higher-end routers support dual-band networking, allowing them to transmit on two different channels at once. This allows the router to provide more wireless network capacity.
None of these features are exclusive to “gaming routers.” They’re often not available on the cheapest, low-end routers, but they’re available on routers that are cheaper than high-end “gaming routers.”
In Summary: These features are useful and offer faster local network speeds, but aren’t exclusive to gaming routers.
Gaming Mode on D-Link Routers
D-Link routers — not just “gamer routers,” but many D-Link brand routers marketed to home users in general — come with a “Gaming Mode.”
This mode isn’t very self-explanatory — the D-Link router configuration interface says “If you are having difficulties playing some online games – please enable this mode.” and that “Gaming Mode should be used when you are playing games on the Internet from behind the router.”
While D-Link doesn’t provide much documentation on this, it turns out that “Gaming Mode” is essentially the same thing as “Full-Cone NAT” and the router uses “Symmetric NAT” when gaming mode is disabled.
We’ll back up a bit here. Your router uses network address translation (NAT) to share your Internet connection between the devices behind it — PCs, gaming consoles, smartphones, tablets, and whatever else. Your router discards incoming traffic by default because it has no idea which device to forward it to.
Now, let’s say your Xbox console establishes an outgoing connection to the Internet. When the Xbox receives a response to that connection, the router will forward the incoming traffic to the Xbox. With the default Symmetric NAT, the router will only forward traffic to the Xbox if it’s from the same destination the Xbox opened a communication channel with.
With full-cone NAT — that’s “Gaming Mode” in D-Link router parlance — the router will forward all incoming traffic on that port over to the Xbox.
In other words, when Gaming Mode is enabled, the Xbox can establish an outgoing connection and then receive incoming connections from any other address. This is often necessary when playing games, as they may be hosted on the Xbox itself. Many people have reported that enabling Gaming Mode on a D-Link router is necessary to use Xbox Live.
In Summary: If you have a D-Link router and are experiencing issues connecting to Xbox Live or playing multiplayer games online, enable Gaming Mode. Don’t buy a D-Link router just for this option — it won’t actually improve your gaming performance. It’s just a more permissive networking mode that allows other people to connect to you.
Is It Just Marketing?
“Gaming routers” aren’t just marketing, but a big part of them is. They do offer useful features — like traffic-shaping (QoS), Gigabit Ethernet, and all-around better Wi-Fi hardware.
However, it’s important to remember that none of these features are exclusive to gaming routers. QoS, Gigabit Ethernet, and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi are common features in all higher-end routers, from business-grade hardware for corporate networks to higher-end home routers.
For example, D-Link’s DGL-5500 “Gamer Router” goes for $200 on Amazon, but the TRENDnet TEW-812DRU router offers all the same features — QoS, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, and dual-band Wi-Fi — at just $138 on Amazon. The main difference is that the TRENDnet router isn’t being marketed specifically towards gamers and doesn’t have the same over-the-top design.
Have you purchased a gaming router, or have you set up QoS to prioritize your online gaming traffic? Leave a comment below and share your experiences!
Image Credit: Timo Kuusela on Flickr
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