What Are Gaming Routers and Are They Worth Buying?
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Hardware companies target gamers with all kinds of special gaming hardware 6 Accessories That Can Make You A Better Gamer 6 Accessories That Can Make You A Better Gamer Most games are a test of skill. You either face the game itself, or other players, and in either case your ability to interact with and manipulate the game ultimately determines success or failure. Or... Read More . There are gaming mice Razer Naga, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mice Review and Giveaway Razer Naga, Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mice Review and Giveaway Next to a good keyboard, a mouse is one of the most important tools in a PC gamer's toolbox. For some genres, a mouse is even more important than a keyboard. After all, it allows... Read More , keyboards Logitech G510 Gaming Keyboard Review and Giveaway Logitech G510 Gaming Keyboard Review and Giveaway Logitech has long been considered one of the leaders in peripherals for PC gamers. Everything from mice and keyboards to speakers and headsets are available from Logitech. The Logitech G510 keyboard comes with 18 programmable... Read More , headsets Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3D Omega Wireless Headphones Review and Giveaway Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3D Omega Wireless Headphones Review and Giveaway You wouldn't want your entire household to know that you're busy playing games on your Xbox 360 or PS3, would you? Sure, it might be fun, but if your games require you to keep an... Read More , 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 8 Legal Uses for BitTorrent: You'd Be Surprised 8 Legal Uses for BitTorrent: You'd Be Surprised Like HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. You could use your browser to download pirated content, just as you could use a BitTorrent client to download pirated... Read More 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.

What Are Gaming Routers and Are They Worth Buying? d link gamer router

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 What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router In this article, I'm going to show you some of the coolest features of DD-WRT which, if you decide to make use of, will allow you to transform your own router into the super-router of... Read More or OpenWRT What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? OpenWrt is a Linux distribution for your router. It can be used for anything an embedded Linux system is used for. But would it suit you? Is your router compatible? Let's take a look. Read More — 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.

What Are Gaming Routers and Are They Worth Buying? qualcomm streamboost

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.”

What Are Gaming Routers and Are They Worth Buying? d link router gaming mode

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.

What Are Gaming Routers and Are They Worth Buying? trendnet router

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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  1. Terence
    January 20, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Does this QoS thing affect both wired and wireless access?

  2. marina
    January 6, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Otlihnai, ohen poznovatelnai statia. Tak derzat.

  3. Eddy
    February 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    would you have to buy a gaming pc or does a gaming router act as one

    • Josh
      August 18, 2017 at 1:55 am

      *sigh* A router or "gaming router" in this instance is what provides you with a little thing called wifi, you might have heard of it. A gaming pc could use either a gaming router or a normal router same as any other normal pc. A gaming router isnt just for a gaming computer which is just a normal computer with better specs.

  4. Charles
    March 11, 2015 at 4:11 am

    I think that you should all suck my big fat juicy cock, it tastes like skin I think.

  5. epi
    September 10, 2013 at 1:46 am

    I think the last part is just port forwarding,which is available in most, if not all routers. Yeah, i think that 'gaming routers' labelling are just gimmicks. A better feature is to be able limit/control bandwidth on certain devices connected to the router.

  6. Mike
    September 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    When mentioning 3rd party firmware updates, you should include Tomato, especially for QoS. Tomato's interface for QoS configuration is so much easier to understand than DD-WRT and OpenWRT. Plus with the graphs you can quickly determine the usage and help modify and tweak your QoS for the patterns on your network.