9 Essential Tricks for Lag-Free Online Gaming

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Last Updated: Dec 7, 2022 | Published: Sep 2, 2022

It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent months looking for a PlayStation 5 or if you’ve just installed your brand-new, top-of-the-line graphics card – lag can ruin any online gaming session. In order to make sure you’re squeezing every ounce of performance out of your console or PC, your home network needs to be able to keep up. Here’s how to make sure that your home internet connection isn’t another opponent so you can focus on those split-second reactions that matter in the heat of the moment.

reduce lag online gaming salient
Whether on console or PC, playing games online should require minimal lag.

Speeds and Ping: Why They Matter

Believe it or not, you don’t need obscene amounts of bandwidth for seamless online gaming. In most cases, download speeds around 3 Mbps and upload speeds of 1-2 Mbps are sufficient, but speeds reaching 5 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up are more ideal. Faster download speeds will help you download games more quickly. Since file sizes for modern games range as high as 60 GB or more, especially once expansions and DLC are involved, higher download speeds are a phenomenal quality-of-life upgrade for gamers who err on the impatient side and bounce from game to game with wanton abandon.

Your ping — the amount of time it takes a piece of data to reach its destination and back – is much more important. The lower the ping, which is measured in milliseconds, the faster you see the effects of your inputs on the screen; with a low ping, you pull the trigger on your controller, and the weapon on screen fires sooner. In a competitive match where the difference between victory and defeat can often be measured in milliseconds, a lower ping is a huge advantage. A ping of 50 ms is excellent, but a ping as high as 100 ms is acceptable. If you’re not sure how your network performs, take a quick speed test to see how it measures up.

online gaming equipment
All the RGB lighting in the world can’t save you from a substandard network.

Plug Into Your Router

This goes for console and PC gamers alike: at the end of the day, Ethernet cables beat Wi-Fi connections. Ethernet cables — the kind that look like phone cables — are less affected by environmental interference than Wi-Fi and provide a more stable internet connection. If at all possible, plug your console or PC directly into your router.

Reposition Your Router

If you can’t plug your gaming rig into your router and have to game on Wi-Fi, you can feng-shui your router into performing better. Placing your router correctly can help ensure a strong signal reaches your console or PC. A router will work best in the center of the room, which can be inconvenient for wiring purposes and interior decorating alike; just do your best to keep your router away from microwaves, walls, and corners as much as possible. Placing your gaming device closer to your router can also minimize signal interference. If nothing else, you can attach an external antenna to your router to mitigate performance loss from imperfect placement.

Make Sure Your Network Fits Your Needs

Internet needs for gamers vary as much as gamers’ habits do. A household with four users gaming and streaming together and chatting on Discord has wildly different bandwidth needs than a household with one user sneaking in a quick game of “League of Legends” while the kids watch “Cocomelon.” Streamers and households with multiple gamers who want to play online at the same time will want to make sure they find upload speeds and data caps that will support their increased data traffic.

Get Away From Data Caps

Users who download multiple large-file-sized games in a month will want to find a plan without data caps or at least monitor their data usage and know the consequences of exceeding the limit. Once you’ve reached your data cap, you could be charged overage fees, and your internet speeds may be throttled. You might not need blistering-fast internet access for the majority of gaming needs but throttled network speeds won’t help if you’re already dealing with lag. Many internet providers offer unlimited data with their plans. While gaming itself requires a relatively small amount of bandwidth, plenty of gaming-adjacent activities, like streaming, quickly burn through the gigabytes. For example, one Twitch streamer can use 2-3 GB of data in just an hour.

Opt for a Gaming Router

Gaming routers, as their name suggests, come with features that make them especially desirable for gamers. Many high-end routers can be found with similar, if not identical, features. If your existing router lacks Quality of Service (QoS) settings, gigabit Ethernet ports, or dual band capabilities, and you’re still suffering from lag after plugging into an Ethernet port or moving your router closer to your gaming console or PC, you might be due for an upgrade.

Advanced router
High-end routers don’t have to look fast to perform.

Fine-Tune Your QoS Settings

Routers capable of QoS tools can help stabilize connections and allow gamers to coexist peacefully with other household internet users. QoS tools, when properly applied, help your router allot the appropriate amount of bandwidth for each concurrent activity. This means your game won’t start to lag if someone else opens a Zoom meeting on your network. Automatic QoS tools are more plug-and-play than manual QoS tools, which require effort to dial in but can still help facilitate a smoother gaming experience.

Upgrade Your Ethernet Ports

Gigabit Ethernet ports make sure that your router can leverage all your available bandwidth, especially if your home network boasts gigabit download (or even upload) speeds. While any Ethernet cable is better than a Wi-Fi connection, gigabit Ethernet cables are the best available option for gamers looking to be shot out of a cannon rather than squeezed out of a tube.

Utilize Dual-Band Wi-Fi

If an Ethernet connection is unequivocally out of the question, routers featuring dual-band Wi-Fi can help soften that blow. Dual-band routers can help cut through the signal interference that makes Wi-Fi worse than wired connections by relegating slower devices to their own channel — and freeing up bandwidth for the devices that need it. Which needs a gallon of gas more: the Prius or the Ferrari?