Latency

Where it comes from and how to re­duce it.

PCPOWERPLAY - - Contents -

Let’s get this out of the way up front. What you call ‘ping’ is ac­tu­ally called ‘latency.’ It’s a com­mon ver­nac­u­lar mis­take in gam­ing cir­cles but, in fair­ness, the terms are ac­tu­ally linked. In sim­plest terms, ping is the test, and latency is the re­sult. Whether you er­ro­neously call it ‘ping’ or you prop­erly call it ‘latency’, ul­ti­mately, mat­ters very lit­tle, be­cause that dis­tinc­tion doesn’t help you to en­sure the value stays as low as pos­si­ble.

For games that still in­clude latency as nu­mer­i­cal val­ues (thanks, devs!) and not coloured bars – or, worse, noth­ing at all – the num­ber is in­dica­tive of the time, in mil­lisec­onds, it takes for data to be sent from your PC to the server or host­ing player, and re­ceived back on your PC again. At least, that’s how it’s sup­posed to be; some games cheat and halve the value, so it’s only show­ing the time it takes to send the data from your client PC to the game server.

The lower the latency value, the better the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence. Ex­cept it doesn’t al­ways work that way. There are sev­eral in­vis­i­ble fac­tors that can get in the way of better latency. The most ob­vi­ous and eas­i­est to ad­dress is the dif­fer­ence be­tween wired and wire­less net­work con­nec­tions. Wi-Fi may be more con­ve­nient, but it’s likely to in­crease your latency. Throw in po­ten­tial in­ter­fer­ence, lo­cal net­work con­ges­tion, and even mi­cro drop-outs (which can lead to packet loss), and you re­ally shouldn’t be do­ing any sort of se­ri­ous on­line gam­ing on a wire­less con­nec­tion.

Eth­er­net is where it’s at. This doesn’t mean that Eth­er­net is free from net­work con­ges­tion on a lo­cal net­work, mind you. Which­ever in­ter­net con­nec­tion you hap­pen to be play­ing on will have a to­tal amount of avail­able band­width. De­pend­ing on the router, this band­width may also be limited by de­vice or con­nec­tion type (i.e. wired or wire­less).

If you don’t want to scream at house­mates or fam­ily to get off the in­ter­net when you game, there’s an­other so­lu­tion. You can in­vest in a gam­ing-friendly router, like the Net­gear Nighthawk X4s or Asus RT-AC86U. They’re not cheap, mind you, but these routers use Qual­ity of Ser­vice (QoS) con­trols to pri­ori­tise real-time traf­fic. This means ap­pli­ca­tions like VOIP ser­vices or games will be pri­ori­tised over any­thing else in the net­work, so the fact that some­one else is down­load­ing large files or streaming movies won’t im­pact your latency when QoS is ac­tive. Other­wise, if you’re, for in­stance, on an ADSL2+ con­nec­tion and some­one else on your home net­work is try­ing to down­load large files or stream HD videos, your latency will likely spike. This is be­cause the to­tal band­width on the shared in­ter­net con­nec­tion has been ex­hausted. While most on­line games use very lit­tle band­width, they’re still at the mercy of the to­tal avail­able band­width on a lo­cal net­work. Ide­ally, you want an in­ter­net con­nec­tion better (and more re­li­able) than ADSL2+, but that’s not al­ways avail­able, prac­ti­cal, or af­ford­able. If your latency spikes, ei­ther fully or spo­rad­i­cally, your on­line ex­pe­ri­ence will suf­fer. Some­times this might trans­late to tele­port­ing, bad hit regis­tra­tion, or tak­ing dam­age be­hind cover, as all in­put com­mands on a ded­i­cated server must be ap­proved by the server. The longer it takes for the in­for­ma­tion to be sent to, ap­proved by, and re­ceived from the server, the more the real-time il­lu­sion of your av­er­age on­line shooter is im­pacted. On­line shoot­ers are the best ex­am­ples for latency, be­cause they’re the most im­pacted by it. Turn-based games or even slower-paced RTSs can better mask the il­lu­sion of real-time game­play. For shoot­ers, though, there are com­plex real-time in­puts from, po­ten­tially, 100 play­ers in the case of Play­erUn­known’s Bat­tle­grounds, which will, at times, in­ter­sect. Ev­ery key­stroke, mouse move­ment, and ev­ery but­ton pressed is in­put that has to be pro­cessed par­tially or fully on your lo­cal PC (client-side) and ac­cepted as true ex­ter­nally (server-side).

on­line shoot­ers are the best ex­am­ples for latency, be­cause they’re the most im­pacted by it

The higher your latency, the longer it takes for this server-side con­fir­ma­tion to be re­ceived, be­cause there’s a length­ier round-trip time. This be­comes par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant even if you’re not the player with the high latency. Other high-latency play­ers con­nected to the same server may mar your ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause their data takes longer to be sent to the server and then on to you.

It should go with­out say­ing you also want to en­sure you have ad­e­quate band­width on your own de­vice: down­load­ing in the back­ground, or hav­ing soft­ware on that au­to­mat­i­cally down­loads is a big no-no. Be­fore play­ing, I re­li­giously close any nonessen­tial soft­ware that might be using my in­ter­net con­nec­tion (or sys­tem re­sources) to en­sure the best on­line ex­pe­ri­ence. To date, I’ve never had the dreaded desync in PUBG. It’s also worth not­ing that cer­tain types of mal­ware can chew-up band­width, so be dili­gent with your anti-mal­ware scans and an­tivirus up­dates.

There are other fac­tors out­side of your con­trol, too. If you run a trace-route test in com­mand prompt, tar­geted at a game server, you’ll see just how com­pli­cated ex­ter­nal fac­tors can be. Those ini­tial IP re­sults on the tracer­oute test are your lo­cal net­work. Then it hits your ISP. After that, if you’re lucky, there are min­i­mal gate­way hops be­fore your data is re­ceived by the server. More hops may re­sult in higher latency, but more hops also mean you’re more likely to suf­fer from packet loss.

If you do dis­cover more than a few hops be­tween you and a game server, try talk­ing to your ISP. Bear in mind that higher latency re­sponse times in the tracer­oute test aren’t nec­es­sar­ily in­dica­tive of an is­sue.

By far the big­gest ba­sic in­flu­ence on latency is the phys­i­cal dis­tance be­tween your con­nec­tion and the server. If the server’s in the same state, chances are good your latency will be low. If it’s on the other side of the coun­try, ex­pect it to be higher. If it’s in an­other coun­try, that’s where the latency value can creep into the hun­dreds of mil­lisec­onds. Where pos­si­ble, con­nect to a server that’s clos­est to you, or stick to your re­gion.

It’s also worth en­sur­ing your net­work­ing equip­ment is up to date, and get­ting into the semi-reg­u­lar habit of restart­ing re­lated de­vices – com­put­ers, modems, routers – gives you the best pos­si­ble chance of lower latency. There’s a lot that’s out­side of your con­trol when it comes to hav­ing an ideal on­line gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but man­age these latency fac­tors, and you’ll have a better chance of mas­ter­ing the as­pects you can in­flu­ence.

The Asus RT-AC86U is a “gam­ing-friendly” router...

... and so is the Net­gear Nighthawk X4s. They both let you pri­ori­tise gam­ing traf­fic

Al­ways close any non-es­sen­tial soft­ware (i.e. what isn’t PUBG) be­fore play­ing on­line

Some­times high latency is no ex­cuse. It didn’t stop Quake Cham­pi­ons player Daniel “dan­dak­ing” De Sousa qual­i­fy­ing for the North Amer­i­can re­gional fi­nals ear­lier this year de­spite a ping of over 200.

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