How to optimise your network for gaming
STOMPING OUT LAG RAGE.
FOR AN ONLINE gamer, there are few things more frustrating than losing because of network issues. This is a particular problem for Australians, since many online games don’t have Australian servers. It’s quite normal when playing on a US server, for example, to have actions occur a quarter of a second (250ms) or more after you press the button to activate them.
In precise, high-action games that can be a killer, especially when you’re facing off against an opponent for whom the lag times are less than 50ms. It can feel like you’re starting with a major handicap, and that ain’t fun.
So this month we have some tips to help you improve the latency times for your games. Just follow these five steps.
TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
The first thing you need to do is accept that some problems can’t be solved. You can optimise your local network, but once your data hits the internet it’s on its own. There is no way to force the various internet backbones that your data will traverse to prioritise your traffic, and you can’t deny the laws of physics.
For a start, even travelling at the speed of light, data takes time to traverse the cables that take it to the other side of the world. Every router that it has to traverse along the way adds a few milliseconds of delay as well. Routers are like the street signs of the internet, and every time your data has to look for directions for the next leg of its journey, it has to slow down for a little bit to read.
CHANGE SERVERS IF YOU CAN
Many multiplayer games no longer give you much choice about which server you’re going to connect to. They use “megaservers” or automatically assign you a server based on your location. If you do have a choice, however, you can try a few different options to see which gives you the best results.
It’s not always obvious which server will produce the best results, but as a rule you priority list should be:
* Any Australian server.
* A west coast US server.
* An east coast US server.
* An Asian server.
* A European server.
The first one is obvious. You may be wondering why you might choose an American server over an Asian one since, geographically speaking the Asian one might be closer. Well, aside from the language advantage of using a US server, Australia’s fastest international links are to the US. We have far more international internet bandwidth to the US than we do to, say, Japan, China or Korea.
ELIMINATE WIRELESS FROM YOUR LIFE
When it comes to gaming, wired is best. Wireless communications – either in your home through Wi-Fi or to the internet with 4G – add lag to any communications. What’s more, they’re highly variable, with lag spikes and slowdowns common on wireless networks. When a person walks between your computer/console and the wireless router, for example, it may, just for a moment, block or weaken the signal, forcing the wireless network to retrain, creating a lag spike.
If it’s feasible, hook your console or PC up to your router with a wired Ethernet connection instead. Lag spikes will disappear, and you’ll get the fastest possible connection.
As an extra note, this wired > wireless principle
also extends to controllers and keyboards. A wired keyboard and mouse will have lower input lag than wireless ones.
SET UP QOS
Depending on your router, this can be one of the more complicated steps, and the results can vary widely depending on your home networking situation.
QoS is short for Quality of Service, and it refers to a system setting that will prioritise certain types of traffic over others. It’s most relevant if your gaming activities are competing for limited internet bandwidth with other devices in your home. If you’re trying to play a game while someone else is video chatting or downloading something over BitTorrent, for example, then your gaming data is going to be competing with that other data for limited internet bandwidth.
In particular, upload bandwidth is at a premium on most Australian connections. All the major forms of consumer broadband in Australia are asymmetric, meaning they have much higher download bandwidth than upload. On FTTN, for example, upload speeds are typically one-fifth of download speeds. Gaming can require considerable upload bandwidth, but so can video chatting and peer-to-peer file sharing.
By default, your router won’t play favourites. It puts the game data in the same send queue as the BitTorrent uploads. But you can fix this – you can tell it to prioritise the gaming traffic over other traffic. As mentioned, this only applies locally – once your data hits the internet, your QoS settings won’t matter – but if you’re facing strong competition for internet bandwidth in your own home then it’s worth trying out.
Unfortunately, we can’t provide a universal guide to setting up QoS, because implementations vary wildly across different router models. Some routers have simple pre-set solutions, where you can simply choose games from a list and let the router handle the rest; others require complex manual setups where you need to know the port number of the game or IP/MAC address of the device.
Most QoS systems will allow you to choose whether to prioritise a port number or specific device. Prioritising a port number will put a high priority on a specific application that uses that port number. For example, World of Warcraft uses ports 3724, 1119 and 6012; if you prioritise those ports then you’re effectively prioritising WoW on your network. Prioritising a device, either by MAC number or IP address means that all traffic coming from that device gets network priority. For example, you can say “I want my Xbox traffic to go first.”
You’ll have to log into your router’s settings to find QoS/traffic priority settings. Let’s take a quick look at doing this on a Linksys router, as an example. Linksys uses a very simple device priority system.
Log onto your router’s admin console, and find the Device Prioritisation setting on the left. Click on it.
TRIAL A GAME NETWORK SERVICE
If everything else has failed and you’re really desperate, you can trial a “game accelerator” service such as Outfox (
or wtfast ( These are available on PC and on some routers, such as Asus gaming routers, and claim to use VPN tunnelling and smart routing over the internet to skip some of the routing slowdowns experienced by normal internet traffic.
We say use the trial, because our experience with these services – and the reported experiences of many others – is best described as mixed. Using wtfast, for example, we found it barely had any impact on playing WoW on US servers – if it had any impact at all. We have read some positive reports in some instances, but this seems like very much a case of your mileage may vary – so use the trial before handing over any money.
WoW lets you choose servers, though none are located in Australia.
Turn on Prioritization. Down the bottom you’ll see a list of devices connected to the network, along with a priority list up the top.
Wired controllers, mice and keyboards typically have less input lag.
Simply drag any devices from the bottom section to the top list to make them high priority on your network.
Making the Xbox and PS4 go first.