Most people take their home router for granted. Usually, either your router was provided by the internet service provider (ISP), or you purchased something listed on your ISP’s list of compatible units. If you are a hardcore gamer or just a gamer noticing that their connection seems to be lacking, you may have fallen into the world of gaming routers. If you are not a techie, you may have no idea how to pick a gaming router.
Like anything in the gaming industry, you need to know what to look for to avoid getting scammed. Too often, companies throw a futuristic case in their product and use buzz words to sell it as the next must-have gizmo. Gaming routers are not immune to this practice, so let’s discuss how to pick a gaming router that will elevate your gaming experience
If you read my article on the best Android gaming phones, you will see a similar theme in this article. A lot of the attributes that make for a good home router will make for a good gaming router. Let’s lay out the top three criteria for an exceptional gaming router and discuss why those features are essential.
Low Latency Connection with Fast Speeds
It’s important to understand that playing games on the internet involves a lot of sending and receiving of data. This data, sent in packets, does not take up a ton of bandwidth, but the faster it is sent and received, the better. I know what you are thinking: “my ISP controls the connection speeds and latency, not me.” That’s not entirely true.
In networking terms, we identify where the ISP’s connection ends and where yours begins as the demarcation point. The demarcation point is usually where the wire connects to your house. Anything from the wall socket in is your responsibility. Using an older cable or having a router that has limitations in supported throughput will significantly affect your latency and connection speeds.
When it comes to the speeds the router supports, look at both the WiFi capabilities and the ethernet capabilities. I always recommend running an ethernet cable for gaming, as you will get the best performance. If you have to run WiFi, then research which channels your gaming device supports (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz). In my experience, the WiFi speeds listed on the box only map to what the 5 GHz channel can deliver. The quick and dirty is that the 2.4 GHz channel has an extended range with slower speeds. Conversely, the 5 GHz channel offers higher rates but less range.
If you want to learn more about this topic at a high level, I put together an entire cloud gaming article. Latency and bandwidth were pretty significant points of discussion that may enlighten you further on this topic.
Low Packet Loss
Packet loss is the gamer’s worst enemy. It sort of plays into the discussion on latency and connection speeds, but it is important enough to have its own section. The importance of packet loss can be challenging to understand, so let’s try to break it down.
As previously mentioned, data is sent in packets. There are two primary protocols for transmitting these packets: TCP and UDP. In UDP, the packets are sent using “best-effort”. Best-effort means that if packets are lost, the network doesn’t care. What happens is the result gets degraded. If you have ever been on a phone call where someone starts cutting in and out, that data was likely sent using UDP.
On the other hand, TCP requires an acknowledgment that all of the packets are received. That means if a packet is dropped, it requests that the packet is resent. You can see how this may slow things down if you are dropping a lot of packets.
To reduce packet loss, you need low latency, fast router. You also want to prioritize your packets above anything else. Prioritizing specific traffic over other types is a concept called Quality of Service (QoS). Imagine if you could make sure the router dropped every other packet before the ones coming from your game console. That’s QoS. In a top gaming router, you need the capability to treat gaming packets like a precious resource.
Modern WiFi Standards Support
Believe it or not, there are plenty of routers on the market that do not support the latest standards. Having the latest standards allows you to take advantage of low latency, high speeds, and QoS. Why would you go out of your way to handicap yourself?
The standards I recommend you look for are 802.11n or 802.11ac. These are the fourth and fifth WiFi standards, respectively, and when push comes to shove, we recommend the newest. One of the best features available in some 802.11ac routers is MU-MIMO. All you need to know about MU-MIMO is that it further reduces bandwidth congestion by splitting individual WiFi channels into streams. Imagine having the capability to go from a one-lane road to a four-lane highway quickly, and you understand the basic concept of MU-MIMO.
Quick Recap on How to Select a Gaming Router
Before I offer up some options and make my final recommendation, let’s quickly recap what you need to look for in a gaming router. You want robust hardware that supports a low latency fast connection. If you wish to manage packet loss, it is required that the router supports some QoS software. Finally, do not buy anything that does not support the current WiFi standards, as you will only be handicapping yourself in the long-run.
With that out of the way, let’s look at my selection for a gaming router.
My Pick for Best Gaming Router
The Linksys WRT32X is an excellent piece of kit, and you pay for it. Unfortunately, in the world of networking, you don’t often get a bargain on performance. All of the specs on this Linksys meet our needs. The hardware is robust and fast. The unit comes with four antennas for coverage and speed and supports all of the significant modern networking standards.
Whether you run an ethernet cable or play on WiFi, this router will handle whatever you throw at it. With four-gigabit ethernet ports, and both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi channels, you have options. Tack on MU-MIMO capabilities that allow you to break out one channel into three streams and network congestion should never be an issue.
The real differentiator in this router and the reason this is my preferred choice is the Killer Prioritization Engine. If you aren’t familiar with Killer Networks, I suggest you take a look at what they are doing. In the instance of this router, they are providing the best QoS technology I have seen in a home router. If you run Killer software on your PC, the router automatically detects that and offers a reduction in ping by up to 77%. That is lightning fast. Ultimately, Killer is helping to set new performance standards in gaming routers, and you should not miss out.
Closing Thoughts on How to Pick a Gaming Router
Whether you go with my recommendation or not, I have armed you with the knowledge of how to pick a gaming router. Always remember that low latency and a fast connection combined with QoS software and modern networking standards are the most critical factors to a great gaming router. Don’t fall for gimmicks or strong marketing; be objective.