How to lower ping and ultimately reduce lag in video games
March 15, 2021
What is ping? Ask any gamer, and they might say it’s the biggest bane to their gameplay. That’s because when video games lag, the signs most often point to a too-high ping.
Ping is a measure of latency, or how quick a signal is sent from and returned back to your computer. To put it in a gaming context, it’s the amount of time a game takes to recognize your gameplay. For example, when playing Zelda, you want to know right away if Link slayed his enemies, not wait for your computer to register if they’ve even crossed paths.
And while pro gamers are able to avoid high pings at all costs, perhaps even by upgrading their equipment to the latest and greatest hardware, recreational online gamers generally are left to troubleshoot their own devices. To that end, consider this your ultimate guide on how to lower ping and, ultimately, reduce lag in video games.
What affects ping?
Internet connection speed, above all else, affects ping. And for online gamers, internet connection speed is everything. Speed can also be affected by how much data a network is juggling and how many users are on that network at the same time.
To put ping in a non-gamer context, think of playing fetch with a dog. The farther we throw the stick and the rougher the terrain the dog has to take to get to it, the longer it will take them to bring it back. The amount of milliseconds — ping is measured in ms — that we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for the dog to return with our thrown stick is called latency or, in gamer terms, lag for short.
So, when gamers are scratching their head asking, “Why am I lagging?” The answer is often high ping. For this reason, to reduce lag, you need to reduce ping.
How to lower ping? You can do this by improving the route your internet takes to connect to gaming servers. In other words, you can help establish a better connection between your computer and gaming servers.
Why is my ping so high and is lower ping better?
Lower ping is better than high ping, because low ping means less lag. And less lag means smoother gameplay. On the flip, high ping means a longer lag. It also means you probably have a poor internet connection speed.
Remember, ping is how long it takes a device to “go fetch” data from another server. So, the less time it takes — meaning the lower the ping — the quicker your game can be played.
There are a number of reasons why ping can be high, many of which you can correct yourself. Some reasons your ping might be high include:
- Routers and how updated they are, where they’re placed, and whether their firmware is up to date
- Computers and whether they’re outdated, un-optimized for gaming, or need to be cleaned
- Caches on your router or modems whether they’re full
- The number of devices your network is supporting
- A game’s settings and whether they’re over-optimized
- Applications and programs running in the background on your device
- Auto-updates that go into effect during your gameplay
You might also be wondering “Well, what is a good ping?” Realistically, anything below 100 ms is playable, but everyday gamers could strive for a ping of 50 ms or lower. Professional gamers, on the other hand, might want a ping around 20 ms or lower.
You can run a ping test on most computers, though how to do so differs across manufacturers. Some online ping tests also exist. To simplify, an internet speed test can also provide context to your ping rate.
At the end of the day, if your game is performing just fine, you probably don’t need to worry about your ping. But if your game is lagging, lowering ping is crucial to level up your gaming performance. It’s also very doable, beginning with a few troubleshooting steps.
3 steps to improve ping and internet speed
How can you lower ping? It all begins with optimizing your internet connection speed, because this is what most often affects pings. As tempting as it may be, you might want to wait to tinker with your game settings or gaming setups until you’ve taken the following steps to improve your home’s network connection. This will help you troubleshoot whether it’s really your network connection that’s the culprit of your high ping or if it’s something directly related to your gaming setup.
Step 1: Conduct computer maintenance
Running through a computer maintenance checklist can go a long way in speeding up your device and how clearly it can communicate with a gaming router. Even dust that’s piled up overtime can cause overheating, because our computers are not receiving proper ventilation.
Another consideration: Are your ethernet cables up to date? Ethernet cables are available in categories ranging from 3 to 8, or Cat 3 to Cat 8. The higher the category, the better your internet bandwidth and transmission speed. Most households have a Cat 5 or greater ethernet cable, which suffices for gaming because it can handle internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps or higher. Outdated cables, however, might not even be able to handle speeds higher than 100 Mbps.
Step 2: Revisit your router setup
Our routers are the mainframe of our internet connectivity and they too deserve a little TLC. Consider the following router maintenance tips:
- Clear your router’s cache: A full internet cache bogs down our devices. Do a hard reset on your router to clear cookies entirely and give your device a clean slate.
- Place your router in an open space: Objects and even walls can obstruct our wireless internet connections. Evaluate whether your router is in an open space and maybe reposition it to a higher spot, because signals angle downward. Also readjust the antennas.
- Update your router’s firmware: Think of how our devices slow down when software or security updates are necessary. The same can be true for routers, so make sure your router’s firmware is up to date.
Step 3: Run an internet speed test
Now that your devices are up to snuff, it’s time to do an internet speed test to determine whether it’s really your internet connection that is affecting your download speed.
You can conduct an internet speed test by inputting “internet speed test” into Google. Click the “run speed test” button for a gauge on what your current download speed is. If your speed score is low — below 100 Mbps — this could be an indication that the internet may be the problem.
Keep in mind that internet speeds vary depending on the number of users that are on your network at the same time. For this reason, consider doing a few internet speed tests throughout the day to determine if your bandwidth is overwhelmed. You might also want to plug your computer directly into an ethernet cable to see how the numbers change.
9 more tips to reduce lag and fix ping
An unfortunate truth is we sometimes have to make sacrifices to improve our gameplay, including ditching Wi-Fi altogether, disconnecting other devices from your network, and even lowering the visual quality of games.
But one thing you should never sacrifice to lower ping is your video game security — even though it can be tempting, don’t disable your gaming security software or VPN to achieve a faster connection. Instead, consider the following pointers to reduce ping, listed from the least to more painstaking sacrifices.
1. Close background programs and applications
There are a lot of things fighting for our computer’s attention, programs, and applications running being one of them.
By force closing these, you’re directing your device’s attention entirely toward what’s important: your game. You’re also minimizing your internet bandwidth because there are less programs and applications nursing off of its connection. Some common programs to consider closing include Spotify, Zoom, Netflix, and even Twitch, if you’re not live-streaming yourself.
2. Temporarily disable updates
Enabling automatic updates for software and applications is a great way to stay on top of your cybersecurity and ensure your devices are running optimally. Still, these updates can require a lot of your computer’s attention. For this reason, if you’re experiencing lag in video games, you might want to consider temporarily disabling your updates so that they don’t hinder your gameplay. Just be sure to enable them once you push pause for the day.
3. Use an ethernet cord
Think of an ethernet cord like an IV. It’s providing direct nourishment to your device — in the form of an internet connection — because it’s plugged directly into your device. While it’s not the most convenient of ways to lower ping, because your ethernet cord might not be near your gaming setup, you can invest in a powerline adapter to connect to an ethernet cable away from your router.
Still, using an ethernet cord most often provides a more stable internet connection versus Wi-Fi, which is being tugged and pulled by many users and devices. In the event Wi-Fi is your only option, be sure you’re on a 5GHz network versus 2.4 GHz.
4. Remove other devices from your network
Just like those programs and applications that fight for our device’s attention, our connected devices, too, are competing for our Wi-Fi. And when you consider the rise of IoT, our routers have to juggle a lot. There’s smart TVs, computers, cell phones, smart watches, even our wireless gaming headsets. Then, multiply that by how many people live under one roof and your internet connection might simply be overwhelmed. If you’re experiencing lag in your video game, consider disconnecting these other devices or even users from your network — looking at you, roommate who’s always on TikTok.
5. Check the game server’s ping
It can sometimes be the case that it’s not you or your internet connection’s fault for a high ping — it might be the server of the game you’re playing that has a low ping. If you know the game server’s IP address, you can check this or you can visit sites such as Game Server Ping that list popular video games. If the game server’s ping is high, that could be a clear indication of why your ping is also high while gaming.
6. Select a gamer server closest to you
Another thing to consider is how close a game server is to your device, physically. The farther apart you are, the longer it takes for the two to communicate, so the higher your ping will be. Just think of how fast you can communicate with someone sitting beside you versus someone in another country. Good news is some games allow you to choose which game servers your device communicates with. If this is the case for your game, always pick the gamer server closest to your physical location.
7. Adjust your frame rate
Nowadays, gaming visuals are downright impressive. But the better the visuals — consider HD quality versus standard — the more energy it takes for your device to compute them. If you’re experiencing high ping, you may need to optimize your game’s settings, beginning with your frame rate. Worth noting is the higher your frame rate, the better quality your game’s animation will be. In your game’s settings panel, try lowering the frame rate on your game and see if it improves your gameplay.
8. Upgrade your router
The fact is equipment deteriorates over time, including the router that supports our internet connection and, in turn, affects lag in video games. Consider how old your router is and also consider upgrading it if the rest of these troubleshooting steps and tips haven’t been a success.
A newer device should give you the latest and greatest range and strongest signal for your wireless connection. Avid gamers might even want to consider springing for a gaming router that, as the name alludes, is optimized for gaming. Some include a Quality of Service feature that means the router will prioritize gaming traffic above other internet traffic.
9. Contact your internet service provider
If you can’t seem to find a solution for the lag in your video game, it might be time to call in the professionals. Contact your internet service provider for advanced troubleshooting tips to lower your ping and, finally, reduce lag in video games.
The bottom line: Lowering ping improves your online gaming performance
While people turn to video games for different reasons, with some considering gaming a form of relaxation and others determined to beat their competition, no gamer wants to experience lag — and every gamer wants to reduce lag. Thankfully, just maintaining your devices can make a big difference in your gaming experience. So, go forth, lower your ping, and higher those leaderboard rankings!
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