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A Gamer’s Guide to Internet Speed

By Adam Benjamin

Find out the ideal speed for your gaming habits

Wondering exactly how many Mbps are good for gaming? It depends on a variety of factors. Our calculator will help you figure out the download speeds you’ll need, and the guide below describes other factors that could impact your gaming sessions.

If you do a lot of online gaming — whether it’s plowing through your enemies in League of Legends, achieving victory royale in Fortnite, or just building anything you can dream up in Minecraft — you don’t want the internet slowing you down. Slow internet speeds can result in laggy games, or worse, getting kicked from a server. The guide below will walk you through some of the more technical considerations like bandwidth, ping, and data caps.

What is a good internet speed for gaming?

Download speeds

When internet providers advertise speeds, they’re usually talking about download speeds. When gaming, download speeds dictate how quickly your PC or console receives information from game servers. Most gaming setups only need download speeds of about 3–6 Mbps to operate smoothly, but they’re not the only factors.

All the devices that connect to your internet — your phone, maybe a laptop or tablet — tax your internet speeds. The more devices on your internet connection, the less likely you are to reach your maximum speeds (that’s partly why providers advertise speeds “up to” a certain amount). If you live alone, this won’t be as much of a concern. But if someone’s streaming Netflix in HD while you’re gaming, your internet has to transfer more data at the same time, which could result in slower speeds.

The fix? Higher maximum speeds. Our calculator automatically accounts for the different factors taking up bandwidth and estimates what speeds will help you maintain smooth, uninterrupted gameplay.

Upload speeds

Online gaming requires more than just receiving information: Every time you tell your game to punch an opponent, shoot a weapon, or any other command, your game has to send that information to the game servers. This is where upload speeds come into play.

Upload speeds for broadband internet tend to be much slower than download speeds, usually single-digit Mbps, because most people upload much less data than they download.

Online gaming constantly sends information upstream, and console manuals suggest having 0.5 Mbps at a minimum. But the higher the upload speed, the better. Fiberoptic internet offers symmetrical download and upload speeds, which means your internet will upload information as blisteringly fast as it can download it. That’s why fiber is the best choice for competitive gamers.

Want to broadcast your climb to being a Top 500 Overwatch player? Streaming gameplay involves uploading a lot more information, so you’ll want higher upload speeds — in the range of 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps, depending on the quality you’re streaming in.

Latency and Ping

Latency is a delay in sending and receiving information. It’s determined by a combination of factors, including your internet speed, the distance information has to travel, and the performance of your router.

As Austin Norby, a software engineer with Blue Star Software explains, “There are many technical details that can affect speed, but queueing and management overhead will have the largest impact.” When packets of information are received by your router, they’re not immediately processed. Instead, they’re put in a queue. If your router isn’t powerful enough to clear that queue quickly, you’ll experience lag in your games:

“Queueing time is the amount of time that a packet of information spends in the queue to be processed by the router. Once the queue is full, the router will start dropping packets, which will increase latency because information is not being received by the client, server, or both.”

When routers drop information packets, that information has to be transmitted again, which increases latency. Imagine sending a birthday gift to a friend: If the package is returned to you, your friend won’t get the gift on time because it has to go through the mail twice. That’s essentially what happens when packets are lost.

Ping is a measure of latency: It’s the amount of time it takes information to be sent from your system to the game servers and make it back, in milliseconds. If you’re worried about your ping, you can test it by using an online speed test. If it’s consistently above 150 ms, your gaming is probably suffering — we recommend upgrading your router, and maybe looking at a new internet provider.

Don’t Ignore Data Caps

Most major providers have caps of 1 TB, but if your home consumes a lot of data by streaming in HD or 4K, ask your internet provider about unlimited data plans. Gaming alone won’t exceed that cap, but other devices and activities will add up data usage across the month. If you stream a lot of video in addition to gaming, an unlimited data plan might save you money compared to overage charges.

Hardware

Optimizing your gaming speeds isn’t entirely in the hands of your internet provider, though. While the components of your gaming system will affect how smoothly the game runs on your screen, your router will have a bigger effect on speed and lag in multiplayer games. We spoke to Chris Brantner, founder of StreamingObserver.com, who said: “Your router setup can have a big impact on whether or not you actually get the speeds you’re paying for. An easy way to tell if your router is the problem is to connect your computer directly to your modem via Ethernet cable and run a speed test. If you’re getting faster speeds, then you likely have a router problem.”

Not ready to upgrade your router? Here are three tips to keep things running as fast as possible:

  1. Use a wired connection. Ethernet cables (especially if you have a gigabit ethernet port) will provide a more reliable connection that minimizes the chances of a choppy connection.
  2. Disconnect other devices while you’re gaming. Anything that’s connected to your internet will be demanding its attention while you’re online, so you’ll get better game performance if you turn the Wi-Fi off for devices you aren’t using.
  3. Utilize quality of service (qos) settings: When multiple devices are competing for your router’s attention, these settings tell your router which devices to favor. According to Brantner, they allow you to make your router prioritize gaming traffic, giving you the best experience.