One of the most popular purposes for a switch to high speed Internet is to take advantage of online gaming, often by playing MMOs such as EVE Online, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, etc. (although many others are available).
These MMOs require a good quality Internet connection for successful gaming, something that you might believe you have already signed up for.
However it isn’t always as simple as that; while your Internet speed might offer broadband bandwidth, there could be a hidden latency issue that slows data transfer, something that is a lot more damaging to gaming than it is to, say, file sharing.
By understanding the effect of latency on your home network, Internet connection and the online games you’re intending to play, you should be able to gain the knowledge to address the situation.
What Is Latency?
Put simply, latency is delay. The term derives from “latent”, as in “present but not visible”, and reflects the situation of data delays between two computers. This is particularly common in online gaming, where basically the data is recorded as being sent but there is no visual representation of it having been received.
Clearly this can cause problems. For instance, if you’re engaged in combat in on online game it is vital that you should be able to strike at the correct time, rather than have to wait for the command to be received and acted on.
Often online games record the latency of your connection for you to record and investigate. It is usually displayed in milliseconds, with a higher score indicating a faster connection.
You can measure your system’s latency outside of a game by using the ping command. In Windows this is a case of hitting WINDOWS+R, typing CMD, clicking OK and typing:
or some other popular URL. A small packet of data is then sent and the round trip time – the time taken for the data to leave your PC, reach the destination and then return – is displayed. In Mac OS X, you might send a ping using Applications > Utilities > Network Utility > Ping.
Dealing with Latency and Bandwidth Issues
So how can you prevent latency from affecting your game?
There are various ways of doing this, from improving your local cabling and optimizing your router to discarding with unnecessary background tasks on your computer. You should also speak to your ISP in some depth on that matter if you feel that they are not offering you the best performance. They might have an alternative package that you are able to switch to that is more suitable for gaming.
Ultimately, recognizing that latency can affect the performance of online games and other high speed Internet tasks (for instance, remote desktop) and that it is distinct from (albeit related to) bandwidth is important, and this will serve you well in the future when you begin researching a switch to a new ISP.