Latency or “ping” can be a major problem when playing video games, especially gaming over the internet. This has been true from the early days of modem-based dial-up to modern high-speed broadband connections.
Some games are very sensitive to latency, where other types will perform well with higher latencies. In general terms, a low ping means better responsiveness during online play. A low ping also usually means less lag and a more enjoyable gaming experience overall.
But exactly, what is good ping? What is considered acceptable these days for an online game? Let’s take a look at some numbers and get an idea.
How To Check Your Ping Or Latency?
The “ping” is an ICMP protocol command that will tell you how long it takes to send data between client and server.
To check your ping to the source server, use this command:
Note: Remember to replace the password with the correct password for that specific server.
If you want to display only the result without having the black window flash up, put the cursor on the desired line and press the SHIFT+END key combination. The text selection should contain the ping result now.
Now run the following command from the console:
/console cmdResult 1 (if you have selected first line)
/console cmdResult LINE (for example 2).
This will print the last copied text into the chatbox.
Or just go to devicetests.com to easily check your ping with multiple servers worldwide.
Understanding Connection Speeds
Very few connections offer consistently low pings for most gamers, including cellular wireless and satellite internet services. The most consistently low pings come from dedicated lines such as DSL, Cable, Fiber, and LAN connections using dedicated fiber or coaxial cabling. For the purpose of this article, we’ll mainly be talking about these types of connections.
To understand what is good ping, you need to know that connection speeds (download and upload) are measured in bits per second (bps). One byte consists of 8 bits so that a 100mbps connection can move 12.5 million bytes every second! That’s impressive, but how does that relate to latency?
What is Latency or Ping?
Latency or “ping” is how long it takes for a signal to make the round trip back and forth between two points, such as your devices at home and the servers you are connected to. Latency is expressed in milliseconds (ms).
- 1000ms equals one second.
- 1000 milli-seconds equal 1 second.
- 1000 seconds equals 1 minute, and so on.
That means that a 100 bps connection can handle roughly 83 ms worth of ping before data starts getting delayed enough to matter. The higher the latency value, the longer it takes for the signal to get there and back again.
One thing that needs to be considered when thinking about latency figures is network overhead which has nothing directly whatsoever to do with bandwidth but instead deals with things like packet headers, error correction information, multiple connections running at once, etc.
These technically have no effect on speed or lag between devices, yet they still consume bytes of traffic and add to latency; this is why you often see lower reported latencies on lower bandwidth connections where overhead limits the maximum data throughput. When it comes to internet gaming, which requires low and consistent pings, overhead is something we want to keep in mind.
Why Do Both Upload and Download Speeds Matter?
Latency is a round trip time measurement, and your ping can be affected by either your download speed (to the game servers) or your upload speed (from the game servers back to you).
Servers use their available connection bandwidth as equally as possible when servicing all players at once. That means that if 50 people are playing but there’s only 3% of total bandwidth, each player will receive roughly 1/50th of the packets sent. If all of those players are far away from the server, they will need to wait longer for packets to arrive.
Some connections are more upload-biased, meaning that it takes longer for packets to get back to you than it does for them to go out. A game with a download speed cap can be extremely unpleasant due to latency issues yet still allow high bandwidth throughput since player data is only flowing one way most of the time.
For example, suppose your connection is fast enough that even playing 50 players games, supposedly you never surpass 3% of the total available bandwidth; the case then is any data transfer will be exactly the same as if you were just transferring files locally on your home network.
But that depends on how much overhead is used, though. Most connections have about a 10% overhead in their connections, so in this case, you’d actually be limited to 3.4 mbps download speed for gaming which is still enough for 50 players games at 100 bps but not much else. You can check your download and even upload speed using an internet speed test.
In most cases, the best upload speeds are achieved from within LANs or on shared internet connections such as those found at many hotspots and coffee shops since they’re shared between fewer users with less lag resulting from using them.
In these cases, higher bandwidth will simply allow for faster data transfers through local backup processes rather than directly impacting latency or ping times. If your connection is fast enough, it can even outperform a direct internet connection by rapidly sending data between a small handful of machines.
This is why some gamers who are lucky enough to have very low latency internet connections are still able to get LAG or high latency when playing games because they’re running into bandwidth limits that their connection can’t surpass.
Once you move past the basics, a lot more goes into what determines your latency and ping time, yet for now, this should serve as an adequate primer to understand just how much impact each factor has on overall performance.
Remember that network overhead can change depending on factors such as distance between hardware, types of hardware used, protocols employed, etc. There’s never any exact way to tell what percentage will affect ping times, but these figures should serve as rough guidelines.
The best thing you can do is look at the overall packet loss across your entire connection (you can use devicetests.com again) and use that as a metric of what areas need more work. For example, suppose your pings are around 50 ms normally but jump to 200+ when playing a particular game in a specific location; in that case, you may want to do some optimization to better balance resources.