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(Pocket-lint) - When playing multiplayer games it's important to know what your ping is and how it can impact your gaming performance.

Aside from just having a sharp aim and good reflexes, there are a few things that can positively or negatively affect your games and influence whether you win or not. Ping is one of those things. But what is it and what can you do to improve it? Stick with us to find out. 

What is ping?

When you're playing games, the word "ping" is used to refer to the time it takes for the signal being sent from your gaming PC to be received by the game server you're playing on. 

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Ping is often used interchangeably with "latency" as a way to describe a delay in your character's movement or actions in-game compared to your inputs on your keyboard, mouse or controller. 

Latency is different though, as latency can come in several different forms:

  • Peripheral Latency: This is the time it takes for your mouse or keyboard to register a press and send that action to your gaming PC
  • Game Latency:This is the time it takes for your CPU to process the input and then send that data to your graphics card to be rendered
  • Render Latency: This is the time it takes for data sent from the CPU to be rendered by the GPU
  • PC Latency:This is the time it takes a frame to travel through the PC. This includes both Game and Render Latency
  • Display Latency: This is the time it takes for your monitor to a new image after the GPU has finished rendering 
  • System Latency:The whole of this process from end to end

There are various things that can impact latency. We've already written about common causes of PC lag and how to fix them. But you can also reduce latency by changing parts of your gaming PC. If you upgrade your CPU, add more RAM, buy a new GPU or purchase a high-end gaming mouse or keyboard. All these things can help reduce problems with latency, but they won't help with ping. 

That's because ping is what happens after some of these sorts of latency. Once the signal is sent to your PC, it then has to go to the server and back again. You can't do anything with your hardware to make that happen faster. Though you can make your connection more reliable with a wired ethernet connection from your router rather than relying on Wi-Fi.

How is ping measured?

So you now know that ping is essentially how long it takes for your PC to communicate with the game server. How is it measured though? Well, ping is generally measured in milliseconds. Ideally the lower the ping the better.

If you are playing a game where you host the server then others join you, you'll likely find the ping is basically nothing. While your friend's pings will be higher, depending on how far away they live. 

Ping will vary according to the location of the server you're playing on. If you choose a server hosted in a nearby city then your ping will hopefully be reasonable. Preferably somewhere around 15 or 20ms or lower. Other nearby servers might be higher, for example somewhere around 40 to 60ms. You'll still be able to play reasonably on those and have a fairly decent experience. 

The further away the server, the higher the ping. 

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How high is too high? 

If you're looking at a multiplayer game server browser, then the chances are you have the ability to filter by ping so you can see the lowest and highest. Naturally, you want to choose the ones with the lowest ping. However, you might find that's not always possible.

Low ping servers might not be populated depending on the time of day. If you're playing in the middle of the night or middle of the day when other people aren't gaming as much then you might have to turn to servers further away. 

The ping will get higher the further away you go. We find it's perfectly possible to play on European servers while gaming in the UK with minimal fuss. We can also play on American servers on the East Coast, but ping will be higher, sometimes in the 100 to 200ms range. Try to play in Asia and you might find over 200 or 300ms which is nearly unplayable. 

High ping results in a disconnect between your button presses and the actions that happen in the game. The higher the ping, the worse this becomes. This can cause your character to stutter across the map in the worst case or just miss shots that should have connected in an FPS game or battle royale, leading to frustrating losses. 

Low ping for competitive play

If you're playing competitive games or fast-paced games that require quick reactions and low latency accuracy then a low ping is an important part of this.

This is why eSports and competitive gaming events are held in LAN setups where everyone's computers are connected together locally. No internet connection means a level playing field when it comes to ping. 

This negates things like "peeker's advantage" from coming into play. This is where an attacking player has the edge over a stationary one who's camping a corner waiting for enemies to come along. The ping difference can make each player see different things:

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How to measure your ping

It is possible to measure your ping with relative ease without even being in a game. To do so, you can do a speed test by using this tool

This gives you your upload and download speeds but also the ping to the server you're testing from. You can change the server location from this tool meaning you can even test your ping to see how it will perform in different regions. 

How to reduce you ping

Obviously, the best way to reduce your ping is to choose a server that's geographically close to you. There are other things you can do to improve your experience though. 

  1. Exit other apps - when you're playing be sure to exit and turn off any other apps or programs that might be impacting your network. This includes software like Steam, Origin, Epic Games and more which might be downloading games in the background. Close Chrome and exit other apps that are sending network data. 
  2. Use ethernet - avoid using Wi-Fi and instead connect your gaming machine directly to your router using a fast ethernet cable. This will give a solid connection and better bandwidth. 
  3. Activate Quality of Service settings - some routers, especially gaming routers, have QoS settings in the router's options. These can be set to prioritise network traffic in various ways. You can set the router to prioritise your gaming machine over everything else on your home network. Some also have the option to prioritise gaming traffic over all other things too. 
  4. Turn off network devices - Turn off other things in your home that might be using bandwidth when not needed. Simple things like smart home devices, other computers and more can all be interesting with your gaming fun. 
  5. Upgrade your router - if all else fails you could consider upgrading your router for something more capable. You'll be surprised how much difference this makes. 
Writing by Adrian Willings.
Sections Games PC Gaming