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Gamers are one of the two user types that have the most difficult time with routers. The problems stem from the conflict between the way games connect to and use the Internet and the way that NAT-based routers work. Add in the fact that there are few generally accepted standards (although Microsoft might argue with this) for how Internet based games communicate, and you may have a difficult time with online game play. And if you want to host a game server, there will be some additional hoops for you to jump through.

One thing you don't need to worrry about in gaming router selection is ping time (also known as latency or delay time). Any router you buy today is going to have a ping time lower than the 1 mS that ping can measure. This is why you won't see Ping Time Charts or any measurements of router latency in our reviews.

Ping performance is usually dominated by network traffic, both on your LAN and on the Internet, and not your router's inherent performance. Once your packets hit the WAN side of your router, there is nothing you can do to affect the time it takes for them to reach their destination.

A technology that can help gamers is QoS (Quality of Service). QoS works by assigning a priority to traffic and then handling the traffic on that basis. Packets with a higher priority are handled first and packets with lower priority get handled later. Note that QoS doesn't create bandwidth, it just provides some control over how it is allocated among applications and/or users.

So, for example, if you like to game and have a few Torrents running, then QoS can help by making sure that gaming traffic gets handled first, at the expense of slowing down the Torrents. But if there is an overloaded router in the path between you and your game server, then QoS isn't going to make a difference.

QoS comes in two basic forms: manual and automatic. In manual QoS, you assign the priority (typically high, medium or low). Some routers let you assign priority to a physical router switch port, IP or MAC address or both. But you can also assign priority by application (or the port that the application uses). This manual assignment can work if your needs are simple. But if you have a lot of time-sensitive applications and your application usage pattern changes during the day, things can get tricky, fast.

This is why you might be better off with an automatic QoS feature, such as Ubicom's Streamengine technology. D-Link has the widest line of Streamengine-enabled routers, including the DGL-4100/4300 [reviewed], DIR-655 [reviewed] and new DGL-4500 [reviewed]. This article has more about the benefits of automatic QoS.

Figure 3 shows an Active Session summary from a StreamEngine-equipped router, where you can see the priority levels that have been automatically applied to the various sessions. I believe there are 256 priority levels vs. the three or four typically found in routers with manual QoS features.

StreamEngine Active Session Status

Figure 3: StreamEngine Active Session Status

Another issue that can affect gamers is the inability to handle a large number of concurrent connections or sessions. This problem also affects P2P and file sharing applications, so I'll go into it in more detail in that section.

Recommendations: Look for routers that support at least manual, and preferably automatic QoS features. Fortunately, the Router Charts have a QoS filter to aid you in your search.

You'll also want to choose a router that can support the large number of simultaneous connections (sessions) that are used when a game tries to find the available game servers. Use the Maximum Simultaneous Connections benchmark chart and get a product with the highest number of connections that supports the other features you need.

File Swapping / Peer to Peer (P2P)

These folks join gamers as the most likely to not succeed in getting their favorite application to work with a router, or at least have problems in getting it work work reliably. The first reason is that P2P applications can use a large number of simultaneous connections, just as gaming apps do.

But instead of just using them for a short time while locating game servers, P2P apps use a large number of upload and download connections for long periods of time. This heavy usage can cause some routers to overheat or trigger obscure bugs in firmware, leading to flaky problems that are hard to pin down and fix.

Another problem with P2P is that it tends to be a bandwidth hog, which ISPs generally frown on. So if you are a constant P2P user and don't make any effort to limit the bandwidth you use, you can be pretty certain that your ISP will crank down your bandwidth for you.

ISPs usually don't even bother to tell you that they're doing this, or the methods of bandwidth control they are using. So you may think that something is wrong with your router when your Torrents seem to slow to a crawl occasionally or even stop altogether. But in reality, it's just your ISP trying to keep you in line with their bandwidth usage policies.

Recommendation: The recommendations made for Gamers also hold for this category. But P2P users are also advised to use the bandwidth usage controls in their P2P application to stay within their ISP's bandwidth usage guidelines.

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