What is ethernet?
When you’re playing first-person shooters or massively multiplayer online games, the most important thing is that you have a good experience. And that means minimal lag. If you’ve been looking up how to reduce lag then you’ve probably noticed that a popular piece of advice seems to be switching from WiFi gaming to ethernet gaming. But what does ‘ethernet gaming’ mean, and how does it work?
Ethernet is simply an alternative method of getting the broadband data that comes into your home from your router to your devices. When you use WiFi, the data that comes into your router is transmitted to your connected devices using radio waves. It’s entirely wireless, with data travelling through the air. Ethernet is different. When you use ethernet, the data travels through a cable that connects your device to an ethernet switch, or directly to a switch within your router.
Jamie Davies - Gaming content creator at TheGamesShed.
TheGamesShed: Would you recommend ethernet or WiFi for gaming?
To improve your online gaming performance, try the following tips shared by gaming expert and Youtuber, Jamie Davies, from TheGamesShed:
''The number one tip from me is to never game online using WiFi. Always use a wired connection. It's a super important part of any gaming set-up. If you cannot hook your gaming system up to your router via a cable and must rely on WiFi, then check other devices also connected to the internet. Ensure nothing is downloading huge amounts of data, equally ensure things like cloud services you may have for backing up family photos and other similar activities are not uploading during your gaming session.
This is because WiFi is not stable enough to maintain a solid connection, to receive both upload and download data. Always opt for a wired Ethernet connection when gaming online, to ensure you will receive the best experience and not suffer from things like latency, high ping etc. which can negatively impact gaming performance.''
So TheGamesShed, do you have any gaming tips and tricks that you’ve learnt?
''Give yourself an advantage when playing competitive games online by investing in a good headset and microphone. A good headset (ideally with 7.1 surround sound) will ensure you can audibly pinpoint any enemy activity before you can see them, giving you a distinct advantage. Also, never underestimate the importance of a good and clear microphone to communicate with team members.
If you have no access to use a microphone, communicate using in game prompts and pings to locate tasks, enemies and objectives to teammates. Most importantly and so often overlooked by so many is that you should always play the objective in a video game. If you are playing a capture the flag mode, make sure you are trying to capture that flag. If your teammate has captured the flag make sure you protect them. It is fundamental to winning the game.''
Is ethernet better than WiFi for gaming?
What do you need for gaming? While your first answer may be ‘superfast speeds’, it’s often a little more complex than that. If you’re playing MMOs or first-person shooters where every millisecond counts, it’s not just speed that you need. You also need to have low latency.
What is latency? It’s how long it takes between you making a move, firing a shot, or taking any other action in your game, and that action happening on screen. Ping is how latency is measured in milliseconds. What is a good ping speed? Ideally, you should be aiming for less than 50 milliseconds.
In terms of latency, ethernet is often the better choice for gaming. That’s because there’s a direct, wired connection, so data can travel from your device, to the server, and back to the device without anything standing in its way. However, there are definitely pros and cons to both connection options.
Location matters. Consoles may often be set up in a shared space, such as the living room, where multiple members of the household can all join in. In these sorts of spaces, aesthetics might be quite important; you may not want is an ethernet cable trailing through your living room. When using WiFi, there are no wires involved, so this can sometimes be a better option for consoles.
An important thing to remember about consoles is that, while most have ethernet ports, not all of them do. The Nintendo Switch is a prime example. You can, of course, purchase an adapter that would allow you to plug an ethernet cable in, but it might be easier to simply use WiFi instead.
If you’re playing on a portable console or a laptop, it might not make much sense to connect via ethernet cable. This is because you may choose to play from the living room, bedroom, kitchen, garden, or anywhere else on your property. If you use ethernet, you would have to sit within reach of the cable. Although WiFi may not be as good in terms of latency or reliability, the big advantage is flexibility. You’re able to play from anywhere that the WiFi signal can reach within your home.
Gaming PCs are often large and bulky, so they’re typically set up in a fixed location, often on a desk. In these situations, it can make perfect sense to run an ethernet cable, because you know you’ll always be connecting from the same place. If you’re playing first-person shooters and MMOs, you’ll enjoy the lower latency – and seemingly higher speeds – that come from a wired connection.
However, if you typically play more casual games, you may not need the additional latency and reliability benefits that ethernet brings. You may find it easier to connect using WiFi, which means there’s no need to run a series of cables throughout your home. Data is transmitted wirelessly.
Are long ethernet cables bad for gaming?
From a gameplay perspective, not really. While technically it takes data longer to travel through a long cable as opposed to a shorter one, the effects of using a long ethernet cable are not noticeable.
From a practical perspective, long cables can be a bit frustrating. Imagine your router is down in your living room, and you want to connect to a gaming PC that’s in the study – upstairs, and on the other side of the property. A long cable between the two can be a tripping hazard. It can be unsightly. And if you’re renting your home, your landlord may not be too happy if you decide to drill a few holes for the cable!
The good news is that there are alternatives. The best is a powerline network adapter, which is a device that allows you to use your home’s own electrical wiring as your network. You’ll still need ethernet cables, but you should be able to get away with shorter ones. You’ll need one for connecting your device to the nearest socket, and one for connecting your router to the nearest socket. The rest of the journey – the long bit – all takes place within your electrical wiring.
Something else to keep in mind is that modern homes are increasingly being built with ethernet cables inside the walls. This offers a similar situation to the powerline example above. You’ll just need two short cables at each end; the rest of the journey happens on the hidden cable in the walls.
Which is the best WiFi for gaming?
Let’s say you do choose to connect via WiFi, and your WiFi signal is strong – but you’re struggling with lag. A great way to help improve your experience is to ensure you’ve got a good broadband package suitable for gaming, such as gaming broadband.
Article Updated: 6th April 2023