How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?

Written by catherine bowers
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How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?
Gaming without lag is much more fun. (eurolan 10 image by Nathalie P from Fotolia.com)

As multiplayer games increase in popularity and complexity on the Internet, more people wonder exactly what kind of Internet bandwidth connection is needed to play or host a game without lag. While more speed is always better when it comes to gaming, and many gamers have fast downstream connections, users may wonder what kind of upstream speeds are ideal for gaming, especially if they plan to host a multiplayer server.

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Bandwidth Speeds

Lag occurs when your connection is slowed. Most broadband connections like cable or DSL allow people to join a server and play with others relatively lag-free. For example, an Internet plan might advertise a downstream speed of up to 18 megabits per second and an upstream speed of up to 2 megabits per second. Since online games use much more downstream than upstream bandwidth, this typical speed is ideal for gaming. However, the actual speed you experience may be less than the top speed advertised by your Internet provider.

Analyse actual Internet speed by visiting Speedtest.net: The Global Broadband Speed Test and testing a connection on a variety of servers. An upstream speed of 2 megabits per second equates to a speed of 256 kilobytes per second. Use the Matisse.net Bit Calculator to convert megabits to kilobytes, and vice versa.

How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?
True bandwidth may vary from what your provider advertises. (ethernet image by Victor B from Fotolia.com)

Bandwidth for Playing Multiplayer Games

The typical broadband connection today is ideal for joining almost all multiplayer Internet-based game servers. Games like EverQuest and Ultima Online typically use less than 1 kilobyte per second of upstream data. A typical 2 megabit per second upstream speed can transfer up to 256 kilobits per second, far more than these games will ever use.

How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?
Joining a multiplayer game server doesn't take much upstream bandwidth. (controller image by Thommi from Fotolia.com)

Bandwidth for Hosting Multiplayer Games

The amount of upstream bandwidth necessary for hosting a multiplayer game is much greater than for simply joining a game as a player. The more people who join a hosted game, the more bandwidth is needed. Different games will require varying amounts of bandwidth per player that joins.

On average, you will need at least 6 kilobits of upstream per player slot for most games. A good example of what kind of upstream speeds are necessary to host games is Counterstrike Planet's CS Server Bandwidth Estimates diagram. According to it, a 256 kilobyte per second or 2 megabit per second upstream speed is necessary to host a server with one to four players. Therefore, the typical broadband connection will support a very small server for a few friends to play together.

How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?
Hosting a multiplayer server can require much more upstream bandwidth. (eurolan 5 image by Nathalie P from Fotolia.com)

Other Factors Causing Lag

Lag can still occur even if there is more than enough upstream and downstream bandwidth available for optimal game play. Too many people using the local network or a crowded ISP can slow everybody down. A very distant server means many more connections to hop through, and therefore higher latency, ping and lag. Slow computers can both generate slow gameplay and more lag. If you've determined that your upstream bandwidth is appropriate for the game you're playing or hosting, then one of these other problems is likely the cause of lag.

How Much Upstream Is Needed for Lag-Free Gaming?
Many factors contribute to increasing lag. (computer hub image by Albo from Fotolia.com)

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