A quick online search will reveal that there are dozens of gaming routers in all price ranges offering features to supposedly help deliver a better online experience for gamers. They offer a varied range of settings such as Quality of Service, advanced Wi-Fi standards, fast Ethernet ports and sometimes other features that they claim can benefit gamers.
But do they deliver on these promises and are they worth the price tag?
There may be some specific circumstances where a gaming router may be of benefit, such as when you need to manage network demands in busy houses and when a wired connection to your router is not possible by any means. However in many other circumstances gaming routers are not definitively offering you anything that isn’t already on most standard routers.
The features they do have are not necessarily worth forking out big bucks for. Lets look at the pros and cons in more detail now.
The Main Beneficial Feature of a Gaming Router: Quality of Service Settings
We have to deal with this feature separately as we believe Quality of Service or QoS settings are the single biggest benefit that Gaming Routers can offer, as it is a feature often not included in the standard routers supplied by ISPs, as we have mentioned elsewhere.
By contrast every single gaming router we looked up always had QoS settings on, as it is the number one tool for prioritising devices on a network.
Quality of Service settings basically allow you to prioritise traffic on a home network so that your router deals with gaming traffic first before anything else on the network, reducing delays in data getting to and from your console and thereby hopefully reducing latency or lag.
We have covered how to configure QoS settings in another article, but in brief it involves logging into your router, navigating to QoS settings if available, inputting the device you want to prioritise by it’s IP or MAC address, and setting it’s priority to “highest” or “maximum”.
Other devices can be set to lower priority levels according to how much bandwidth they use. Streaming and Skype generally require a higher level of priority whereas general browsing needs a lesser priority.
As we mentioned QoS settings are not included on many standard routers, so it is worth logging into your router to check if QoS is available (type it’s IP address into a browser bar – often 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 – plus the password and see if you can find QoS settings).
If it is not and you are gaming online on a congested home network, then a Gaming Router may be a good purchase to keep latency down.
Gaming routers will always have QoS to allow you to prioritize your gaming on the home network
Other Common Features of Gaming Routers
Gaming routers tend to come with some other features as well, which are advertised as being of benefit to gamers, usually involving the speed and standard of the wired and Wi-Fi connectivity equipment. We will evaluate each of these features in turn to see whether they are worth an investment in an extra router.
1. Gigabit Ethernet Ports
Most gaming routers come with at least 4 (and sometimes up to 8) fast gigabit Ethernet ports, which as the name suggests can handle transfer speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second or 1000 megabits per second to your games console for lightning fast download speeds.
However there are a couple of issues with using this as a selling point for gaming routers. Firstly, most up to date ISP supplied routers already contain at least 4 gigabit Ethernet ports, so you are not getting anything that isn’t already on most routers anyway.
Secondly, gigabit speeds can only be used if your internet connection and other hardware allows for it. Most commercial internet packages max out at a couple of hundred megabits per second download speed, so a gigabit port can’t be fully exploited anyway.
Full fibre to the home (FTTH) packages offering symmetrical gigabit speeds are slowly becoming more available, but at the moment a gigabit port cannot be fully utilised with most internet packages.
Also, as we have covered elsewhere, it is latency and not bandwidth that is more important when it comes to online gaming; in other words it is not so much how much data can be sent but how fast it can be sent that determines whether you will experience lag or not. Taking other steps such as using wired connections, QoS settings and port forwarding can help you handle that.
802.11ac Wireless Standard
Most gaming routers also offer 802.11ac/ax wireless compatibility, which is the latest and best standard for Wi-Fi, delivering the best and most reliable wireless signal so far over other standards.
Of course this will only work if the hardware connecting to the router is also 802.11ac or ax compatible, which unfortunately older PS4 models are not (the Slim and Pro versions are compatible). The same goes for Xbox One consoles, with only the later models 802.11ac compatible.
Again though this is another feature that is not unique to gaming routers and will be present on most modern standard routers supplied by your ISP so again it may not be necessary to invest in something that you already have on your main router.
Also Wi-Fi just inherently comes with problems that are built into the way it operates, as no matter the standard, Wi-Fi signals always degrade the further they get from the router as per the inverse square law of physics.
This is unavoidable and whilst newer hardware and standards have become better at delivering stronger more consistent signals, the best router manufacturers can hope to do is to stop Wi-Fi signals degrading over distance any more than the laws of physics say they already will.
Dual Band Wi-Fi – 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Gaming Routers also often advertise Dual Band Wi-Fi as one of their main features. Dual band basically means that wireless traffic on a home network is spread out over two separate “spaces” or wifi bands, which can help reduce network congestion as opposed to if all devices were competing for bandwidth on a single band.
The idea behind this is that with dual band wifi you could put your games console on a band that is relatively less congested (or perhaps all on it’s own in a band!) and leave the other devices on the other band, reducing the possibility of busy networks affecting your online gaming and causing lag.
Again though dual band Wi-Fi is already offered as standard on most new spec ISP routers and hubs anyway so it is another feature that there is no point paying for if you already have on your current router.
Also whilst dual band Wi-Fi can help a little in managing traffic, network congestion is another inherent weakness built into wifi as it operates on a half duplex system, meaning devices on wifi can only send OR receive data at once but not both at the same time, and also only one device at a time can send or receive.
This puts wireless connections at a huge disadvantage to wired connections, as we have gone into in another article. Wired connections can run at full duplex, meaning they can send and receive data simultaneously with no problem, eliminating the problem of network congestion and offering a huge advantage for gamers in reducing lag over Wi-Fi.
This is why we are a bit sceptical of gaming routers promoting certain wifi features as benefits, as we would argue it is much better for gamers to be on a wired connection rather than wifi anyway to keep latency down, for the reasons we mentioned above.
Wired connections just deliver a stronger, more reliable signal that does not degrade or suffer from the congestion issues that wifi connected devices do, particularly at peak use times.
Some Gaming Routers in Different Price Ranges
Given all these caveats though, let’s offer up a couple of popular and well reviewed gaming routers in different price brackets for those still interested in this as a purchase.
Click to view each product on Amazon (affiliate links)
Low Price Range – Wise Tiger/WAVLINK Router – Sleek white design, 4 antennae for best signal, dual band Wi-Fi. Decent average review score at time of writing – good budget choice for a gaming router.
Mid Price Range – TP Link AC1750 Router – Best selling router, ideal for gaming and very well reviewed. Black design, 3 antennae, slightly more expensive though.
High Price Range – Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 Router – Very expensive, but widely regarded as one of the most complete gaming routers. Optimized for low ping with QoS, Dual band Wi-Fi, 4 antennae and Geo-filter feature. Very well received in the industry.
Alternative Home Networking Solutions That May Be Cheaper
For the reasons we mentioned above regarding Wi-Fi, it is best for online gamers to be on a wired connection if at all possible.
For most gamers we would argue this is the most important issue rather than whether you have a gaming router or not – are you on a wired connection or not?
Most gamers who get this issue sorted shouldn’t have any problems with lag even using the standard routers supplied by your ISP. Getting onto a wired connection is often the most crucial thing for smooth online gaming – standard routers often take care of the rest.
Of course, getting onto wired LAN connections is sometimes not possible or practical due to the distance between a console and a router, with some people not wanting or able to run 20 or 30 metre ethernet cables through their house to get a wired connection.
This is where a Powerline Adapter can come in as excellent alternative method of achieving a wired connection to your router without having to run long Ethernet cables through walls or down stairs. They consist of a pair of plug adapters, one of which is connected to your device and the other to your router, which communicate through your house’s existing electrical wiring to create a wired connection to your router.
In many cases we believe this can be a better (and often cheaper) solution to running on Wi-Fi even on a specialised gaming router, as it just gets you onto a wired connection and allows you to enjoy all the benefits that we mentioned a wired connection has over Wi-Fi in terms of stability and performance.
This does come with a few caveats as the performance of a powerline adapter can depend on certain factors like the age and quality of the electrical wiring in the house, plus the proximity of adapters to certain electrical equipment which can interfere with signals. See our article for a summary of this.
However, in the vast majority of modern and semi modern houses powerline adapters will work very well and deliver a strong wired connection to the router wherever you are in the house.
Entry level powerline adapters are also relatively cheap, far cheaper than mid to top range gaming routers so they may be good alternative to forking out for an expensive router.
How Powerline Adapters Work – Quick Intro
Summary – When Would a Gaming Router Be Worth It?
Given the concerns and caveats we have raised so far then, would there be any scenarios when it would make sense to invest in a gaming router anyway? We have mentioned the issue of many of the features already being available on standard routers anyway, which negates some of the reasons for buying one.
We can however think of a couple of scenarios when buying a gaming router may make sense. If one or both of these things are true then we would consider a gaming router a good option.
1. When There Are No Quality of Service Settings on Your Current Router and You Have a Busy Home Network
QoS settings are very important for online gaming, as we have already covered elsewhere, so if your current router does not have QoS settings then it may well be worth buying a gaming router, especially if you have a congested home network.
If there are lots of devices connecting to your router at the same time you are trying to game online, particularly on Wi-Fi, then the router just has to “process” or juggle the traffic as best it can, only able to send or receive at any one time on Wi-Fi, which improves the likelihood of lagging the more devices are competing for bandwidth on the home network.
Having QoS settings enables you to tell the router to process the traffic in a specific order, prioritising your games console first and hopefully reducing the latency. Many ISP supplied routers do not have QoS so in this scenario a gaming router may be a good purchase to manage congestion on your home network.
2. When A Wired Connection to Your Router is Not Possible By Any Means
There may be some circumstances when you simply have to use wireless even if you don’t want to because you are too far away from your router to run an ethernet cable to it.
Similarly, in some older or larger houses that have worn electrical wiring or run off separate electrical meters or feeds, a Powerline Adapter may not work as an alternative as the wiring and/or the circuitry of the house does not allow the powerline adapters to communicate and deliver a signal to each other.
In this case a Gaming Router would be a good option, as the better ones will at least deliver the best possible wireless signal even though it will likely not be as solid as a wired connection. Better gaming routers often have attachable antennas that allow you to concentrate and direct the wireless signal towards your console to get the best possible reception.
If you are in this position though and decide a gaming router is the best option, then we recommend going “all in” and buying a top end model that really is optimised for gaming and not a low or mid range model.
For this we recommend the Netgear XR500 Nighthawk Pro Gaming Router as it has the best options, as whilst being expensive it also appears to be the most consistently highly reviewed and is noticeably praised for the strength and consistency of the Wi-Fi signal it delivers.
The Netgear XR500 has all the options we mentioned above plus some more besides, most noticeably the Geo Filter tool which allows you to manually set the range of how far you want to search for servers when gaming.
This means that you can limit the distance of any competitors you play against online, and by reducing your Geo Filter zone to your local country or continent you can greatly reduce your chance of experiencing lag online.
The XR500 is also very widely praised in all reviews for the strength and range of it’s Wi-Fi coverage, offering good speeds and distance over both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. So it appears the internal hardware and attachable antennas of the XR 500 help to make the most out of the wifi signal despite Wi-Fi being at a disadvantage to wired connections.
For this reason the Netgear XR 500 Pro Gaming Router is our recommended choice if you have exhausted all other options at reducing lag and decide you want to go for a specialized gaming router.
Whilst it is an expensive piece of kit it also appears to be the most consistent performer in terms of strength and consistency of signal, and this added to the wide range of features it has on it’s dashboard makes it the most complete router for online gaming.
Check out the detailed review video of the NG XR500 below.