It’s an age-old question among PC gamers: does plugging in to the internet provide a meaningful increase in speed over Wi-Fi?
For years, it’s been accepted that Ethernet connections are the fastest way to game. That was undoubtedly true back in the 1990s and 2000s. But can the same be said today?
What’s the Difference?
Ethernet: Your PC is physically tethered to your router using an Ethernet cable. One end of the cable is in your router, while the other is in your PC’s Ethernet port.
Wi-Fi: You connect to your router wirelessly from anywhere within range.
The Difference in Performance Speeds and Reliability
Ethernet speeds aren’t as straightforward as you might think: the kind of Ethernet cable you use matters, for example, as does the Wi-Fi support on your device. These have a huge impact on performance and reliability.
Ethernet, in general, is still the fastest and most reliable way for PC gamers to game.
Why Ethernet is Still Faster
Well, it comes down to the way the router is designed. In most cases, your ISP has optimized your router for voice and video traffic: when someone is chatting on Skype or streaming Netflix, that traffic gets prioritized over your gaming traffic. If you live in a household with multiple people, then this means your PC games could frequently lag or experience connectivity issues – especially if you have a 5mbps connection or lower.
When you connect directly to the internet through an Ethernet cable, however, you don’t need to worry about prioritization. You’re hard-wired to the router, which also means you don’t need to worry about packet loss and ping spikes. Your traffic isn’t prioritized more or less than other traffic on the network.
Obviously, the difference isn’t always noticeable. If you live in a household with just one or two people, for example, then you might not notice traffic prioritization.
At the same time, many people customize their router settings to prioritize gaming traffic, which can significantly speed up Wi-Fi speeds.
And, new Wi-Fi protocols, like 802.11ac, has led to significant speed improvements over wireless networks. Many have compared this protocol to wired Ethernet connections because the benefits are virtually indistinguishable.
At the end of the day, Ethernet connections are almost always faster than Wi-Fi connections, all other things being equal. However, unless you’re connected to a busy Wi-Fi network with low bandwidth or high usage, the difference isn’t noticeable enough to significantly affect your gaming performance – we don’t live in the 90s or 2000s anymore.