If you’ve experienced delays, hitches, or “rubberbanding” in a multiplayer game despite having a high-speed connection, you may have experienced packet loss.
Or you might have turned on network statistics in-game and seen a packet loss warning symbol appear in the corner while playing:
Below, we’ll dive into what packet loss is and isn’t, and explore some simple solutions. We’ll also explain why packet loss sometimes can’t be fixed on your end.
What Is Packet Loss?
Before we define packet loss, let’s talk about lag.
Ping measures latency. As you play online games, your PC constantly exchanges “packets” of data with the game’s server or host. The round-trip travel time of those packets is your ping. Ping can depend on the speed of your internet connection and your distance to the server.
With a low ping, like 15ms, you rapidly exchange packets of data with the server, and can expect a responsive experience thanks to these rapid updates. With a high ping, like 300ms, communication between your PC and the server will be much slower, causing lag.
When you experience lag in a multiplayer game, you see delayed responses to your own actions and delayed updates to the game state. This causes issues like rubber-banding (jumping backward in space after walking forward) and delayed hit registration (bullet impacts appearing well after you fire).
The effects of lag vary across game titles and genres, as different multiplayer games use different lag compensation and prediction techniques.
So far we’ve only talked about high latency as a source of lag. But another issue, packet loss, can also cause lag spikes.
Packet loss is the loss of data being exchanged between your computer and a game server. In the case of packet loss, instead of simply taking a long time to travel between client and host, some packets never arrive at all. When this happens, the packet must be re-sent, causing lag.
Furthermore, while lag can often be fixed by upgrading to a faster internet connection, packet loss can occur even on high-speed connections.
There are many potential causes of packet loss:
- A faulty ethernet port or cable.
- Issues with the network interface controller (NIC) in your PC.
- Outdated router firmware.
- Network congestion.
- Issues with the game’s servers.
Always research packet loss issues for the game you’re playing before beginning to troubleshoot your own connection. It’s possible that there’s an ongoing issue with the game’s servers that can’t be solved on your end. If that’s the case, there’s often little you can do apart from waiting for a fix from the developers.
Quick Solutions to Packet Loss
First, close all background applications that could be increasing network congestion. This could be anything using up your network’s bandwidth—background downloads, automated updates to games and apps, or browser tabs streaming video or audio.
If that doesn’t have an effect, try the time-tested technique of power cycling your router (turning it completely off and on again).
If you’re using a wired connection, try switching the ethernet cable to a different port on the router—faulty ports are a potential cause of packet loss. Next, try switching out the ethernet cable itself (provided you’ve got a spare). If you’re using an older or visibly worn cable, substituting a newer Cat 5E or Cat 6 cable may resolve the issue.
If you’re currently gaming over Wi-Fi, it’s possible that interference, distance from your router, or weak signal strength could cause packet loss. Try switching to a wired connection using an ethernet cable, then compare results.
Congestion on your home network—caused by others using streaming services, making voice or video calls, or playing online games on various devices—can also cause packet loss. The simplest solution is to play at times when your network is less busy. However, changing your router setup is often a more practical solution.
For these more advanced steps, you’ll need to access your router’s settings menu.
Diving Into Router Settings
Router settings can be accessed by typing your router’s IP address into your browser. This can usually be found in your router’s manual, the quick start guide that came with your router, or a note taped onto the router itself. The password should be in the same place.
If you can’t find the default address and password, try looking on the manufacturer’s support page for your model of router.
Once you have access to the router settings, look for an option to update the router’s firmware. Router menus vary widely, and this may be found under menus labeled “Advanced Options” or “Connectivity”.
Ensure that you’re running the latest firmware update, as outdated firmware is another potential source of packet loss. If an update is required, follow manufacturer guidance throughout the process—they may ask that you restore router settings to their factory default afterward.
Activating Quality of Service (QoS) modes is another possible solution. When several users and devices share the same network, QoS can give higher priority to real-time applications while deprioritizing other activities (such as web browsing). It can often be found under a “QoS” menu or “Prioritization” in router settings.
Depending on your router, a dynamic QoS mode customized for gaming may be available. With other routers, you’ll need to manually set bandwidth floors and ceilings for different devices. The impact of QoS can vary, so be sure to test it out in-game with network statistics enabled to see whether you get better results with QoS on or off.
Making Hardware Upgrades
If you can’t solve your packet loss issues using router settings, another solution is to upgrade. If you prefer using Wi-Fi, a system with Intel® Killer™ Wi-Fi 6 will provide one of the highest, amazing stability, and enhanced sharing of bandwidth between users with different needs.
The Intel® Killer™ Prioritization Engine will detect and prioritize your gaming, video, and real-time voice and video packets to deliver an ultra smooth experience. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 routers provide features like OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) that intelligently manage the network’s resources rather than forcing users to compete for bandwidth. Some Wi-Fi 6 routers also show notably low packet loss when tested under congested network conditions, as seen in reviews from outlets like PC Gamer.
While many packet loss issues are solvable without upgrades, Intel® Killer™ Wi-Fi 6 devices are a great option for users looking to minimize packet loss on their network in the future.
Explore the latest gaming laptops featuring Intel® Killer™ Wi-Fi 6/6E for seamless gaming on the go.
How Can You Test for Packet Loss?
The most relevant information to have on hand is network statistics from the game you’re trying to play, which sometimes can be enabled in a settings menu. In PUBG, for example, they’re located under “Gameplay”:
When available, these statistics can help you detect packet loss quickly. Both a packet loss symbol and a data loss percentage may be displayed in-game.
However, it’s time-consuming to load into an online match every time you want to test a change you’ve made to your network setup. A faster way to test your internet connection within Windows is by pinging a server using the Command Prompt.
- Hit the Windows key. Type “cmd” and open the command prompt.
- Type “ping -n 50 www.cloudflare.com” into the command shell. This will ping Cloudflare’s server 50 times and report the results.
- Test other pings and sites. You can change the number after “-n” to perform a different number of pings, or change the web address to another site, like www.google.com.
- Analyze the results. After the process is finished, check the ping statistics for packet loss.
This can help you see whether your packet loss issues extend beyond the game at hand. However, if the issue is limited to one game or certain real-time applications, a ping test might not show anything useful.
Other commands like traceroute (type “tracert www.cloudflare.com” into the command prompt) or pathping (type “pathping www.cloudflare.com”) can show each hop on a packet’s journey to the server in more detail. With traceroute, for example, a line of asterisks and “request timed out” can indicate packet loss. These utilities can be useful but require networking knowledge to interpret.
One alternative is to use a network monitoring tool like Pingplotter. Any tool that tracks the percentage of packets lost on each hop can show you whether packet loss is occurring in the first hop from your PC to the router, or in the second hop from your router to the modem. This can help quickly narrow your search for the source of packet loss. (If you’re working with a tight budget, these tools often offer free trials.)
Is Packet Loss Always Fixable?
Though packet loss can be annoying, you have many potential fixes at your disposal.
First, take the time to research. Search for other users’ solutions to packet loss in the particular game you’re playing, and try to find out if the issue is client-side or server-side. (If it’s server-side, you probably can’t do anything except waiting for a patch.)
If the issue is client-side, try power cycling your router, switching from Wi-Fi to ethernet, changing ethernet ports, and swapping ethernet cables. If none of that succeeds, try updating your router's firmware. and testing out QoS and prioritization features.
Finally, if you’re playing over Wi-Fi on a busy home network, upgrading to a system with Intel® Killer™ Wi-Fi 6 could greatly improve your gameplay experience.