Gaming Online

What does ping mean?

What does ping mean
I was ho-ping for a lower time than 341ms. I'll get my coat. Slowly

If you’ve ever wanted to check how fast your internet connection is, only to be faced with weird terminology such as ‘ping’, then we feel your pain. ‘What does ping mean?” is one of those questions that techies instantly know the answer to – or think they do – and assume that everyone else does too.

In computing terms, ping measures how long it takes for a tiny message to be sent to a remote computer and return. It’s a fraction of a second, which is why it’s measured in milliseconds. Another way to think of ping time is as a reaction time or latency.

A low number indicates that you have a quick connection: when you need to have a two-way interaction (eg send a message, get a response), there will be minimal delay. The example that’s often used is online gaming, where every millisecond counts.

What is a “low number”? That depends on exactly what you’re doing, but in general terms anything under 150ms is good – and anything above 400ms is bad. My 341ms ping time shown in the main screenshot is mediocre, but something I can live with for email and using the web.

For gamers, though, ping time is essential. Over on speedtest.net, they provide this rough guideline:

  • Winning: 0-59ms
  • In the game: 60-129ms
  • Struggling: 130-199ms
  • Game over: 200+ms

We’d go further and suggest that competitive gamers probably want it to go under 20ms.

One thing to point out is that your ping time can vary. Over the course of five minutes, when I tested mine on speedtest.net, it fluctuated between 43ms to 341ms. So rather than say “I want a low ping time”, you really want to say “I want a consistently low ping time”.

How to reduce your ping time

Reduce your ping time
Switching to a wired connection is the easiest way to cut your ping time, if you can

You can take a few steps to reduce your ping time (and make it more reliable). The most obvious is to switch to a wired connection: connecting to my router using a cable rather than Wi-Fi reduced my ping time to between 9ms and 64ms.

Another step is to reduce the amount of traffic going through your router: if someone’s streaming Netflix in Full HD then chances are that your ping time will increase. Likewise if umpteen different devices are attached to your network. If you can cut the amount of traffic and number of devices, especially at crucial times when you need a low ping, then do so.

Not good enough? Then try the nuclear option, as recommended on Wikihow: either replace your router or upgrade your internet package. An end-to-end fibre connection will have a much lower ping than a copper ADSL connection.

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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