Home networking guide: how to build a simple home network

Gaming relies on speed. If you're playing with others over the internet then you'll need all the bandwidth your broadband connection can provide. You may be paying for a 8Mbps connection, but research suggests you'll often be getting less than that, which makes it imperative that you make every bit count.

There's also the problem of ISPs throttling traffic at peak times. If you're into gaming online, it will pay dividends to check your ISP's throttling policy. If it's holding you back, consider changing provider.

The router supplied by your ISP should cope with your full broadband capacity (should it become available), but it pays to ensure that other applications aren't unnecessarily hogging the connection. You'll also need to think about how much traffic you're sending as well as receiving.

Your connection's upload speed is far lower than the download speed (typically 1/8th the capacity), and with each received packet requiring a receipt sending by return, the more upload capacity you can free up, the better.

Clear the decks

To clear as much room for download bandwidth as possible, stop all applications that could conceivably be using your connection. This includes your torrent client, your email client, computer-based VoIP services and instant messaging.

Streaming services that use P2P technology to deliver content should also be switched off . Closing these programs also frees up CPU and RAM. If your broadband router supports it (you'll have to look in the manual to find out), enable Quality of Service (QoS) to prioritise data sent from the port used by your game. The game's manual will tell you the port number. QoS ensures that at times of high traffic the router will buffer lower priority traffic while allowing higher priority traffic to pass unimpeded.

If the routers connected to the game's server farm are similarly enabled, you should get fewer latency problems.

Party on

Local LAN-based games offer very low latency compared to online games, hence the attraction of LAN parties. It's worth making sure that the games machines can all plug into a dedicated 100Mb hub. Many people incorrectly believe that you need a powerful LAN switch for gaming, but this isn't so.

Obviously you'll need as many ports as there are players, so if people plan to bring their own machines, either buy an extra hub or have someone else bring one. To chain them together, you simply plug a cable from one port into the other hub's special 'link' port.

On the subject of people bringing their own machines, always make sure you have one or two spare fourway mains extension leads handy. Remember also that some laptops may have come from households with wireless-only LANs. In gaming terms, this makes them second-class citizens: Wi-Fi is convenient but it's also relatively inefficient.

With its low throughput, Bluetooth connections are also useless for a hectic fragging session. Along with the beer and nibbles, it makes sense to have a few extra LAN cables available so that Wi-Fi laptop users can use these.

Finally, lets address security. You may be tempted to use your home network as the backbone of your party network. However, we'd recommend keeping your party network and your personal network physically separate. We've all got personal files, folders and information that we don't want guests peeking and poking around while they wait to be respawned.