How-To Geek

Communication Latency (Lag)

In computing terms, Communication Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to be received by the remote computer. Most computer users, and especially gamers, refer to this communication latency simply as lag.

While there is technically a minute amount of latency in all computer activity (your keystrokes seem to appear on instantly on the screen, for example, but in reality there is a delay so tiny your brain never perceives it) this latency becomes readily apparent when the input-output loop is extended over great spans by modern communication networks.

In most applications a mild amount of latency is not problematic. If, for example, the latency between your email client and your email server is one second you may never even notice as you will never require a response time speedier than a second during the simple process of sending out or checking for new email. Even in the realm of online gaming, the impact of latency is highly dependent on the type of game. Turn based strategy games, such as Chess, hardly suffer from a large latency–you wouldn’t be able to tell if your opponent was simply taking his time or if it was taking an extra few seconds for the move to appear on your screen. In real-time games, however, such as popular First Person Shooters, latency of even a tenth of a second is the difference between landing a successful shot on your opponent or being the unfortunate target of your opponent’s return fire.

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