Review: We look at four routers to see which one is the best for multiplayer gaming. Exposing a multiplayer server out on the Internet can be risky. When it comes to protecting your data, not all routers are created equal.
Multiplayer gaming is a blast. No doubt about it. Getting together with friends for a LAN party, popping a few cold ones and wreaking digital havoc is one of the best reasons to have a PC.
But there are those who try to wreak a different kind of havoc that of trashed data and denial of service. Crackers, script kiddies and their ilk would love nothing more than to crash your game server and then trash as many machines on your network as they can.
How do you keep out these digital neer-do-wells and still have some multiplayer fun? With a router, of course. Network Address Translation (NAT) routers have become de rigeur in broadband-connected homes, since they let multiple machines share a single broadband pipe and IP address.
Unfortunately, many online or multiplayer games that require several connections to your PC have difficulty working with NAT configurations. Thus many routers have added special features that open up selected ports for gaming use.
In the world of online multiplayer gaming, its easier to be a client than a server. Serving up a game usually requires exposing your game server machine to some degree of vulnerability. When client games try to connect to a game server, it appears to your network as if someone from outside is attempting to access a system within the network -- which it is. Hardware and software firewalls, however, cant always distinguish between packets sent with a hostile intent from those who are simply coming in from gamers trying to connect to a server. Network router makers have responded by adding features gamers need to enable multiplayer gaming, while at the same time maintaining at least some level of security. Features like port forwarding, port triggering, and DMZ allow gamers to selectively punch holes in their firewall.
Port Forwarding: This feature allows you to redirect traffic coming into a specific port or port address range to a specific IP address (the game servers).
Port triggering: With this feature, a port is closed until a game running on one of your internal machines attempts to send traffic through it. When that happens, the router opens up the port, and leaves it open until the session terminates.
DMZ: Any machine placed into a routers DMZ area is completely exposed to the Internet. This is typically a last-resort solution and shouldnt even be considered without a software firewall on the exposed machine.
In this article we evaluate four of the latest routers from high-profile home networking hardware makers. We tested each product to see how well they implement the previous features, and how easy they are to set up and enable network-based multiplayer gaming.
If youre new to hosting an online multiplayer gaming server, well show you several examples of how you can host a server, while keeping your box well protected against unwanted intrusions. You should probably read our story from beginning to end.
If youre a grizzled networking vet, then this will be a refresher course. You can jump right to each individual review, or just head to the What to Buy section.
You can also refer to our Home LAN Security section for more information on tightening up your online gaming environment.
Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.
In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.
Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.