High latency, which is usually manifested in the form of choppiness or “lag,” is one of the most common complaints among online gamers. While there are a number of contributors to server lag and slow connection speeds, one aspect that gamers can control is the netspeed or the cl_rate. Essentially, the netspeed console command, when used within a game, tells the server to limit the amount of traffic it sends to your machine. This is helpful—and perhaps even essential—if your cable modem has a built-in rate cap. If your cable modem has a rate cap, yet the game server is sending vast amounts of data at a high bandwidth, your connection will become overloaded, causing packet loss.
Packet loss, as you may know, significantly slows down game performance because it requires the server or your computer to re-send data. Packet loss occurs when a packet of data is sent, but is never received by the other end, or the receipt isn’t acknowledged. High packet loss can be worse than a high ping or a slow Internet connection.
When a server isn’t aware of a cable modem’s rate cap, it will overload the connection beyond the amount of data that it can receive at any given moment. The data that exceeds the maximum bandwidth is lost, hence the packet loss. With TCP connections, this isn’t usually an issue. In fact, you may not even be able to diagnose packet loss when running a ping or tracert system command from a DOS prompt. But since games use the UDP protocol, network congestion typically leads to lost packets.
While it may seem counterintuitive, slowing down the speed that your game sends/receives data may actually improve your gameplay performance by reducing packet loss. The method for setting your transfer speed varies from game-to-game, but typically, you’ll enter the console and enter a command plus a connection speed. For example, in Unreal, you can do this by using the “netspeed” command followed by a speed in bytes per second. With Quake, the command is cl_rate—you can also set the maximum number of packets with cl_maxpackets. In Halflife and Counterstrike, the command is “rate.”
The best way to find your ideal speed is to experiment with a couple different rates or netspeeds. For cable modems, start at 10000 and see if you still have high packet loss. If you are still have a lot of PL, then move down incrementally until your PL drops to a reasonable level. Or, if you drop down to 10000 and you have no packet loss, try incrementing upwards until you start experiencing more packet loss, then back it off a bit.
This is just one possible fix for high packet loss. Note that there may be issues with your wireless network, signal issues from your cable Internet provider, server-side issues or even per client rate caps imposed by the server.