Besides low frame rates and stuttering, another major factor that can ruin your whole gaming experience is the input lag. Input lag or latency in games is defined as the time between the input controller (mouse/keyboard, etc.) is triggered by you, and its effect is seen on the monitor screen. In another definition, input lag can also be defined as the delay between the GPU sending the frame to the monitor and the monitor displaying it.
Input lag is measured in milliseconds (ms), and in some cases, it can also specify in frames. In story-based games, role-playing games (RPG), and slow-paced games, input lag does not make that much of a difference, but in fast-paced FPS games (CS:GO, PUBG, Overwatch, etc.), competitive games, and esports games, it matters a lot and you should always try to keep the input lag as low as possible because if you have higher input lag, then competitors with lower input lag can have a significant advantage over you as they can make a move faster than you.
How to Measure Input Lag
The most common way to measure input lag is using a high-speed or normal digital camera and then recording the time between the input you have triggered on the mouse/keyboard and its effect or action is seen on the monitor screen. This method involves a lot of work that includes analyzing the frames and then accurately measuring the time between them using a stopwatch. It is also not the most accurate method because it may add up additional lag when you have to start and stop the stopwatch. The total input lag is the measure of input lag due to the game plus input lag due to other devices and components.
Total Input Lag = Game Input Lag + Monitor Display Lag + Input Lag due to Mouse/Keyboard
How much Input Lag is considered Good?
There is no generalized answer to this question because input lag depends on many factors that include the game, monitor, controller (in the case of the wireless device), and how powerful your CPU and graphics card is. Also, some users are very sensitive to input lag, while some don’t even notice input lag unless it is substantially higher. If you are a competitive gamer, then you should always strive to keep it under 10ms, and if you are playing normal games, then anything under 25ms is pretty good. Input lag over 40ms is not good, and you may start to feel lag in the gameplay.
|Below 10ms||For competitive gaming (FPS, Arcade, etc.) and eSports|
|Below 25ms||Pretty good for normal gaming|
|Above 30ms||Not good for competitive gaming and above 40ms is on the higher side|
Input Lag vs. Pixel Response Time
Most people confuse Pixel Response Time with Input Lag, but both are totally different things. Pixel Response Time is the time taken by a pixel on a monitor to change its color from one to another while input lag is the time between the input is triggered or activated from a controller by you, and the corresponding action is reflected on the screen. Pixel response is also specified in milliseconds (ms) and is associated with ghosting and motion blur. So, if the pixel response time of your monitor is on the higher side, then you will experience ghosting in fast-paced games or whenever you make a quick move. On the other hand, input lag is associated with a delay in the response on the screen whenever you press a button or key on the input controller (mouse/keyboard). As I have told you before, both are different things and are independent of each other, and it is always preferable to keep both of them as low as possible for an enjoyable and smoother gaming experience.
|Phenomenon||Effect / Action|
|Pixel Response Time||Ghosting, Motion Blur|
|Input Lag||Delay when the input controller is pressed, and the corresponding action is reflected on the screen, Lag feeling|
Factors that Affect Input Lag
Here are the various factors that affect input lag in PC games.
V-Sync or vertical sync is a technology or setting that locks the game FPS to your monitor’s refresh rate. This means if you have a 60Hz refresh rate monitor, then enabling V-Sync will lock your game frame rate to 60 FPS only. V-Sync helps to reduce screen tearing in games by synchronizing the game FPS to the refresh rate of the monitor. V-Sync only works well when your GPU is powerful enough to deliver frame rates greater than the monitor’s refresh rate and if the frame rate drops below the refresh rate, then it induces a lot of input lag and cuts the original FPS in almost half. However, even when the graphics card is capable enough to keep the FPS above the monitor’s refresh rate, V-Sync does introduce some input delay in all games. V-Sync can be turned on or off in the in-game graphics menu and from the driver’s control panel. The input lag introduced by the in-game V-Sync and graphics driver V-Sync can vary as one may introduce a greater or lower input lag depending on the game. So, if you want to reduce input lag in games, then it is better to turn off V-Sync completely and use other techniques to lock the frame rate that involves using a frame rate limiter software.
Frame Rate (FPS)
Another thing that hugely affects input lag is the frame rate in games. If you are getting lower FPS in games, then you will have higher input lag. Conversely, if your game FPS is high, then input lag will be lower. So, input lag is also in sync with the FPS you are getting in the games.
Wireless Mouse and keyboards do introduce additional latency and input lag because of their higher polling rate and response time. However, modern-day gaming wireless mice and keyboards have become much better, and they come with higher polling rate and response time of 1000Hz and 1ms, respectively, and they are as fast as their wired counterparts. Also, if you have a cheaper mouse, then it is possible that it has a lower polling rate and response time, and can this cause additional input lag in the game.
|Polling Rate (Hertz)||Response Time (millisecond)|
|1000 Hz||1 ms|
|500 Hz||2 ms|
|250 Hz||4 ms|
|120 Hz||8 ms|
*Polling Rate means how many times per second the mouse reports its position to the computer, and the corresponding response time reflects the lag associated with it. For example, a polling rate of 250Hz means that the mouse reports its position 250 times per second to the computer. Higher the polling rate, the better the accuracy and response time, which is very important in gaming.
Monitor Display Lag
The lag introduced by the monitor is called Display Lag which adds to the input lag in a game. This display lag is introduced because of the time involved to process an image by the monitor hardware. CRT monitors have extremely low Input lag because there is a minimum amount of image processing involved as the image does not have to be stored and it is outputted directly to the screen using the electron gun, but in modern-day LCD monitors, input lag is relatively more because here the image is first stored in the buffer, and after that, various processing is done, e.g., scaling, adding overlay, adjusting colors & brightness, etc. before it is displayed onto the screen.
The display lag in modern-day LCD monitors is dependent on the hardware it has and the faster the hardware and its processing, the lower the input lag is. The input lag of gaming monitors is significantly lower than that of regular monitors. The display lag of a monitor is also expressed in milliseconds (ms). The input lag of a high-end gaming monitor can be as low as 3ms at native resolution. The manufacturers don’t list the input lag of the monitors but only the pixel response time. However, there are some websites like displaylag.com and rtrings.com that test the input lag of monitors. So, you can check the input lag of popular monitors on these websites.
If you play online multiplayer games and use a wireless router for network or internet connection, then you can face input lag, technically called network lag in such games because wireless devices do have higher latencies. Moreover, if your internet connection has higher Ping or latency in general, then also it induces network lag or delays in such online games.
Top Tips to Reduce Input Lag in Games
Below are the various ways by which you can reduce input lag in games for a smooth gaming experience.
The first step to reducing input lag in games is to disable V-Sync completely. V-Sync can be enabled alone or can be used with variable refresh technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync to eliminate screen tearing in games for smoother gameplay. You can enable or disable basic V-Sync in the in-game graphics settings or the driver’s control panel settings. If you want to use V-Sync because you are facing terrible screen tearing in the game, then you can use advanced V-Sync technologies like Nvidia FastSync and AMD Adaptive V-Sync which works better than normal V-Sync and introduces less input lag. Another great option to cap your frame rate is to use a frame rate limiter software like RTSS that introduces negligible input lag (1ms or so).
Lower/Disable Graphics Settings
You can lower the in-game graphics settings and resolution, to achieve maximum FPS in games. The higher your game FPS, the lower will be your input lag is unless it is affected or limited by other factors. You can also disable some advanced graphics settings such as ambient occlusion, dynamic reflections, triple buffering, etc., and setting shadow details that may help in reducing input lag in some games.
Low Latency Mode in Drivers
Nvidia and AMD drivers do provide additional settings that can be enabled to reduce the input lag in games. In Nvidia, it is the Ultra-Low Latency Mode that is based on the Maximum Pre-rendered frame functionality, used in the older drivers, and in AMD, it is Radeon Anti-Lag that helps to lower input lag in games. It must be noted that some games may react strangely when these low latency modes are enabled, and you may lose out on performance as they can reduce the frame rate in some cases. Moreover, low latency mode may not always lead to a reduction of input lag in some games. So, it is always better to test these settings in each game and not rely on them blindly for lowering input lag.
Ultra-Low Latency Mode (Nvidia Drivers)
The Low Latency Mode in Nvidia drivers can be enabled by going to Nvidia Control Panel->Manage 3D settings. Here, locate the Low Latency Mode option, and then in the drop-down, select On or Ultra depending on your requirements. Click on Apply and then test it by playing the game.
Radeon Anti-Lag (AMD Drivers)
Radeon Anti-Lag work by synchronizing the CPU performance with the graphics card so that it does not get way ahead of the GPU, reducing the amount of CPU work queued up. It supports GCN and newer GPUs and works only with DirectX 9, DirectX 11, and Vulkan APIs. Radeon Anti-Lag can be enabled by going to the profile section in the Radeon Drivers Software Menu.
Frame Rate Capping
Capping frame rate may or may not affect input lag in games. This is a topic of huge debate and has mixed results. In some games, capping of frame rate or FPS can lower input lag to a significant level, and in some games, it can increase it. You can cap the frame rate in games using the in-game FPS limiter or using the third-party FPS limiters like RTSS or Riva tuner Statistics Server. Always avoid any type of V-Sync setting to cap frame rate because it always increases the input lag, no matter what. Frame rate capping can be combined with G-Sync / FreeSync and Low latency mode in driver settings to lower the input lag further. Frame rate capping lowers the GPU usage or utilization, and you should know this. So, you can try capping frame rate in games to see if it reduces the input lag or increases it.
If you do not want to have additional input lag, then get wired for everything. It means always use a gaming-grade wired mouse and keyboard for playing games and make sure that they are set to 1ms or 1000MHz polling rate. Also, if you play online games, then try to avoid wireless connections and always use an Ethernet cable for the internet or network. However, if you still want to go to the wireless route, then it is better to buy a gaming wireless mouse & keyboard with a 1ms response time and a gaming dual-band wireless router that provides super quick latency.
Disable HDR & Overdrive
If your games and monitor support HDR and Overdrive, then you may want to disable these options to reduce input lag in games.
Use Fullscreen Mode
Always use fullscreen mode when gaming because window and borderless window mode do add some amount of input lag in some games.
You may try a small Windows tweak to set the game priority to the highest so that it gets the highest priority by the operating system. You can do this by going to Task Manager>Details>game.exe>Set Priority>High. Here game.exe is the executable game file specific to the game, e.g., overwatch.exe, csgo.exe, etc. Another thing that you can try is to set the Windows Power Plan to High Performance mode by going to Control panel->Power Options.
High Precision Event Timer (HPET) may cause input lag in some systems. You can disable/enable HPET by going to the BIOS settings.
Upgrade to Better Monitor
If you have an older LCD monitor that has horrendous input lag, then you cannot do anything to reduce it unless you buy a new monitor with lower input and higher refresh rate. As I have stated earlier that manufacturers don’t list the input lag of the monitors but only the pixel response time. So, to find a monitor with lower input lag, you can visit monitor review websites such as displaylag.com, tftcentral.co.uk, and rtings.com.
Tip: Generally, monitors with G-Sync hardware modules have much lower input lag and response time compared to others. Also, don’t game on TV because it has a much higher input lag than a computer monitor. However, if you game on TV and want to reduce input lag then enable the ‘game mode’ option on it if it has one.
If you have a weaker CPU and Graphics Card, then you will encounter many issues such as higher input lag, lower FPS, and stuttering. Here, the only thing you can do is upgrade your hardware which mainly includes the processor, motherboard, memory, and most importantly, the graphics card.
- How to Fix Low GPU Usage in Games
- How to Fix 100% CPU Usage in Games
- How to Fix Stuttering in Games
- How to Fix CPU Bottleneck in Games
- How to Fix GPU Bottleneck in Games
Input lag may not be a matter of too much concern for average gamers, but for competitive and professional gamers, it is a pretty big problem. The extent of input lag in games is dependent on many factors, and there is no single quick fix to improve it as you have to approach it holistically. If you play games on TV, then input lag is comparatively higher than an average monitor. Even a mediocre amount of input lag does not bother most mainstream gamers, but if it is significantly higher, then it can pretty much ruin the whole gaming experience. So, it is always advisable to keep it as low as possible to avoid unneeded annoyance in games. If you have anything to add here or have any queries, then feel free to use the comment section below.
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