In first-person shooters, platformers, and fighting games, timing is everything. A few milliseconds’ delay can mean losing the perfect shot, falling into an abyss, or fumbling a decisive combo.
Input lag makes it feel like your keyboard or gamepad commands are delayed. This makes perfect timing almost impossible. At its worst, this phenomenon can make fast-paced games completely unplayable.
This is especially true of competitive games that rely on quick reflexes and split-second decision-making. However, even slower-paced strategy and turn-based games become less immersive when there is a noticeable delay between your actions and on-screen reactions.
This delay is called input lag or latency. Certain hardware or software misconfigurations can increase input lag significantly. Identifying the misconfiguration and fixing it will usually bring input lag back down to an imperceptible level.
What Is Input Lag?
Every digital device in your setup adds a certain amount of latency when processing data. When you push a button, your input device sends a signal to your PC, which then processes it and sends the result to your display. Each of these steps takes a certain number of milliseconds to complete.
Input lag is connected to your specific hardware and software configuration, so it can happen in offline, single-player environments as well as multiplayer ones. Note that this is different from network lag and other connectivity issues gamers often face online.
Professional competitive gamers try to keep input lag under 15 milliseconds. Casual gamers and enthusiasts are usually comfortable with latency under 40 milliseconds. Beyond 50 milliseconds, the delay becomes more noticeable. If a display’s input lag exceeds 70 milliseconds, some tech reviewers will classify its performance as poor.
Multiple devices can cause input lag. It’s rare for hardware keyboards and controllers to malfunction, but it can’t be ruled out. More often, the delay occurs because a game engine is processing commands faster than your monitor can display their results.
If you’re experiencing input lag in the games you play, there are a variety of things you can do to determine the issue. Let’s walk through some steps you can take to ensure your setup is input lag-proof.
Start by Toggling V-Sync off
V-Sync is a technology that prevents screen tearing. It’s also a common culprit when it comes to identifying sources of input lag.
If your game engine sends display frames to your monitor too quickly, you may see horizontal bands cutting through the image periodically. V-Sync fixes this by forcing the engine to synchronize with the monitor’s refresh rate.
However, V-Sync doesn’t impact how quickly your CPU processes input commands. If you send commands faster than the display refreshes, you’ll experience a noticeable delay. This is one of the most common causes of input lag.
There are a few things that you can do to fix this. While many games today still utilize and benefit from V-Sync, it’s an older technology. Newer solutions like Intel® Adaptive Sync can eliminate screen tearing without noticeably increasing input lag. Not all monitors are compatible with Adaptive Sync, however, so check manufacturer specifications to see if it’s supported.
Most PC games have a V-Sync option in their video settings, and it may be enabled by default. Try disabling V-Sync from your in-game settings and using Adaptive Sync when possible.
Check Your Display Configurations
Your monitor’s display settings may increase the delay between inputting commands and seeing the result on your display. Some display parameters are configurable, while others are built into the hardware and cannot be changed.
The first thing to look at is your monitor’s refresh rate. A higher refresh rate increases the number of individual frames that your monitor displays per second. Displaying more frames per second reduces the delay between inputting a command and seeing its result on the screen, shaving valuable milliseconds off input lag.
Next, look at how your PC and display are connected. Wireless displays introduce more latency than wired ones, especially at high resolution display settings. If you’re using a wireless display, try switching to a wired connection, if possible.
Not all wired connections provide the same response time benefits. Some displays (especially Smart TVs) add processing effects like visual noise reduction to AV input, which adds to latency. To avoid this, check to see if your TV features a “Game Mode” that minimizes input lag by bypassing video signal processing.
Keep in mind that every TV and monitor has a unique, hardware-defined input latency. This is the amount of time that it takes the display to receive, process, and show incoming data. It is built into the hardware of the screen itself and cannot be changed.
Manufacturers don’t generally advertise their products’ latency delays. Instead, they focus on “response time,” which measures how long it takes for individual pixels to change color. It’s easy to confuse these two, but response time doesn’t have a significant impact on input lag.
Many new, gaming-ready displays have an input latency of 10-15 milliseconds. There are third-party websites that conduct and list monitor input latency scores, so it’s possible to verify how much of your input lag is built in.
Test Your Input Devices
Controllers and keyboards can produce lag due to hardware errors, but it’s not common. Switching input devices is an easy way to check if this is the cause. If input lag remains after you’ve plugged in a different keyboard, mouse, or gamepad, then the problem lies elsewhere.
It’s true that wireless connections typically introduce more latency than wired connections. Most wireless gaming hardware is designed for low-latency use, but lag may increase due to low batteries or a spotty connection. With most modern hardware, the difference between a wireless and wired connection should be unnoticeable.
Optimize Your FPS Settings
Changing the number of frames per second your PC sends to its display can go a long way towards reducing input lag. There are two main approaches that you can try.
- Limit the frame rate. First, try limiting the frame rate to just under your display’s refresh rate.
- Attempt a higher frame rate. Second, try pushing the game to a much higher frame rate—double the monitor’s refresh rate or more. This should lead to a small but noticeable improvement in input lag.
For example, a typical computer monitor has a refresh rate of 60 Hz. If you’re experiencing input lag, you can try to limit your game’s frame rate to 59 frames per second. If this doesn’t solve the problem, you can try pushing the frame rate up to 120 frames per second or higher.
The second option will put a much higher strain on your graphics processor, especially for highly demanding games. However, it’s much more likely to resolve input lag and achieve a smooth, seamless gaming experience.
Want to hit higher frame rates? Up your game with a system powered by the latest Intel® Core™ processor and unprecedented performance hybrid design.
Choose the Right Peripherals for Your Gaming PC
Lastly, it takes more than a powerful processor to run the latest games. Every peripheral device that you connect to your PC has a role to play. Gaming-ready keyboards, gamepads, and displays offer smoother, faster performance ideal for demanding titles. The way you configure those devices can add or subtract vital milliseconds to your system’s overall input lag.
Your monitor is the most important of these devices. Choosing the right monitor will help you minimize input lag while getting the most out of your CPU and graphics card. Find out how to choose the right gaming monitor for your system with our comprehensive guide.