What is DNS?
DNS (short for “Domain Name System”) is a special database that translates domain names to their corresponding IP addresses. In a sense, it’s like your phone’s contact list — you take something that’s easy to remember (like the name of a friend or website) and match it to something you keep forgetting (like long phone numbers or IP addresses).
Here’s how it works. When you type in “bestgamesite.com” into your browser, your device doesn’t know where it is — to connect, it needs the server’s IP address. What it does knows where to begin looking. Your device sends a DNS request to its assigned DNS server, which matches the queried domain name to its IP address and sends a reply with the information. With the IP address in hand, your device initiates the connection and loads the site for you.
Does DNS affect gaming?
DNS affects some issues related to gaming. For one, fast DNS servers can make web pages (such as gaming news sites) load up much faster. Changing DNS servers can also give you access to new games, mods, or clans if their websites were on your old DNS’s blocklist.
But once you launch a game? That’s it. The game app has its own instructions where to connect to, so changing DNS services won’t by itself make new servers appear in your multiplayer lobby. DNS also won’t impact your in-game latency — your ping will be as high or as low as it was before.
If DNS does not affect gaming in a major way, what does?
Your gaming experience depends on a number of factors. If you really care about playing without interruptions, you should pay special attention to:
- Your internet connection. You don’t need a turbo-charged plan for online multiplayer — most games only require that you share data about player status and position. But you do need a stable connection. If your service has frequent hiccups or periodically goes down, you could end up fragged by opportunistic opponents or booted off the server entirely. And if you want to use a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your connection at the same time, make sure you pick a reliable gaming VPN for a smooth experience.
- Distance to your game server. Your actions in-game don’t take place immediately — your data must first reach the game server, which must then give your client an update on the game’s state. We call this delay between your actions and the server’s reaction “latency” and measure it in “ping.” The further you are from the game server’s physical location, the longer the data has to travel and the more chances for packets to be lost along the way. With a high ping, you’ll see players rubberbanding across the map or suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
- Wi-Fi connectivity. Wi-Fi signal strength greatly depends on your distance to the router and any obstacles in the way. Even something as simple as moving to another room and closing the door can cause your ping to skyrocket. For best results, play in an open area close to your Wi-Fi router — or, if you’re really into competitive play, ditch Wi-Fi altogether and plug an Ethernet cable straight into your gaming device.
- Network congestion. Chances are you share your connection with other households in the area, even if you’re not aware of it. Exclusive dedicated connections are expensive and usually reserved for enterprise networks. That is why internet service providers (ISPs) typically advertise consumer connection speeds as being “up to X Mbps/Gbps” — the more people are using the connection at once, the less bandwidth is available to you. If you care about in-game ratings, avoid playing during peak hours, such as right after office hours on a workday.
What are the best DNS servers to use?
Most people use the DNS server assigned to them by their ISP, which may not be their best option. These DNS servers can be slow, block certain IP addresses, and report all your DNS queries (that is, your online movements) to your ISP.
Don’t worry — several DNS services for gamers provide speed, privacy, and online security.
Primary DNS (preferred DNS): 188.8.131.52
Secondary DNS (alternate DNS): 184.108.40.206
Cloudflare is one the fastest free public DNS services out there and is perfect for frantic gamers on a tight budget. But Cloudflare offers more than just raw DNS resolution speed — it comes with tools to mitigate distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against DNS servers, prevent DNS spoofing, and protect your privacy.
Unlike some other DNS providers on this list, Cloudflare offers no extra protection against threats that don’t directly involve DNS servers (such as malicious links). But if you only want to ditch your ISP’s slow DNS server, Cloudflare is a great choice.
2. Google Public DNS
Primary DNS (preferred DNS): 220.127.116.11
Secondary DNS (alternate DNS): 18.104.22.168
Google is big — and it loves to let you know it. Google has public DNS servers available in most parts of the world, letting you freely choose which one to use. And just like Cloudflare, Google Public DNS is fast, free to use, and protected against DNS spoofing as well as DDoS attacks.
Primary DNS (preferred DNS): 22.214.171.124
Secondary DNS (alternate DNS): 126.96.36.199
When it comes to your security, Quad9 goes above and beyond what is expected of a free DNS service. In addition to protecting its DNS servers against DNS spoofing and DDoS attacks, Quad9 operates a real-time blocklist of dangerous websites to stop users from falling into a trap — for example, if they unknowingly clicked a link in a phishing email.
So why isn’t Quad9 higher on this list? Simply put, Quad9 free DNS servers can be a bit slow when compared to Cloudflare and Google Public DNS. Also, Quad9 will stop you from visiting suspicious websites even if you’re willing to brave the danger. If a page you’d like to visit (such as your gaming clan’s forum) is on the blocklist, Quad9 won’t even resolve the DNS query.
Primary DNS (preferred DNS): 188.8.131.52
Secondary DNS (alternate DNS): 184.108.40.206
NextDNS takes DNS customization to the next level. While technically a paid DNS service, it offers a free option limited to 300,000 DNS queries a month — once you hit the limit, NextDNS will still process your DNS requests, but you will lose access to all of its extra features.
And it has a lot of extra features to lose. NextDNS uses real-time analysis to cut off access to malicious websites, blocks ads and web trackers, and lets you implement a custom blocklist to protect kids that use your devices. Just keep in mind that all of these security options come at a price — in this case, quite literally.
Primary DNS (preferred DNS): 220.127.116.11
Secondary DNS (alternate DNS): 18.104.22.168
NordVPN operates its own secure DNS servers. The primary and secondary servers above are NordVPN’s public DNS servers, which can be freely used by anyone. NordVPN’s private DNS servers are used by NordVPN apps and can only be accessed by users with an active NordVPN subscription.
Just like the top DNS service providers on this list, NordVPN’s DNS servers are fast and protected against DNS-specific threats (like DNS poisoning). By default, NordVPN’s DNS servers do not filter your DNS queries, but you can implement DNS filtering against malicious domains with NordVPN’s Threat Protection feature if you wish.
NordVPN apps also offer smart DNS as part of NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature. What is smart DNS, you ask? It’s a technology that redirects your DNS queries to other DNS servers if the page you requested is not available in your region. SmartPlay helps you access your favorite content from home safely while traveling abroad.
So, what is the best DNS server for gaming?
The list above contains some of the best DNS servers for gaming available on the market today. However, the best DNS server for you specifically depends on a number of factors, such as your physical location, security considerations, and budget. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works best for you — the DNS servers listed here are free to use.
If you just want a quick and easy recommendation, go with Cloudflare for its excellent speed and stability. While it doesn’t come with nearly as many security features as the competition, it’s still a clear upgrade to your ISP’s public DNS servers.
How can I change my DNS?
Changing your DNS server is as simple as entering the new server’s address in your device’s DNS settings. The tricky bit is finding where those DNS settings are because each operating system likes to hide them in a different place.
If you need help with changing your DNS service, we have detailed guides available for the most popular operating systems, such as how to change your DNS on Windows or how to change your DNS on Android. For the avid gamer, we also have an article explaining how to change DNS servers on PS4, PS5, and Xbox game consoles.