Speaking anecdotally, most poeple these days have settled on Discord. It has become the de-facto voice chat service for people who like to play PC games together over the internet. Many probably think it is the best solution in every way that matters, and I’d like to offer some perspective on why that’s the wrong conclusion to make. Don’t get me wrong, Discord definitely has an edge in terms of the likelihood that things will just work right out of the box. Mumble has a fair bit of catching up to do to make the setup and configuration process easier on new users, but that initial friction is absolutely worth the benefits of using Mumble over Discord.

Owning your own bits

You’re probably not paying to use Discord, and even if you are you can’t reasonably expect Discord to work for you over the long run. Does any one else remember Xfire? Proprietary freeware/freemium services like these trick people into thinking the convenience they are getting today is something they can depend on for the foreseeable future. In fact these services go though a phase early on, sometimes lasting years, when they are trying to win over as many user as possible. During that phase they don’t plan on making any profit, but eventually their investment money will run out, and the service will be forced to face realities and shift into a money making phase. That can have many different consequences, none of which are good for users. One common outcome is a general degradation of the overall fidelity or resource intensiveness of the service - you may have noticed the audio quality of Skype diminishing after the Microsoft acquisition. Another possible outcome is the introduction of targeted advertising into the client software. That means you might have to watch an annoying ad that will likely be chosen from a pool, based on your usage metadata. Even if you were to build a free and open source client for Discord you would still be dependent on accessing the proprietary Discord managed network, which brings us to the issue of spying by default.

Spying by default

If your data is passing through a third party you have to assume that they are keeping track of everything, even if they promise not to store data. In other words all of your conversations on Discord are being recorded, transcribed, and data mined at all times. It scares me to think about an algorithm trying to decipher some sarcastic remark and storing that together with my name. Do you trust a for-profit company with recordings of you and your friends drunkenly playing competitive games online? Your privacy is worth more than you think, if a corporation wants to know what you’re thinking they ought to be paying you for that privilege directly. The privilege of using their bloated software and network isn’t a fair trade for spying on you all the time.

A tool that fits the job / Native performance

It’s difficult to qualify what exactly makes a piece of software or service bloated, especially given that most PC software updates over time, but I took a few numbers from my machine to illustrate how expensive it is to run the Discord client.

These numbers were taken simply by looking at Task Manager on my Windows 10 machine. I took these numbers while transmitting audio.

Application Version Architecture Memory CPU
Discord Jan 31, 2019 32 bit x86 175 MB 1.5%
Mumble 1.2.19 32 bit x86 15 MB 0.8%

As you can see the memory usage of Discord is an order of magnitude higher than Mumble.

Even the Discord numbers may seem negligible when you running it on a gaming computer with 16 GB of RAM. The problem is that latency bound applications like games are often dependant on having high availability of very limited resources like CPU cache. Then consider that you might be playing high demand games, running streaming software, maybe even listening to music in the background. When you care about hitting frame deadlines on a 4k 144Hz display you really can’t afford to let your CPU do anything other than the bare essentials. So if you must be talking with people on a voice chat application then you need to pick the software you run carefully.