Suffering lag issues? Need that extra few milliseconds knocked off your ping? Hardcore online gamers know the difference even 20ms can make when playing a fast, reflex based online shooter – Like the upcoming Quake Live for example.
A lot of readers might remember the release of the Killer NIC in 2006 from Bigfoot Networks. At a ludicrous price for a network card, it was big news. Bigfoot Networks pioneered the concept of a Network Processing Unit (NPU) for consumers when it launched its first generation of the Killer NIC. The whole idea behind the Killer NIC was to offer consumers a very high-end network interface card that would reduce lag/latency while playing online games.
It looks as though Dell remembers the whole craze about the Killer NICs as well – according to a Dell press release they now offer the Killer NIC K1 in its XPS 630 and XPS 730 gaming desktops. Dell tosses this into the mix along with Nvidia’s PhysX card under Dell’s “Gaming Essentials” section when customizing the said system models. Dell has it priced at $149 – which is what you can expect to pay for this specific model of Killer NIC at other online retailers currently.
The Killer NIC is however a client-side device on a network, so it is quite limited as to what it can actually do for the user in terms of improving actual performance over the wire. It does have tricks up its sleeves however. In all reality though, one could sacrifice the cool black PCB of the Killer NIC and big fancy heat-sink on its more expensive model and just purchase an Intel Server NIC for less than half the price and get the exact same features and performance. You’ll just be stuck with a non-attractive card – for those of you with windows on your side panels.
In the end though, the biggest factors will always be the path the packets are taking from your desktop to the server you are playing on. There is nothing you can do about what happens in between.
In response to this article, Wes Phillips whom which represents PR for BigFoot Networks contacted us to make some clarifications. Here is the response:
«“The Intel card improves throughput while the Killer NIC decreases latency. These are improvements on opposite ends of the spectrum – you can’t have both. Throughput is important for file transfers, while lower latency is vitally important for gamers.”
“The Intel card uses Windows for the networking operations, still leaving the CPU in charge of the heavy lifting. The Killer NIC removes the Windows network stack from the picture, using optimized onboard Linux to handle the networking operations. Windows, and especially Windows Vista, are not designed to offer the immediate network responses required by gamers and their games. The Intel card may offer Gigabit speeds, but still falls victim to Windows lag.”
“The Intel card has no offboard storage capability like the Killer NIC with its offboard USB port, allowing for no-performance-cost torrent download.”
“The Intel card offers no hardware bandwidth control to manage multiple network apps.”
“Also, the version of the card offered in Dell deal doesn’t have the fancy Killer heatsink.”»
Okay, first off let me project an image for everyone here in simple terms that most consumers can understand as most hardcore enthusiasts do not and will not buy this product. The fact these cards are being offered through prefab systems from Dell – the target audience is now general consumers. So I am going to base my response based on this alone.
The data that is sent from the source (client, your computer) to the destination (server, the game server) is subject to many factors such as your network interface card, your physical wiring, your router (if applicable, most people have them these days) the lines outside your house, and the entire path from your house to the destination.
Things such as signal-to-noise ratio determine throughput, throughput and line quality and all the equipment in between determine your transmit latency. There is essentially nothing that can improve the conditions beyond your personal computer, and maybe some of the conditions within your actual home.
We also need to understand that the conditions that your data is subjected to in transit to the server are the same conditions that the data the server sends you is also subjected to – and you definitely have no control over that what-so-ever. There is no circumventing these factors.
That aside , the Killer NIC is designed to offload responsibility from your desktops main processor so that it has more free resource / cycles to handle running your games and other applications. With the speed of desktop processors available today, and other hardware the difference is negligible.
For something that both general consumers would understand as well as enthusiasts, let us look at it this way – if the Killer NIC technology made a big enough difference then companies that focus on making enthusiast hardware would implement similar technology. You would see this implementation on high-end enthusiast mother boards from all the big names such as EVGA, XFX, MSI, ASUS, etc, etc. Not to mention the server market would gobble this technology up as the holy grail. Servers are subject to far, far more input/output than most consumers would ever see. Essentially, from a server stand-point in comparison to playing games – when you view a web page, transfer files AND play games – when that server sends data back to YOU , you become the destination and it becomes the client. Need to look at it from both sides of the fence
As for the correction on the image used for the article - I realize the XPS systems have the K1 card option – but for the sake of the article I thought the version with the cool sink looked good.
So if you want to run certain network applications off the Killer NIC, this card could be for you - but the average consumer doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth to run torrents and play online games at the same and still get a good ping. End of story.