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Interview: Bigfoot's Killer NIC, Exposed

Interview: Bigfoot's Killer NIC, Exposed
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Since its release, the Killer NIC has garnered a reputation for being an extravagant and largely unnecessary add-on for the do-it-yourselfer. Seeking additional insight, we approached the card’s designer.

A few weeks back, we ran a news story about the Killer NIC becoming available from Dell as an option in its XPS 630 and 730 high end systems – both the M1 and K1 version of the card are available for stand-alone purchase from Dell as well.

However, we feel that we may have caused some confusion surrounding the effectiveness of the Killer NIC based on feedback received from our readers. In an attempt to clarify the claimed pros & cons of the Killer NIC, Tom’s Hardware went straight to the source. We managed to catch up with Harlan Beverly, CEO of BigFoot Networks. Harlan is the mad scientist behind the Killer NIC’s technology and he has a very impressive track record of engineering under his belt. Once a design engineer at Intel, Harlan knows the down-low on networking.

So before we move onto the actual interview itself, let us rewind a little and explain what the Killer NIC is, what it is supposed to do for you, and what it purportedly brings to the table that other Network Interface Controllers (NIC) do not.

The Killer NIC is a specially designed NIC targeted specifically at the hard-core gamer. A lot of people dismiss the Killer NIC as ‘bogus’ because they think that its main focus is to ‘lower your ping’. Technically, that is just one aspect of the card.

As we all know, we have no control over what happens between our personal computers and the servers on the Internet that we access to inflict damage upon our fellow friends and gamers. What we do have control over is the resources within our operating systems. This is where the Killer NIC is claimed to shine brightly, using its ability to bypass the Windows IP stack and directly handle & process all User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets. UDP is the foundation for communication in multi-player gaming online and on Local Area Networks (LAN).

Pretty much every enthusiast motherboard comes complete with at least one or two on-board Ethernet controllers. These on-board controllers often offer TCP Offloading. TCP Offloading has its place and gaming is not one of them in this author’s opinion. There has been a large misconception surrounding this for a long time. TCP Offloading is useless in gaming for two reasons: TCP Offloading is designed to increase throughput, not decrease latency and games do not use TCP packets for communication.

Another misconception is that plonking a server NIC into your workstation will render the same results. This is far from the truth, actually. Server NIC’s do not process UDP with their own on-board processors. Server NIC’s are designed for increased throughput and handling large amounts of TCP streams at one time.

So how does Killer NIC increase your frame rate and lower ping, exactly? According to Bigfoot:

The Killer Gaming Network Card from Bigfoot Networks is designed to reduce lag and latency often experienced in high action interactive MMO and First Person Shooter games. Killer accelerates your game data for a smoother more responsive online gaming experience and a competitive edge.

*-Improved Responsiveness: Bypasses the Windows® network stack reducing in-game ping and giving you the edge you need. *-Smoother Gameplay When it Matters Most: Offloads all network processing from the CPU to boost frame rates, especially during moments of intense action. *-Faster Game Data: Game network packets are prioritized so they get to and from your game faster.

The problem here is that most gamers know that while you can optimize your own hardware, you can’t exactly do anything at the connection level, the routing level, the ISP level and the serving end. Despite significant criticism and doubt, Harlan Beverly is out to clear up what he considers to be misconceptions about the Killer NIC. He details to us just exactly why the Killer NIC is different from other NICs and talks in detail about the on-board processing that goes on.

We’re waiting for our own sample to test these claims, however. Until then, true performance numbers are still up in the air. We’ll do a full review once the cards are in, but in the mean-time, check out our interview with Harlan for the scoop behind his company’s flagship product.

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  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2008 10:13 PM
    Bottom line, why pay over 100 dollars for a nic that already exists for free on your motherboard? heck, alot of motherboards have 2 nics today, running at gigabit speeds!
  • 4 Hide
    Zug-Zug , October 2, 2008 10:20 PM
    yeah great "article" (scoff) ...is that a killer nic add I see on the right ?

    credibility plummets...
  • 6 Hide
    giovanni86 , October 2, 2008 10:46 PM
    It looks nice. But i wouldn't buy it because from a price/performance perspective it doesn't do me a damn thing. And as mentioned above motherboards are already equipped with one or two at gigs of speed. I thought paying 10 bucks back then was expensive. $150 or more for one of these, i rather buy another GPU. Then again there are some out there that believe this thing makes a difference, and therefore buy it and in any case its the only reason there still around today. If it were like 50 bucks i would consider it, but as stated with triple sli and say a sound blaster card added to say like a mother like the 790i you wouldn't have room for a Killer Nic card installed anyway. Motherboard manufacturers would have to make more space on there to fit a Killer nic card.
  • 6 Hide
    blackwidow_rsa , October 2, 2008 10:47 PM
    ^ probably a targeted ad
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2008 10:52 PM
    Killer joke. We all know it is one and I can achieve even better results with a few iptables rules on my router.

    This product is a joke. Please just admit it already.
  • 5 Hide
    grieve , October 2, 2008 10:55 PM
    Yah if the price were reasonable, $30-$60 i would possibly consider it as i wouldn't be out 150 bucks if it doesnt improve anything.

    If reviews prove this card improves gameplay i would possibly consider @ the $150 price point....maybe
  • 5 Hide
    squiZZ , October 2, 2008 11:09 PM
    Since when do we care about an interview about a product. Show us the real world tests and comparisons like you used to. blatant advertising?

    *this message brought to you in part by Bigfoot Networks Inc.
  • 6 Hide
    hansmuff , October 2, 2008 11:37 PM
    Look.. sorry. I'll be rude. WTF is this crap?

    "exposed"?

    No benchmarks, no interview, just marketing droning on and on. No challenge, nothing.
    I am no defender of tomshardware.com for a reason: "articles" like this.
  • 1 Hide
    bydesign , October 2, 2008 11:44 PM
    The Killer nic is a Killer disappointment. The main reason is it's addressing something that work fairly well to begin with. Perhaps with an IPv6 Internet with some QoS rules for gaming protocols that only worked with the card and they might have something.

    Couldn't the UDP stack be tweaked in software to achieve similar results? They have built a solution that doesn't really have a problem. I think part of the reason the price is so high is fool some into thinking it's work it. Even then grieve is right about the price $30-$60 max.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 2, 2008 11:55 PM
    i hate lag.... but i got used to in gaming....

    and why did i suddenly get spam since im writing in tomshardware?
  • 2 Hide
    amonymous , October 3, 2008 12:12 AM
    This entire interview is pointless. He just restated what the website did. Besides that who has such a horrible ping that they are willing to spend $150 on a network card when they could be upgrading their internet service to achieve a better ping and also get the awesome download rate? It's cool that they are aiming towards the future with this end of lag stuff but its the internet connection speed that really counts not some card most people already have built into their motherboards.
  • 3 Hide
    zenmaster , October 3, 2008 12:26 AM
    OK, I just pinged my Wireless Router Port 100 times.
    95 were 1ms and 5 were 2ms.
    I was 100 for 100 last time I checked my wired connection.

    Considering delays are happening on my router as well, clearly the time involving my computer are well below 1ms.

    Don't give me any BS about how a NIC is going to optmize the 0.5ms time on my PC so it takes only 0.4ms and I'm going to game better.

    And I'm not likely to believe any review that even shows different unless they can use lots of facts to prove the cause of the difference.

    I fully understand what the company is claiming, but I also know how many packets UDP packets normal NICs can handle.

    The "LAG" that kills gamers has nothing to do with what the card can optimize. What kills gamers is when your something between you and the game server "hiccups" and a (1,2, or much longer) delay stops all communication. This NIC will do ZERO to fix that issue.

    Unfortunately for the company spokesman, he is speaking to a technical community and got to BS happy. For starters, UDP is not an ordered protocol like TCP. So it's perfectly fine for packets to be received out of order. UDP Apps are written to handle that. So all the BS about serial packets was just too funny.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_Datagram_Protocol
  • 4 Hide
    V3NOM , October 3, 2008 12:55 AM
    could get another 9800GT or 4850 for the price of that piece of shit
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 3, 2008 12:58 AM
    While I cannot say I understand the full extent of some of the details Killer speaks of and claims benefits users, I can point out a few key areas of interest.

    * Off-loading, Firewall & Windows network stack: They claim they're the only one that does more than just Checksum Off-Loading and they are ones that bypass the Windows Network Stack. I cannot be sure exactly how Nvidia's network off-loading feature works, but as far as I can determine it does bypass the Windows Network Stack the same as the Killer. This is the reason Nvidia warns that using this feature will bypass software based firewalls (Windows Firewall, McAfee, etc) and why Killer includes a firewall application with the NIC (you need it because you'd be defenseless otherwise unless you have a good router/configuration).

    * Prioritizing Game Data: Nvidia offers First-Packet which works well - Anandtech has a review of it's general functionality benefits. Many routers also include QoS options to prioritize gaming such as D-Link's Gamefuel. While I would consider having it at the NIC level (computer) better, if you use a router, obviously to fully benefit from such technology, you need it there as well. If your NIC prioritizes and "accelerates" gaming data only to have your router not do so, you've lost a portion of the possible benefit.

    I am by no means claiming these work as well as Killer claims their product does, but they do provide a degree of the same benefits/features (often for less money or in a more useful form).

    * FPS in games - I am sure the results on their products charts are from multiplayer games with extremely linked Network & FPS engines. I forget the title, but it was pretty popular, we've all played 3D shooters where if you loss packets you're get a jerky frame rate and if you were disconnected, you're FPS dropped to basically 0. Rather than the case of many games were packet loss and chokes result in a smaller FPS hit, though the jerkiness is still visible, but the engine for the two are not so linked together that your game would not draw frames (of the scene on hold) even if you loss network.

    Regardless of the possible benefits, how true and effective they are, I doubt that a Killer NIC is the best use of $150 in most people's systems. Sure, maybe in the ultra-high-end system with the best components and 2-4 video cards where you have nothing else to buy. Most people would see more benefit putting that money towards a GPU or CPU.

    The root problem they are aiming to resolve as they mentioned also involves many other points (client OS - NIC - Router - ISPs/networks - [whatever else is between you are the server] - server's NIC - Server). Unless you're deploying this technology at all those points, the benefits cannot be that great, especially as it isn't that problematic to begin with unless you have a poor ISP/connect which this NIC will not resolve for you. The only claim I am interested in personally is what they mention about the Kernal, but I don't think that justifies the cost unless I can see similar benefits from it as a GPU or even in a PPU when used (I consider these similar products as this "NPU" does since both only provide benefits isolated to a segment of gaming - the Killer NIC obviously cannot increase FPS of a single player campaign for example, similar to a dedicated PPU really only benefits you in games with compatible physics but the PPU at least offers you something new/extra to your gaming experience you possible could not have [now] without it).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 3, 2008 1:07 AM
    I couldn't dig up the full article for some reason but here is the old card tested (same claims as the new version really): It shows it works for increasing FPS some 4-10%, but that the FPS did not help in their experience for online gaming. 4-10% certainly isn't worth $150.

    Here's the review:
    http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2865&p=11

    I've seen others before as well, most with the same or worse results. I've only seen one guy claim it was awesome, but he seemed pretty over the top or happy he got himself a free Killer NIC.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 3, 2008 3:01 AM
    Here is Tom's Guide Review of the Killer NIC:
    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/killer-m1-nic,review-1083.html

    They seemed to like it, and I can think of many worse things to spend $150 on.

    NVidia has LSO (Large Segment Offload) which is how they 'bypass' and it is TCP/IP only. Otherwise, nv doesn't have any processor capability.
  • 5 Hide
    nachowarrior , October 3, 2008 3:38 AM
    the point is, they're paying attention to a part that nobody is really paying attention to... graphics weren't crap for ANY kind of electronic machine till enthusiast gamers started paying attention... and the prices for the amazing chips we have today are just flat out great, competition, and market demand created great graphics products. If you subtract a few milliseconds on your machine, and then a few milliseconds from every server that your signal has to pass through on every server you will get awesome performance... I can see the logic in where they're going overall. Optimize nic's for pulling and sending info in high cycle environments and it starts with enthusiasts buying up the product and being ahead of the curve... use the server for what it's used for, accessing data utilizing the processor... utilize the nic for passing information on to the next stop...dedicated... in the future these chips will be just like the difference between using onboard graphics and a high end discreet graphics card... or you could wait for fiber optics to be piped directly into your home and every server in the world.... which on a time/money scale might be freezable in the next 25 years... this is a solution for optimizing the infrastructure we have now and thinking about it in a new way and setting new standards.
    on the other hand it is a bit expensive for most of us at this point in time. I'd buy one if it was around 50 dollar price point just to see what it can do.... and of course after it was optimized a bit more.
    six in one hand, half a dozen in the other... you can't get ticked off at progress in a neglected area of your pc. They're doing it to a)make money and b)make progress... without one you can't have the other, so there's no reason to complain or get down on this card, because no other company gives to craps about it... i'm all for it.

    ps: this hardware directly conflicts with your isp making you pay for prioritized packets of certain types so you can get a low ping... this product essentially will solve the problem of any conflicts of bandwidth between gaming needs and sending heart patient info, nullifying the basis of your isp raping you for wanting to have a low ping and playing your heart strings to get you to agree to it...
    so if nothing else support it so net neutrality doesn't go down the toilet... in my opinion, that's great.
  • 0 Hide
    nachowarrior , October 3, 2008 3:44 AM
    note**
    upgrading internet service has no affect on ping, higher bandwidth does not = lower ping.
  • -8 Hide
    bf2gameplaya , October 3, 2008 3:56 AM
    The killer NIC is stealthily designed to INCREASE your pings by introducing false latency in your user configured stack, making it harder for others to hit you, as they do not have an accurate timely location on you at the given game-tick.

    When you are ready to attack, you reset the ping to normal by removing the false latencies.

    You can't really do that in windows, but you can in linux, and this NIC is bascially linux on a pci-card. Anyway, those that do grief with methods like this are talentless turds anyway, much like the creator of this product. They go well together.
  • 2 Hide
    aziraphale , October 3, 2008 5:57 AM
    I wonder how much $$ tom's got for this infomercial. Real world tests would have probably intrigued me more...
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