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Where Does Qualcomm's Hardware Make Sense?

Killer Wireless-N 1103 Review: Can Qualcomm Take On Centrino?
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We’ve seen the data. Now what can we derive from it?

Clearly, 5.0 GHz deserves more attention that it’s getting. Of course, if everybody hopped onto 5.0 GHz, we’d inevitably wind up with similar problems to what we have today with 2.4 GHz, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there. Our results show that 5.0 GHz generally enables higher throughput and lower latency compared to 2.4 GHz in a common, high-RF use environment. Moreover, with less interference, 5.0 GHz seems to enable greater distances between client and access point without loss of connectivity.

Cisco AE2500Cisco AE2500

As for our three adapters, there were many cases in which Cisco's USB option pulled its weight impressively well, although it still seems somewhat crippled in comparison to internal notebook adapters (and their more robust antenna setups), especially at distance.

Between Intel and Qualcomm, we expected a much closer race. Unfortunately, the Intel 6300 underperformed the AR9380-based option in many instances, often by a significant margin. We confess: we went into this story thinking that Qualcomm was blustering a bit. We’ve had too many years of vendors saying, “The secret sauce is there. It works. We’re better. Trust us.” This time, it was finally true. The Killer 1103 was stunning. It's just too bad you can't buy the card on its own.

Killer Wireless-N 1103 BKiller Wireless-N 1103 B

But let’s finish here by taking a step back and looking at the really big question: once you’re done looking at benchmark data, does the 1103 make a difference in the real world? Is it worth whatever price an integrator is going to charge to step up?

While there are no hard and fast rules about ping time requirements in gaming, I'm tickled pink to jump on a server in the 50 ms range. Below that, it's really hard to tell a difference. Technical improvements simply cease to be relevant. And in all of our GaNE testing, only one spike from Cisco (in Location 3) ever exceeded 50 ms.

Should this matter to you? Should you be worried that your adapter might be prone to similar or worse latency spikes—the kind of spikes to which Qualcomm (with its newest driver) seems immune? Maybe. That’s for you to decide.

If you only care about file transfers at near to moderate distances, then we don’t see a pronounced advantage to paying more money for Qualcomm's hardware. Even Cisco's USB-based adapter does decently if you’re not in too much of a hurry. But for applications where sustained, even performance is needed, such as video streaming, the Killer 1103 is the obviously more dependable choice, and it’s the new bar in wireless client adapters that other vendors need to surpass.

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