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Killer Wireless-N 1103 Review: Can Qualcomm Take On Centrino?

Killer Wireless-N 1103 Review: Can Qualcomm Take On Centrino?
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Some people swear by the performance benefits promised by Killer network adapters. Others question its value in the real world. Back in 2009, we took a look at the company's Xeno Pro Gaming Network Card and concluded:

"...impressive specifications and a laundry list of features don't necessarily translate into real-world performance boosts. Without the core ability to wow us with ultra-low network latencies compared to less expensive solutions (like a freeware Firefox plugin), configuring your torrent client, or simply turning off your downloads during your gaming session, the Killer Xeno Pro is a tough sell as a must-have gaming NIC."

You may recall that the Killer NIC derived its strength from a few key enhancements over regular integrated network controllers. First and foremost, the adapter used an on-board 400 MHz processor to handle all network packet processing. This offloaded traffic from the host CPU and sidestepped the Windows networking stack. Killer actually had a Linux distribution on the card, turning it into a sort of PCI Express-based co-computer.

Unfortunately, a $130 price tag on the card was a deal-breaker, especially since we were able to reproduce many of its functions using common sense and freely available software. Really, we thought, there was just no reason to spend that much on questionable benefits.

Killer Wireless-N 1103 AKiller Wireless-N 1103 A

Almost three years later, we have Qualcomm Atheros, having purchased Bigfoot Networks and its Killer portfolio in August of last year 2011, making its first push into the world of Killer Wi-Fi. Qualcomm wants to make Killer Wireless-N the de facto mini-PCIe value-add choice for notebooks aimed at gamers and enthusiasts. However, the PowerPC-based NPU that formed the heart of Killer’s old sales pitch is nowhere to be seen on the wireless front. Instead, we’re given tweaked firmware and software layered on top of Qualcomm's AR9380 single-chip, dual-band radio. Is that enough to make any sort of difference?

Qualcomm is going up against Intel in this segment. Specifically, we’re looking at the Killer Wireless-N 1103, which features 3x3:3 MIMO. This means three transmit and three receive antenna chains, respectively, along with three spatial streams. The raw spec on this is 450 Mb/s—a far more impressive number than the 300 Mb/s found on more common 3x3:2 (two spatial streams) configurations. Intel was one of the first to release a decent 3x3:3 notebook adapter in its Ultimate-N WiFi Link 5300, and now there’s the Centrino Ultimate-N 6300.

Intel Pro Wireless 6300Intel Pro Wireless 6300

As a point of contrast, Newegg lists the 6300 for $40. The cheapest mini-PCIe Wi-Fi card on the site is Intel’s WiFi Link 1000, a 2.4 GHz-only, 1x2 802.11n adapter for only $14. Would you pay $26 to go from 1x2 to 3x3:3? In a heartbeat, right? This is why we’re not concerned with ordinary, low-end performance in this article. We’re here to determine if the Killer Wireless-N 1103 really has what it takes to go up against Intel and command top dollar in the premium wireless world.

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Top Comments
  • 19 Hide
    phamhlam , April 5, 2012 5:52 AM
    I wish they would build better PCI-Express WiFi Adapter. Some of us can't have a cable going through our house or have our computer sit next to the router.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , April 5, 2012 5:44 AM
    Still not buying it.
  • 19 Hide
    phamhlam , April 5, 2012 5:52 AM
    I wish they would build better PCI-Express WiFi Adapter. Some of us can't have a cable going through our house or have our computer sit next to the router.
  • 0 Hide
    KelvinTy , April 5, 2012 9:44 AM
    I think if you have the lowest latency at your end and leave everything on the server and internet end. Then it would be a lot better, especially there is input lag from everything, monitor, mouse, keyboard, wireless card, router and internet...
  • 0 Hide
    reghir , April 5, 2012 11:58 AM
    There are 2 versions of the E4200 did you use version 1 or 2 as version 2 increases to 450Mbps on both bands and full spatial on its 3X3 streams?
  • 2 Hide
    MKBL , April 5, 2012 1:21 PM
    I hope TH will review on powerline Ethernet adapter against typical RJ45 and wifi. For the same reason as phalmhlam, my desktop is connected to router by a long cable running across floor, which bothers me and my family sometimes. I've been considering powerline ethernet, but I can't make decision between that and wireless-N, because I have no idea which one has better performance/price.
  • -5 Hide
    CaedenV , April 5, 2012 1:34 PM
    Great article! I learned quite a few things from it.

    I still think I will be waiting for 802.11ac before upgrading from G though.
  • 4 Hide
    jaylimo84 , April 5, 2012 1:34 PM
    M. Van Winkle,
    Thanks for this nice article.

    I own an Alienware M17xR3, with the Killer 1103.
    Upon installation, the driver was causing me issues (nothing big tho), and I decided to follow a forum recommendation and install the Atheros Osprey driver instead of Killer's.
    It seems the two card are identical apart from the name on it. (Maybe I am misleaded)

    It could be interesting to see if the Killer 1103 gets any improvement using the Killer driver vs. the vanilla Atheros drivers, and see if "years of working with the windows tcp stack" pays off. Or if your performance improvement is due to a good, but still normal card.
  • 1 Hide
    CaedenV , April 5, 2012 1:37 PM
    MKBLI hope TH will review on powerline Ethernet adapter against typical RJ45 and wifi. For the same reason as phalmhlam, my desktop is connected to router by a long cable running across floor, which bothers me and my family sometimes. I've been considering powerline ethernet, but I can't make decision between that and wireless-N, because I have no idea which one has better performance/price.

    Indeed, it is an issue. I ended up wiring the house through the HVAC ducts, which is a terrible idea (breaks all sorts of building codes), but better than drilling holes all throughout the house only to move to wireless within the next 5-10 years.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , April 5, 2012 2:20 PM
    The Killer 1103 *IS* available for purchase. Check Amazon... $55 shipped.
  • 0 Hide
    XmortisX , April 5, 2012 2:25 PM
    I would like to try this out. If they can make a good pci-e/pci version of this card then definitely would try to push it with my clients. Even though we may get more labor hours for running wires the convenience and idea of avoiding HVAC ducts building codes makes this appealing.
  • 1 Hide
    maxinexus , April 5, 2012 2:29 PM
    Cool, but if I can't buy it for my laptop what is the point?
  • 1 Hide
    scook9 , April 5, 2012 3:01 PM
    For those who want better wireless for their desktop, get one of these and install the laptop card in it

    http://www.amazon.com/Express-Wireless-Adapter-Antennas-miniPCI-E/dp/B005JTEREW
  • -1 Hide
    jaquith , April 5, 2012 3:01 PM
    There are so many variables what "10', 20' and 60'" means that it is totally impossible to use any wireless benching short of a line-of-sight and unobstructed. Show me a house, short of a mansion, with a 60' line of sight. Further, I've lived in an old house where the frigging walls are solid plaster with wire mesh, and getting a 'usable' signal through a couple of walls was a miracle.

    Most folks are running their wireless through several partitioned walls and 20'~30'. The key variable is what's in the walls and how much interference you're running across.

    I our current and new house we have a centralized switch and CAT-6 distribution, PowerLine, and (2) Access Points 802.11a/b/g/n. That said, there's NO FRIGGING way I'm going to transfer a 2GB file through the air even though I 'can' -- Flash Drive or NIC. In our house every work area, TV, and bedroom has wired CAT-6 so the majority of WiFi is for our Phones and tablets (e.g. iPhone & iPad).

    Further, IF you're using any form of wireless for a Desktop you need to run to the store and either use CAT-5e/6 as your first choice and/or $60~$110 and get a pair of PowerLine. Some of the new Router/Switches/WiFi adapters are including PowerLine built-in.

    Lastly, very few Notebooks have the option to accept a half-mini PCIe Card.
  • 1 Hide
    dvanburen , April 5, 2012 3:10 PM
    Something seems wrong. During the LoS transfer test you get only 9MB/s. I can get 16.6MB/s with a 2.2GB file from my M6600 w/Intel 6300 to a Linksys E3000 w/DD-WRT over 2.4 GHz. Granted, I am about 7ft LoS vs. 10, but that shouldn't drop you to FastEthernet speeds. Are you absolutely sure you had a GB uplink from the router to the PC? If not then most of these results are skewed.
  • 2 Hide
    dvanburen , April 5, 2012 3:55 PM
    Two more results, this time I timed them and moved the laptop to about 9ft. LoS.

    3.63GB EXE - 4:06s | 3905548288 Bytes | 15.14MB/s
    2.14GB ZIP - 2:23.8s | 2306882779 Bytes | 15.30 MB/s

    These are just Drag and Drop via Explorer.
  • 6 Hide
    scook9 , April 5, 2012 4:21 PM
    jaquithThere are so many variables what "10', 20' and 60'" means that it is totally impossible to use any wireless benching short of a line-of-sight and unobstructed. Show me a house, short of a mansion, with a 60' line of sight. Further, I've lived in an old house where the frigging walls are solid plaster with wire mesh, and getting a 'usable' signal through a couple of walls was a miracle.Most folks are running their wireless through several partitioned walls and 20'~30'. The key variable is what's in the walls and how much interference you're running across. I our current and new house we have a centralized switch and CAT-6 distribution, PowerLine, and (2) Access Points 802.11a/b/g/n. That said, there's NO FRIGGING way I'm going to transfer a 2GB file through the air even though I 'can' -- Flash Drive or NIC. In our house every work area, TV, and bedroom has wired CAT-6 so the majority of WiFi is for our Phones and tablets (e.g. iPhone & iPad). Further, IF you're using any form of wireless for a Desktop you need to run to the store and either use CAT-5e/6 as your first choice and/or $60~$110 and get a pair of PowerLine. Some of the new Router/Switches/WiFi adapters are including PowerLine built-in. Lastly, very few Notebooks have the option to accept a half-mini PCIe Card.

    While I appreciate and sympathize with the remark about plaster walls, the bolded statement is just flat out wrong. Half height cards are the standard now. Intel does not even offer the 6200 or 6300 cards in full height
  • 0 Hide
    pacioli , April 5, 2012 5:01 PM
    Lol. I have CAT5e running from one corner of my house to the other. At each corner I have a Dual-Band router/bridge pumping out Wi-fi with the same ID/Pass combo. No matter where I am in my place I am being bathed in wireless waves of internets. I also have a Cat5e running to the switch in the entertainment center to hook up all my web enabled goodies.
  • 3 Hide
    blazorthon , April 5, 2012 5:20 PM
    MKBLI hope TH will review on powerline Ethernet adapter against typical RJ45 and wifi. For the same reason as phalmhlam, my desktop is connected to router by a long cable running across floor, which bothers me and my family sometimes. I've been considering powerline ethernet, but I can't make decision between that and wireless-N, because I have no idea which one has better performance/price.


    If you want high speed, get 500Mb power line. It will beat out the wireless easily, unless you have some serious problem with your electrical wiring.

    dvanburenSomething seems wrong. During the LoS transfer test you get only 9MB/s. I can get 16.6MB/s with a 2.2GB file from my M6600 w/Intel 6300 to a Linksys E3000 w/DD-WRT over 2.4 GHz. Granted, I am about 7ft LoS vs. 10, but that shouldn't drop you to FastEthernet speeds. Are you absolutely sure you had a GB uplink from the router to the PC? If not then most of these results are skewed.


    DD-WRT is the answer there. It slaughters the stock firmware in all routers. Tomato does too.

    jaquithThere are so many variables what "10', 20' and 60'" means that it is totally impossible to use any wireless benching short of a line-of-sight and unobstructed. Show me a house, short of a mansion, with a 60' line of sight. Further, I've lived in an old house where the frigging walls are solid plaster with wire mesh, and getting a 'usable' signal through a couple of walls was a miracle.Most folks are running their wireless through several partitioned walls and 20'~30'. The key variable is what's in the walls and how much interference you're running across. I our current and new house we have a centralized switch and CAT-6 distribution, PowerLine, and (2) Access Points 802.11a/b/g/n. That said, there's NO FRIGGING way I'm going to transfer a 2GB file through the air even though I 'can' -- Flash Drive or NIC. In our house every work area, TV, and bedroom has wired CAT-6 so the majority of WiFi is for our Phones and tablets (e.g. iPhone & iPad). Further, IF you're using any form of wireless for a Desktop you need to run to the store and either use CAT-5e/6 as your first choice and/or $60~$110 and get a pair of PowerLine. Some of the new Router/Switches/WiFi adapters are including PowerLine built-in. Lastly, very few Notebooks have the option to accept a half-mini PCIe Card.


    Even my four year old Gateway M-1624 has TWO half-mini PCIe card slots for wireless cards and such. Most notebook computers nowadays have at least one such slot. In fact, almost all modern notebook computers have at least one such slot. Many have more than one.
  • 0 Hide
    dvanburen , April 5, 2012 6:20 PM
    blazorthon.DD-WRT is the answer there. It slaughters the stock firmware in all routers. Tomato does too.


    I can't help but think of the connection to the PC. 9MB/s just screams FastEthernet. I could understand DD-WRT contributing to a 10% or even 20% increase in perfomance, but we are talking a 60% to 70% difference in performance.
  • -3 Hide
    jaquith , April 5, 2012 6:45 PM
    Quote:
    While I appreciate and sympathize with the remark about plaster walls, the bolded statement is just flat out wrong. Half height cards are the standard now. Intel does not even offer the 6200 or 6300 cards in full height

    Quote:
    my four year old Gateway M-1624 has TWO half-mini PCIe card slots for wireless cards and such. Most notebook computers nowadays have at least one such slot. In fact, almost all modern notebook computers have at least one such slot. Many have more than one.

    I have both X58's and an X79 with 6-core CPUs and an HP EliteBook Mobile Workstation, but my no means is any of that 'typical' nor does it by any stretch of the imagination represent the Majority. Operative word Majority.

    Most Notebook's either have their WiFi (or other forms of wireless) - Integrated or Non-User replaceable or accessible.

    Sure, 'some' Notebooks have ALL sorts of options and user configurable add-ons. Again, the majority simply do not.
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