While I love working with hardware for hardware's sake, there comes a point when the rubber meets the road and you have to use technology for something other than benchmarking to truly appreciate it. Don has done a great job here of digging into the nuts and bolts of what makes the Xeno Pro tick. But when I found out he'd be writing this piece, I was immediately curious about how the card would affect performance in a real-world app that, at one point, I was actually fairly hardcore into: World of Warcraft. I personally blame/thank James Yu, formerly of GameSpot, for introducing me to this one while it was still in beta.
Healing In WoW
The 12 million players involved in WoW probably know what I’m talking about here, but for the Tom’s Hardware readers who’ve never touched World of Warcraft before, the game is divided into the content experienced as you level up and the content you experience once you’ve hit the level cap.
Some people level multiple characters and enjoy the questing, five/ten-person grouping, PvPing, etc. For me, WoW was all about end-game raiding. Now, as you’re leveling/grouping/questing, the game is fairly relaxed and everything gets done on your schedule. But in end-game, the encounters get more difficult, the atmosphere gets tenser, and most important, the loot gets better. Should you get to this point, the game becomes more competitive. Screw-ups are less tolerated by peers, and your latency does matter.
I play a paladin healer on a reasonably-quick computer attached to a fast cable connection. Even still, in end-game content, fractions of a second make the difference between your tank living and getting smashed by some ridiculous combination of abilities. In order to perform as well as possible, healers have to be aware of their latency and start casts with that number in mind (even before the previous cast has registered as having landed). Damage casters have to do the same to maximize DPS.
In the screenshot below, you can see my latency plugged in to an integrated Gigabit controller. Yes, I know you have to click three times to get to the full-size version. Feel free to make fun of my horrible UI if it helps ease the pain of that third click. The second shot shows my cast bar with a little red sliver at the end. If you start a cast right when the bar hits the sliver, you’ll start your cast immediately when Blizzard’s server registers the result of your last cast. If you instead wait that fraction of a second for your game client to show the cast completed, you’ll have little blips of downtime in between heals—the recipe for an eventual untimely tank death.
If the Xeno Pro were able to cut down in-game latency and make that sliver as small as possible, there’d be greater positive correlation between when I see in-game and what Blizzard’s server registers—in other words, less compensation on my end for the disconnect between my computer and Blizzard’s. This would be a great thing for competitive raiders and easily make the card worth its premium.
Now, when I’m playing the game, I’m not doing it with multiple torrents in the background and I’m not running a virus scan. It’s WoW on my desktop system with Ventrillo running in the background. When my wife and I were playing together, that’d be the extent of the network traffic. If your play style is different, your results will vary. And if you do like playing the game with all sorts of other downloads going on at the same time, hope that we don't raid together, because nothing annoys 24 other people than a wipe caused by the 25th lagging out.
So, I loaded up Vent, loaded up the game, and headed out to Icecrown to do some healing tests. While latencies naturally varied during the course of testing, I generally saw pings between 20ms and 90ms, averaging just over 60ms. I didn’t see any improvement with the Xeno Pro installed, and the healing strategy I would use in a raid environment remained unchanged.
With near-certainty, putting an extra $130 into your graphics subsystem is going to make more of an impact on gaming if your connectivity setup is similar to mine.