The Background Story
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.