Killer Wireless-N 1103: Nebulous Claims To Superiority
Now for the burning question: Why are Killer Wireless-N cards supposed to be faster? The vendor notes three factors:
1. “High-performance Wi-Fi optimizations in the hardware.”
As we’ve seen in prior articles on Wi-Fi and improving wireless performance, there are many ways to optimize Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, Killer’s statement is so vague that it tells us nothing. Does the company boost transmit and receive power in the presence of interference? Is there some type of beamforming at work? Qualcomm is quiet here, and follow-up requests for details yielded nothing more than “Killer pushes the envelope while making sure to retain compatibility and adherence to standards.” That doesn't cut it for us.
2. “Driver-level optimizations of both Windows and 802.11n networking standards, with an eye towards low latency for gamers and high throughput for HD video and other file transfers.”
Again, this seemed too vague, so we asked for more clarification. “The optimizations to Windows networking come from Killer's decades of experience with the Windows network stack, device driver authorship, and its experience developing PCIe hardware for desktops that actually bypassed Windows networking,” noted the equally ambiguous reply. “This familiarity is unique to the Killer technology group at Qualcomm Atheros.” Apparently, Killer technology implements “optimizations and options that are best for gaming and Internet media. Competitors may not make these optimizations for a variety of reasons such as development effort, development and material costs, and customer utility.”
3. “Automatic prioritization in the Killer Network Manager application.”
Finally, something concrete to chew on! In translating this, part of the explanation has to do with quality of service (QoS) settings contained in the Killer Network Manager application. Essentially, Qualcomm’s “Advanced Stream Detect” analyzes all network streams and ranks them according to your pre-arranged list of priorities. Those highest on the list, such as games and streaming video, get top billing and foremost processing in the face of competing traffic. As traffic conditions change, Advanced Stream Detect shifts its prioritization accordingly.
We’ll see shortly how much of a difference all of this theory makes in the real world.
We don’t have a retail price for Qualcomm’s 1103 because you can’t buy it as a stand-alone product, at least not yet. The skeptical side of our brains recognizes that this makes it much harder to deliver a value assessment of the Killer technology compared to its competition. Is Killer twenty dollars more? Fifty dollars? We're only able to determine what we'd be willing to pay in contrast to other available adapters.
Dell/Alienware charges an $80 upgrade above the Intel 6200 (which costs $29 on Newegg), so you could ballpark about a $50 delta between Killer and Intel’s 6300. Again, though, this is a rough estimate because there's no way to buy the Killer card on its own. You can only access the 1103 as an upgrade option on certain notebooks. As of this writing, Dell/Alienware is the best-known vendor for notebooks featuring the 1103 as an upgrade, and Qualcomm sent us two platforms from the integrator, identically configured except for the Killer 1103 and Intel 6300 cards installed in each.