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

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.

Advanced Stream Detect

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.

  • Still not buying it.
    Reply
  • phamhlam
    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.
    Reply
  • KelvinTy
    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...
    Reply
  • reghir
    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?
    Reply
  • MKBL
    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.
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    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.
    Reply
  • jaylimo84
    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.
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    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.
    Reply
  • The Killer 1103 *IS* available for purchase. Check Amazon... $55 shipped.
    Reply
  • XmortisX
    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.
    Reply