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Enter the Killer NIC from Bigfoot Labs, who has targeted their product directly at gamers by making the rather impressive claim that their network card will not only lower your in-game lag, it will also increase your FPS. How does it do this? The answer is a bit technical, as one might expect, but in essence the Killer NIC bypasses the Windows networking stack completely, sending all networking calls directly to the card for processing.
At a Glance
Unfortunately, testing the claims of the Killer NIC is somewhat more difficult than testing your average video card. Whereas a video card can be given a static, unchanging benchmark, the Killer NIC must be tested in online play, where many more uncontrollable variables are introduced. For our tests, we attempted to stick to servers with single-map rotation, as well as performing our tests as closely together as possible. Average frames per second were gathered using FRAPS, and average latency was calculated using a continual ping against the servers we were connected to.
This allows the Killer to run what Bigfoot Networks calls “Flexible Network Architecture” apps, or FNA Apps, which run directly on the card and never touch the rest of the computer. At the time of this article, Bigfoot has already released the FNA Firewall, which is an open source firewall built with iptables. Bigfoot is also encouraging the development of other “FNApps,” and has even offered cash rewards for FNApp developers.
The extensibility of the Killer NIC as a miniature networking platform is actually pretty impressive, especially when you consider the flexibility offered by the aforementioned USB port. The USB port is accessible only to the card and not to the operating system. This means that you could design apps that took advantage of peripherals like an external USB hard drive or headset. Imagine if you will a webserver or P2P app that connects directly to an external hard drive and automatically scales available bandwidth so that you can game smoothly without ever shutting those applications off. Another example might be an FNApp version of Ventrillo or Teamspeak that adjusts voice quality settings to avoid impacting your game.
The second thing to consider is that since each game implements the Windows networking stack differently, each individual game is going to see different performance benefits. In some rare cases, such as Battlefield 2142, you may even see a minor performance hit. The silver lining in this cloud is that the Bigfoot team has been extremely diligent in releasing frequent driver and firmware updates, and hopefully these issues can all be sorted out over time.
Finally, since the Killer NIC will cause your system to essentially ignore Winsock, other networking cards will not function while the Killer drivers are installed. This should only matter to an extremely small segment of consumers, but if you happen to be running more than one network port out of your machine then it’s something you’ll need to consider.
The general experience using the Killer NIC is somewhat of a mixed bag. There were surprisingly noticeable performance gains in some games, like World of Warcraft, whereas some of the other tested games had a performance improvement that was marginal enough to seem unnoticeable. Still, the overall experience was positive, and the number of updates and support this card receives from the manufacturer is incredibly nice.
In short, this card is designed and intended for dedicated gamers who pride themselves on refusing to settle for even a single sub-par component, and in that capacity it is sure to deliver satisfaction. For hardcore deathmatchers and other twitch gamers, the Killer NIC is a great way to wring some additional performance out of your system. The weak of heart need not apply.