The “Killer” NIC

Bigfoot Networks is apparently bringing out a new Network Interface Card (the KillerNIC) that will sport an embedded computer inside the network card to handle the complex routing and prioritzation of packets and get you:

  1. More frames per second in gaming
  2. Significantly reduced network latency and
  3. A significantly lighter wallet

For my less technically-minded readers, some definitions are in order:

Frames per second – Your computer has to draw lots of pictures to simulate motion in whatever game you’re playing, kind of like a cartoon. The more frames per second your computer can draw, the smoother the action.
Network interface card – The component in your computer that connects it to other networks, like a local area network or the Internet.
Network latency – The difference between the time you initiate some action and the time it takes to actually happen.
Bigfoot Networks – Crazy.

I would like to address a few quotes from an interview that Bigfoot Networks did with gD Hardware

GD: Why ping? Why did you feel this was an important enough thing to make a company and a product to address?

Bigfoot: Bigfoot Networks is dedicated to fighting Lag in online games, which we define as anything bad that happens in a game that is out of the gamer’s control. This could be their screen freezing, players jumping around on the screen, losing your connection to the game server, slow responses from the server, etc… Ping improvements can help all of these things, but is not the only feature of Killer.

Killer was designed to be a weapon that Gamers can use to put in their PCs that lowers Ping times AND offloads processing from the CPU, which combine to reduce problems caused by the Gamer’s PC. Killer’s strength is that you can take a high-end PC with all the bells and whistles, and plug the Killer in and get better online gaming performance.

I’m seeing some smoke and mirrors already. Firstly, they’re targeting Hardcore Gamers(tm) with this thing. Contrary to what you may have been led to believe by reading the marketing materials, networking in a typical game does not produce significant overhead, or at least not enough to cause any noticeable performance hit, especially on the machine of a Hardcore Gamer(tm). These people typically will have enough processing power that the overhead produced by processing packets would be negligible. There are situations where your network performance could impact the performance of the rest of your system, but inside the PC of a Hardcore Gamer(tm) is not going to be one of them.

GD: What do you say to the customer who already has great pings to the servers they play on?

Bigfoot: We designed the Killer for those gamers that care about winning, that care about being the best. With the Killer, your ping will be even lower. So, if you turn the corner and spot your enemy you will have more of an edge with Killer than without.

But that’s not all! Don’t forget the better Frames Per Second and overall better game play that comes with freeing up the CPU from dealing with networking tasks. This can lead to even more performance improvements and even more winning. Winning is everything, especially in online gaming.

But I care about winning! I care plenty! Okay, there are two things wrong with their answer: First, unless you’re playing on a local network, lag is going to be determined by all the connections between you and the server you play on, and no matter how fast your network card can process packets, if there’s something awry on the other side of your router (i.e. on the Internet) then you’re going to have lag, and there’s going to be nothing realistically you can do about it. Secondly, I suppose that if you removed your router, shut down all resident programs running on your computer, made sure there was a full moon, got a nice new network cable and rubbed it down with soap so the packets just glide right through, you might be able to see around a one frame per second increase in the performance of your game. Maybe. Likely whatever game a Hardcore Gamer is playing is going to push so many frames per second that one more is going to be imperceptible.

GD: What’ll be the retail pricing of this card?

Bigfoot: $279.99

So I lied. That price does not sound like a good deal for what could, at best, be a negligible gain. I apparently don’t care about winning at all.

GD: We have a marketplace of motherboard that already has low CPU-utilization on the NIC’s – why should someone shell out extra money for your card?

Bigfoot: First, the statement is false. There is no NIC or motherboard NIC other than Killer that gives significant low CPU-utilization performance. The only technology analogous is TCP/IP Offload accelerators that can be found in corporate servers. TCP/IP checksum offload and is a much-touted technology in these NICs you mention, but that do not benefit online games much at all.

Killer has checksum offload, but it is also CLEARLY different because:
1) The additional Frames Per Second that our card offers prove that better networking can dramatically impact your online game’s performance.
2) A lot of gamers run no additional applications while gaming because they want their CPU to focus on the game exclusively…with Killer’s Flexible Network Architecture (FNA) they can get their cake and eat it too. The NPU can run their apps and handle the networking, while the CPU focuses on the game.
3) Better Ping times over standard NICs.
4) PingThrottle, which allows gamers to adjust their ping for fair play reasons, or for training purposes.

I really couldn’t find anything about PingThrottle other than it allows you to ‘adjust your ping.’ Since you can only realistically lower your ping so much due to circumstances beyond your control (again, the myriad connections that comprise the mysterious Internet), raising it ‘for training purposes’ would seem to me to be counterproductive, since the whole reason you bought the $280 network card was so you wouldn’t have lag to deal with.

And my personal favorite:

GD: What makes Killer anything more than a glorified NIC?

Bigfoot: Winning! FNA! The answers are endless. Killer literally runs Linux OS on a sub-computer inside your computer… this is night and day different from any NIC ever!

Well, at least gD Hardware asked the question that was on my mind reading this article. The answer that was given is as humorous as it is saddening. I just know that out there, there are throngs of people that have been convinced that they need to steal their mom’s credit card and get this card so they can get more headshots in Counterstrike.