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'Killer' Network Card Actually Reduces Latency 292

Posted by Zonk
from the i'll-be-a-monkey's-uncle dept.
fatduck writes "HardOCP has published a review of the KillerNIC network card from Bigfoot Networks. The piece examines benchmarks of the product in online gaming and a number of user experiences. The product features a 'Network Processing Unit' or NPU, among other acronyms, which promise to drastically reduce latency in online games. Too good to be true? The card also sports a hefty price tag of $250." From the article: "The Killer NIC does exactly what it is advertised to do. It will lower your pings and very likely give you marginally better framerates in real world gaming scenarios. The Killer NIC is not for everyone as it is extremely expensive in this day and age of "free" onboard NICs. There are very likely other upgrades you can make to your computer for the same investment that will give you more in return. Some gamers will see a benefit while others do not. Hardcore deathmatchers are likely to feel the Killer NIC advantages while the middle-of-the road player will not be fine tuned enough to benefit from the experience. Certainly though, the hardcore online gamer is exactly who this product is targeted at."
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'Killer' Network Card Actually Reduces Latency

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  • by nxtw (866177) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:30PM (#17178360)
    Where's the comparison between different onboard gigabit chipsets? (eg Broadcom, nForce, etc.) Where's the comparison between different PCI, PCI-X, and PCI Expressgigabit NICs?

    If applicable, what are the settings for the onboard NICs being tested? Many have options for various CPU offload settings and optimizations for throughput or CPU usage.

    Until we see these, how can we be sure if a high-end regular PCI-e NIC won't work just as well?
  • Re:How ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arker (91948) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:33PM (#17178390) Homepage
    I suspect it will produce a noticeable improvement in situations where your computer is running heavily loaded. If you're playing a game that keeps your cpu pegged or near most of the time, your latency will be noticeably higher because of that (using the typical network card, which is a bit 'winmodemish' in that it's relying on the cpu to do much of its work.) So having a card that does all the network processing itself, without relying on the CPU, would avoid that slowdown.
  • Snake oil (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pilkul (667659) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:36PM (#17178438)

    Latency is 99% percent due to delays over the Internet, not anything that happens on your local machine. What does this card do, sprinkle magic fairy dust over packets so they go faster through the wire?

    This reminds me of gold-plated power cords for sound systems. Guaranteed to create richer, deeper sound!

  • Holy shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:36PM (#17178442)
    Wow, this 'article' is a real gem.
    This more recent fast moving game was used by Keith, our software tester from Dell. He reported ping times during his Killer NIC session to be about 10ms faster on the server that was returning 50 to 70ms pings with the onboard NIC. When quizzed about a discernible difference in Q4 session quality, Keith did not express anything to us that really set one session off against the other. The Killer NIC and Quake 4 seemed to be a wash at best.
    I think that's the only time they actually note anything about "latency reduction" in this advert. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to find all the flaws in this testing methodology. What is even more amazing, given the other 3 accounts do not give any confirmation whatsoever is that they come to the most ridiculous conclusion.
    The Killer NIC does exactly what it is advertised to do. It will lower your pings and very likely give you marginally better framerates in real world gaming scenarios....
    Paid product placement at its finest I suppose. But even the vetted boys at HardOCP realized they would have to blow some reality up everyone's ass after all that smoke, and added the following to be "fair and balanced."
    ...The Killer NIC is not for everyone as it is extremely expensive in this day and age of free onboard NICs. There are very likely other upgrades you can make to your computer for the same investment that will give you more in return.
  • by Pizaz (594643) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:42PM (#17178494)
    This NIC card has no clothes. But hey, phishing schemes and Nigerian con artists can be successful so why shouldn't this?
  • Re:How ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TodMinuit (1026042) <todminuit@gPARISmail.com minus city> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:48PM (#17178576)
    How can a NIC decrease the latency in any noticable way?

    You'd be surprised what marketers can do.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:50PM (#17178588) Homepage

    I don't see any benchmarks in that article. Here are some, [extremetech.com], and they don't make the thing look all that impressive.

    The only benefit in this thing, apparently, is that, for games which make too many "select()" polls, there's a faster no-data return. This is really a bug in the game, which ought to be multi-threaded by now. As games are revised for multi-core systems, this problem had better go away. In fact, it probably will go away in Vista, which has a multithreaded network stack.

  • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @06:55PM (#17178632) Homepage
    Maybe where this NIC really belongs is on the MMORPG *servers*?
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:05PM (#17178772)
    This card is most useful for worldclass gamers who could use a 10ms deduction in ping/lag times. For most gamers this is very neglagable, but some gamers can take good advantage of that 10ms. Also it looks like some games have more benefit from this than others. The article lists FEAR and WoW as the most positively effected while Counterstrike and Quake 4 as minimally effected. They list an example in TFA of an _expert_ FEAR gamer:

    I [have] watched him repeatedly go into DM games and use nothing but dual pistols and own the map. Joshua saw distinct differences between his Killer and non-Killer sessions. He was easily able to identify his gaming session using the Killer NIC with confidence. One of the more notable things he conveyed to me was that his "machine was ahead of what was on the server." He explained this was allowing him to take shots and get cover before others had time to react to his presence. Joshua said the the onboard NIC felt the same as his machine at home, but the Killer NIC gave him a better experience in that it, "felt smoother with less lag kills." He went on to note that the overall reaction felt better and the Killer NIC supplied a smoothness of play he did not get with the onboard NIC.

    These kinds of "professional" gamers could use a fancy NIC with lower times. Or if your Richie Rich and you need some extras for your already pimped out gaming rig.

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:16PM (#17178926)
    Server systems have been using high quality NICs which offload network processing for years. Decades even... I think $250 is a bit steep. But then I'm not a l33t gamer. Kudos to them if they can get people to pay $250 for a $50 server NIC. I call that good marketing.

    Of course they also need to be running 15,000rpm SCSI drives on a decent SCSI HBA as well as a top of the line CPU and loads of RAM and top of the range graphics card.
     
  • by porkThreeWays (895269) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:19PM (#17178964)
    It sounds like bullshit, but it actually works. The guys who made this aren't schmucks, but experienced designers. I know 2 people who bought one and they both confirmed slightly lower latency in games. Look at it this way, a 500 dollar pair of running shoes really isn't going to help the average person much compared to a 50 dollar pair. However, a professional runner is going to benefit. This card is designed for the professional gamer (oddly enough, they do exist today).
  • Mod parent up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:19PM (#17178968)
    And what is this about PLAYING the games? You don't fucking PLAY them! You SCRIPT them so you have as close to the exact same environment as you can get.

    From TFA:
    We watched the engineers as they played through a Counter Strike deathmatch round.

    That is just idiotic.

    While this is not the most scientific way to gather data, it certainly did a good job to reflect what would happen in real world gaming situations.

    If you aren't going to do it right, then you are doing it WRONG. So it did NOT "reflect what would happen in real world gaming situations".

    Bigfoot allowed us to barge into their offices on a beautiful Saturday morning with real gamers in tow.

    Again, you script it. You do not play it.

    Taking all of our testers one at a time, we allowed them about 45 minutes of gameplay in their chosen title. Our testers were given time to setup their own keyboards, mice, and needed add-on software so that they had a system close to what they were used to using at home.

    I'll give the KillerNIC people this, they certainly know how to pick their suckers.

    Seriously. They didn't even bring their own PC's? They used the "testing machines" provided for them. And they think this has anything to do with "real world" performance?

    From there, the gameplay was divide in half. One half of the online play used the Killer, the other half used the motherboard's onboard NIC.

    A far, far better test, even under these biased conditions, would have been for them to use their own PC's. It cannot be that difficult to swap a NIC, can it?

    In a blind taste test, more people preferred Coke over the Pepsi that I had previously pissed in.

    For some strange reason, all I ever see in these "reviews" are the KillerNIC people insisting that the games be run on THEIR machines. And people who are "reviewing" it accepting this strange requirement. And not even scripting it so that they can compare it with their home machines.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:25PM (#17179018)
    What people? People who can't strain their 386's with the added weight of a torrent client?

    For the price of this NIC, you can invest that money into a good upgrade.

    Stupid.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:27PM (#17179036)
    Is not how does it compare against an onboard NIC, but how does it compare against a good NIC that does offloading, like an Intel server NIC? I mean $100 will get you Intel's copper 1000mbps server NIC which does support offloading of various functions and, unlike the killer NIC, has rock solid drivers (not just for Windows either). My bet? The Intel NIC probably does near as good a job, and doesn't have any problems, as well as saving you $150.

    Comparing it only to cheap onboard NICs really isn't useful. I mean yes I'd be interested to know if it's better but the real question is if it's better than a high quality addon NIC that's already available.
  • Re:of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ZachPruckowski (918562) <zachary.pruckowski@gmail.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:33PM (#17179076)
    Most games are GPU-bound anyways. And most games are single threaded. Add it up, and you find that most people who can afford a $250 NIC have CPU power to spare (most likely dual core, too). Therefore, it'd be useful if you were on a budget system, but at $250, you would almost always spend that on the GPU or RAM.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday December 09, 2006 @07:54PM (#17179250)
    These kinds of "professional" gamers could use a fancy NIC with lower times.

    In all the "reviews" of this that get posted here, I notice a few recurring items.

    One of the most interesting to me is that they want the "gamers" to test the NIC as part of their entire box. But the real gamers would already have a box built to their specs that they were familiar with ... their home gaming machine.

    Yet the "gamers" never seem to insist that they be allowed to compare the KillerNIC in their own box, against their existing NIC. And if they're serious gamers, they've already spent money replacing the on-board NIC if their motherboard came with it.

    Kind of like if a tire company wants you to like new tires, but they won't let you drive them on your own car. You have to use their car. And you have to compare it to a different car that they have without the tires. And people accept that.

    Under those conditions, I can show you improved ping times using nothing more than cool stickers for your case.
  • by BJH (11355) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @08:11PM (#17179382)
    This is an "emperor with no clothes" thing - if you can't tell the difference, you must not be an experienced gamer. Since I'm an experienced gamer, I can tell the difference. HORSE PUCKY, boy!
  • by benicillin (990784) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @10:15PM (#17180372)
    dude... nice analogy - the tire thing made that a heck of a lot clearer of a picture for me. i wasn't sure exactly what u meant at first. and good call, i didnt pick up on that at first...
  • by toadlife (301863) on Saturday December 09, 2006 @11:23PM (#17180882) Journal
    ...from what I've gathered from the comments (of course I didn't RTFA).

    * The card supports the standard packet processing offloading that higher-end NICs have for years.
    * The card can act as a firewall, which enables the user to turn of all software firewalls.

    It seems to me, one could just buy a $50 broadband router or build their own mono0wall/ipcop router, and throw in a $20 3c905 card and get the same results for a lot less money.

  • Speed != Latency.
    Latency is the time it takes to go from one object to another
    Speed is MB/S or some other equivalent measure
    If speed was latency, we'd hire freight trains to carry cars full of hard drives to the intended recipient rather than measly packets over wire.
  • by Z34107 (925136) on Sunday December 10, 2006 @02:28AM (#17182056)

    This is an "emperor with no clothes" thing - if you can't tell the difference, you must not be an experienced gamer. Since I'm an experienced gamer, I can tell the difference. HORSE PUCKY, boy!

    Naw, latency is an easily measured and quantified number and evidently this card does lower your latency somewhat.

    How much that "somewhat" is noticeable is debatable. For those spending $bucks a month for high-speed internet for their $buckbucksbucks gaming rig, a crappy NIC is going to be rather bothersome. Go talk to a rabid "knife-makes-you-run-faster" CounterStrike player and ask him about the importance of latency.

    But, for the rest of us, a NIC isn't really a bottleneck and onboard/generic PCI NICs do just fine. It's not "noticeable" enough.

    Think of it as "online gamer viagra" - lower your ping by 5 ms!

  • by DavidTC (10147) <[slas45dxsvadiv. ... ] [neverbox.com]> on Sunday December 10, 2006 @12:33PM (#17184980) Homepage

    That's not because of interference, that's because normal, purchased-in-Walmart cables are, as I said, crap. The shielding on RCA cables, especially, often comes mostly loose from the plug. (And never ever buy a phono to RCA cable there.)

    It's like food. You get a crap meal for 5 dollars. You get a pretty good one for 15-20. You're not going to get a noticeable better one for 50.

    You get a crap RCA cable for 3 dollars. You get a good one for 5. You pay 15 dollars for Monster Calbers, and they claim absurd things like they're 'bandwidth blended' and have 'time correct' bindings and 'dual balanced' conductors, what the hell those things are. They even have wires that 'add warmth' to CD recordings and are specially designed for cars and all sorts of crazy stuff.

    They're damn wires, they can't magically give you better sound, all they can do is crap it up. Buy wires that don't crap it up and be done with it. Spend the money you saved on better speakers.

    Likewise, with this card: It's a damn network card. Almost all none of your latency is due to your network card.

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