Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 1
Introduction

Mice, Mouse Mats, Keyboards, Sound Cards & Headphones - These are the products that are often targeted by gamers and manufacturers as being the 'areas for improvement' in assisting the average gamer with making the most of their skills. Over the past 2 years we've seen a storm of high-DPI mice, low-friction mouse mats, illuminated keyboards and high-quality sound cards hit the market, all with the gamer in mind. Many gamers swear by these products, and it's no wonder (with gaming being such a large market nowadays) that many companies are 'jumping on the bandwagon' and looking into new ways of further improving the gamers 'game'.

It doesn't seem surprising then, that one company based in Texus, USA has taken it upon themselves to create the worlds first gamers network card. With a vision to decrease ping response and increase their in-game frames per second (fps), the "Killer NIC" promises to help gamers get the edge over the competition.

This concept has had gaming communities split down the middle over its plausability, but we only need to go back to a few years when gamers and PC enthusiasts were opting for the Hardware based dial-up modems over the inferior 'softmodem' variants to see that it's not so far fetched after all. However, as with any review here at Overclock3D, the proof of the pudding is in the testing. So without further ado let's get down to the nitty gritty and see what Bigfoot Networks have to say about themselves and their rather innovative product.

About Us
Harlan "Tytus" Beverly was sick of playing games online and suffering from Lag. He hated losing due to circumstances out of his control. As a network architect, Harlan had the skills and expertise to research where Lag was occurring and began to talk to game developers on ways Lag could be fought. The fruits of his work became the foundation for LLR Technology.

While in business school at the University of Texas, Harlan teamed up with Bob Grim and Mike Cubbage to found Bigfoot Networks. Together they wrote an award winning business plan that won prizes in the Fortune Magazine New Venture contest, the University of Texas MOOT CORP Competition, San Diego State’s Venture Challenge, and the Carnegie Mellon competition.

The prize money combined with Angel investment allowed Harlan to further refine the technology and for Bigfoot Networks to build its first prototype, which was critical in securing a $4MM investment from Venio Capital Partners in late 2005.

Financially secure, Bigfoot Networks has now launched full throttle on its mission to fight Lag and provide gamers with technology that can dramatically improve the performance of their gaming systems. Stay tuned for more details on its upcoming product launch (this summer), and other ways that Bigfoot Networks is going to make gaming more fun.

The Killer NIC
The award winning Killer NIC Network Interface Card gives you the best gaming experience money can buy. Not only does it give you lower pings and a smoother online gaming experience, it also looks stellar inside your rig and gives you the ability to run applications on its Network Processing Unit (NPU) rather than on your CPU.

The Advantage
The Killer NIC delivers you a faster online gaming experience by ensuring that your data gets to the game as quickly and efficiently as possible. This means you will get more stable and lower latencies and more frames per second in your favorite online games which results in a smoother game play experience while you are in the heat of online battle.


Specifications

The following information has been taken directly from the Killer NIC website.

Powered by Lag and Latency Reduction (LLR™ ) Technology
Killer NIC is powered by Lag and Latency Reduction Technology, which fully optimizes the way networking works in your computer: tweaking it out specifically for Online Games. Learn more about LLR here.

The Killer NIC’s 400Mhz (333mhz for the K1) Network Processing Unit (NPU) that allows the Killer to completely bypass the Windows Network stack through hardware acceleration by implementing it’s own interrupt driven networking model. Bypassing the Windows Network stack reduces your latency (Ping), and shortens every game frame loop: boosting your FPS. The Killer NIC’s NPU is specifically designed with online gaming in mind, and handles gaming network traffic much more quickly and efficiently than standard networking products, including packet prioritization. All this gives you a faster and smoother online gaming experience.

The best part of LRR is that it is entirely plug’n’play, and requires no software changes, patches, upgrades or customizations by game developers. This means that you can just plug the Killer NIC in, and get the benefits right away with your favorite online game. In addition, the Killer NIC comes with the Flexible Network Architecture (FNA™) Applications built in which lets you run applications called FNApps inside the Killer NIC. With FNApps, you are just a click away from being able to run BitTorrent clients and firewalls on your Killer instead of burdening your CPU with them.

Killer NIC Technical Specifications
• Data Rates: 10/100/1000 Ethernet Fast Ethernet Controller
400Mhz Network Processing Unit
Integrated Memory: 64MB DDR PC2100
IEEE Compliance: 802.3, 802.3u, 802.3x, 802.3z
Data Path Width: 32-bit PCI
Data Transfer Mode: Bus-master DMA

Killer K1 Technical Specifications
• Data Rates: 10/100/1000 Ethernet Fast Ethernet Controller
333Mhz Network Processing Unit
Integrated Memory: 64MB DDR PC2100
IEEE Compliance: 802.3, 802.3u, 802.3x, 802.3z
Data Path Width: 32-bit PCI
Data Transfer Mode: Bus-master DMA

Killer NIC Specs Killer K1 Specs

It has to be said that the Killer NIC and Killer K1 have some very impressive specs for network cards. Complete with 333mhz and 400mhz processors coupled with 64mb of PC2100 memory and a USB 2.0 port, you'd be forgiven for thinking we were talking about a slightly dated Dell PC here!

Killer NIC NPU Diagram

One of the key features of the Killer NIC is its 'NPU'. Possibly not an acronym that many of us will be familiar with, but I'm afraid I won't be giving out any prizes to the first person who guesses it stands for Network Processing Unit. The job of the NPU is to offload the networking tasks traditionaly performed by the CPU and memory to the Killer NIC's onboard processor. This helps free up system resources so that applications and games that can make better use of it. In addition to this, the NPU can also be used to run 'FNApps' - a collection of applications designed to run on the Killer NIC's Linux based operating system.

Killer NIC Diagram

To further improve the performance of the card, Killer NIC have written advanced drivers that bypass the Windows networking stack and instead make use of the highly optimised, Linux based networking code on the card. The diagram above gives a simplified overview of how this system works.


Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 2
The Jargon Explained

It's fair to say that there is quite a bit of technology behind the Killer NIC. For the most part Bigfoot Networks have tried to "dumb it down" to a level that the average computer enthusiast can relate to. However, if you take a look at Killer NIC's whitepaper you can get a better idea of how some of the technologies work. Let's take a brief look at some of them:

GameFirst™: When LLR is enabled, the NPU classifies inbound and outbound packets based on their type. Gaming packets are determined by the UDP packet type, and then are processed in real-time by the NPU and ONLY the data within the UDP packets is placed directly to or taken directly from the game’s program space. These operations are given a higher priority than other network traffic.

GameFirst does pretty much what it says on the tin. When enabled in the Killer NIC software, UDP traffic (used in games) is given priority over other protocol traffic resulting in lower pings, even when you are performing other tasks such as downloading files. It is worth mentioning that GameFirst can be disabled, resulting in the Killer NIC acting more like a traditional network card.


MaxFPS™: MaxFPS™ will increase the Frames Per Second (FPS) in most gaming systems. It does this by reducing the CPU utilization due to networking, and speeding up the main game loops of the game (even when no network traffic is present). For gaming systems that have older graphics cards, the additional performance in CPU, cache, and main system memory will improve the efficiency of the older graphics card allowing it to run at more FPS, or at higher resolutions and settings. For gaming systems that have newer graphics cards, the FPS performance is usually limited by the performance of the main gaming loop or the CPU’s ability to get data to the card (memory bottlenecks). MaxFPS™ will improve the speed of the main gaming loop and reduce the CPU utilization and main system memory thrashing thus improving FPS, or allowing higher resolutions and settings.

Most games today are mainly single-threaded designs, or are multi-threaded but are controlled by a main game loop. When a main game loop is single threaded (or networking is performed inside the main game loop) (figure 1), it will usually poll with nonblocking receives or call non-blocking select on a socket EVERY TIME THROUGH THE MAIN GAME LOOP, regardless of if there is actual network activity or not. This means that many levels of the network stack are traversed to determine if data is present or not, even when there is NO network activity.

Non-LLR With LLR

To cut a long story short, the Killer NIC can help increase frame rates in games by offloading a lot of the work traditionally performed by the CPU and Memory to the processor on the network card. According to Killer NIC, The largest benefits can be seen when using the card with older PC's. This left me wondering if spending ~$200 on a network card would be the most cost effective way of gaining an FPS increase? Personally I think not.


PingThrottle™: PingThrottle™ is a user-controlled setting that literally adds latency to any outbound network traffic, effectively increasing the effective ping a gamer has to a server. This is helpful when you are hosting a server on your LAN that other players are connecting to via the WAN (broadband/etc), and you would like to increase your ping to maintain a standard of fair play. Another use for this is to handicap your system in order to train and hone gaming skills.

Some gamers have been known to ‘cheat’ by abnormally raising ping to say 400ms and causing a game to reduce accuracy. This cheat is not possible with PingThrottle™ for 2 reasons:

1.) The max latency that can be added is only about 20ms (give or take).
2.) The adjustment is done in the NPU itself rather than in software, so the added latency is real.

Obviously not all gamers will need this! But it’s there, just the same.

Should you feel that the Killer NIC gives you such an unfair advantage over your enemy, you can manually increase your ping by up to 20ms. This may sound quite pointless considering you've just shelled out ~$200 to get that advantage in the first place, but as the quote above rightfully states, this feature can also be used when you want to adjust your skills in preperation for high-ping gaming sessions.


FNA™: FNA stands for Flexible Network Architecture. It is in effect, the infinite flexibility of Killer. For the average user, this means there is and will be FNapps (utilities/programs/game enhancers/etc.) that can be downloaded from www.KillerNIC.com and run on your KillerNIC.

FNapps are designed to allow a user to run an application with a minimal or reduced impact on the main system’s CPU, Memory Subsystem, Caching, Hard-Disk, etc. These FNapps can be anything from simple packet monitoring utilities [like fire-walls, etc] to full-blown VOIP programs or file-sharing systems: even mini-game servers/chat servers. FNapps can be designed to make use of the dedicated USB port as well as the gigabit Ethernet port. In addition, FNapps integrate easily (and can communicate easily) with host apps (for gui interfaces/etc.)

As the Killer NIC has its own on-board CPU, RAM, USB and embedded Linux OS, there is no reason why the card can't be used for more than just networking. Bigfoot Networks have already created Bittorrent and Firewall applications for use with FNA which can be found here, and are also offering generous rewards to anyone willing to develop additional applications for this architecture.

Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 3
The Killer NIC & K1 Cards

I can honestly say that I never thought I'd be performing a review on a network card and talking about it's appearance. After all, up until the Killer NIC was released a network card was possibly one of the most dull components you could plug into a PCI slot.

Killer NIC Box Front Killer NIC Box Back

Killer NIC Box Side Killer NIC Contents

This certainly isn't true for the Killer NIC, and as you can see from above Bigfoot Networks have been kind enough to send us both their "Killer NIC" and recently released "Killer K1" cards.

Both cards come well packaged in flashy cardboard boxes that would certainly stand out on any retailers shelves. Included inside is a driver disk, some Killer NIC stickers and a CD with a compilation of budget games. The more expensive of the two cards (the "Killer NIC") also comes with a full version of F.E.A.R!

Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC Bigfoot Networks Killer K1

Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC Back Bigfoot Network Killer K1 Back

The 'K' shaped dagger heatsink on the Killer NIC looks simply awesome and is without doubt the most unique design I've ever seen. We could at this point question it's thermal effectiveness, but who cares - it's primary role is to seperate this card from every other network card on the market, and it does that very well.

The Killer K1 (pictured to the right of the Killer NIC), is essentially the same card as the Killer NIC but without the elaborate heatsink. Bigfoot Networks have also clocked the core down from 400mhz to 333mhz and disabled the USB port. I wouldn't like to speculate, but I can imagine that a firmware flash of the Killer K1 would be all it takes to bring it to Killer NIC status.

Killer NIC & Killer K1 CPU

At the heart of both cards is a Freescale MCP8343E PowerQUICC II Pro that can apparently scale up to 667mhz (anybody fancy overclocking a network card?). The MCP8343E integrates dual USB controllers, Dual Gigabit Ethernet and even a DDR-333 memory controller. The full specs can be seen below:

• 32-bit, high-performance superscalar core
1260 MIPS @ 667 MHz
Double-precision floating point, integer, load/store, system register, and branch processor units
32 KB data and 32 KB instruction cache with line locking support
DDR memory controller, up to 333 MHz data rate, with a 32-bit interface with ECC
Dual PCI interfaces
Dual 10/100/1000 Ethernet controllers
Embedded security engine
Dual Hi-Speed USB controllers
Local bus controller
Dual UART (DUART)
Dual I2C interfaces (master or slave mode)
Four-channel DMA controller
Serial peripheral interface (SPI)
General-purpose parallel I/O (GPIO)
IEEE 1149.1 JTAG test access port
Package: 672-pin, 35 mm x 35 mm TBGA (1 mm pitch)
Process technology: 130 nm CMOS
Voltage: 1.2V core voltage with 3.3V and 2.5V I/O


Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 4
Killer NIC Drivers

Installing the Killer NIC drivers on our Windows XP SP2 test machine proved extremely easy. Simply insert the card, install the drivers and away you go. The installer even updates the card to the latest firmware available from Killer NIC's site during the install.

I also tried installing the Killer K1 on Windows 2003 Server (x64), but unfortunately in this instance the latest x64 drivers from Killer NIC's website caused the server to loose all network connectivity and even froze Windows startup subsequent reboots.

Killer NIC Drivers

The main menu provides you with the ability to flip between "Gaming" and general use "Application" mode as well as tweaking some of it's more advanced features. Also included is the ability to increasing your ping and change the LED light sequence on the underside of the card.

Killer NIC Drivers Killer NIC Drivers

Both of these pages are probably best left well alone by the average user. I certainly had very little idea of the impact on changing any of the presets, but I suppose if you are into tweaking, you could possibly further increase the performance of the card by adjusting the settings and running benchmarks.


Test PC Configuration

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 @ 3.6ghz
Motherboard: Asus Commando P965
Memory: Patriot PC2-8500 2GB DDR2
Graphics: ATI Radeon X1950Pro
Network: Marvell Yukon 88E8056 PCI-E Gigabit (Onboard)
OS: Windows XP SP2 (x32)



Testing Methodology

The hardest part of this review by far was finding a way to produce a fair comparision of the Killer NIC against the onboard NIC in our test PC. Reviews we've seen of this card in magazines have used two identical machines connected to the same network, playing the same game on the same server at the same time. Although a good idea, these reviews don't take into consideration the massive difference in FPS that two players at different positions in the game map, or with different numbers of other players on the screen could have on the overall result.

For this reason, the results over the following page were produced in the following conditions:

Counter:Strike Source & F.E.A.R
• Private CS:S / F.E.A.R server configured on Overclock3D Dual Xeon 3.6ghz server.
• Server located at IDNet racks in Redbus co-location center, London.
• Client PC connectivity via IDNet ADSL (6mb) broadband. Tracert 2 hops from server.
• No other players on server to prevent any variance in results due to increased or reduced server bandwidth associated with fluctuating number of players in game.
• Tests of Killer NIC and Onboard NIC produced within 30 minutes of each other and with server network load being checked beforehand using BWMonitor to ensure consistency.
• FRAPS configured to take screenshots every 30 seconds for a total of 30 minutes with the server ping and FPS information in every screenshot.
• Player takes a consistent route around the map for the entire 30 minutes.


As the above tests for CS:S and F.E.A.R were under strict testing procedures we decided to offset these results against some random gameplay on a random public server using Quake 4:

Quake 4
Random Quake 4 Internet server.
Client PC connectivity via IDNet ADSL (6mb) broadband.
Tests of Killer NIC and Onboard NIC produced within 30 minutes of each other.
FRAPS configured to take screenshots every 30 seconds for a total of 30 minutes with the server ping and FPS information in screenshots.
Player takes a consistent route around the map for the entire 30 minutes, but also engages with other players.


Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 5
Test Results

Armed with just under 200 screenshots from the 3 game titles used in our tested, we proceeded the painful task of adding the FPS and Ping details to the graphs below in order to get a clearer picture of any performance differences between the two NIC's. At the right of each graph below you will find the average value calculated from all the results.

Killer NIC CS:S FPS Results Killer NIC CS:S Ping Results

In the Counter-Strike:Source tests, the Killer NIC managed to obtain a full 9fps advantage over the onboard Marvell NIC. Judging by the graph it would also appear that the Killer NIC aided slightly more consistent frame rates too.

As for latency, the onboard Marvell NIC and Killer NIC were pretty much on a level playing field, both producing average pings of just under 16ms.

Killer NIC FEAR FPS Results Killer NIC FEAR Ping Results

F.E.A.R told pretty much the same story with the Killer NIC sporting an 8fps advantage over the onboard Marvell Yukon NIC. Latency results also came out minutely lower for the Killer NIC, showing a 1.4ms advantage.

Killer NIC Quake 4 FPS Results Killer NIC Quake 4 Ping Results

Despite the more random methods used during the Quake 4 tests, the FPS results above show almost no difference in FPS between the Killer NIC and the onboard Marvell NIC.

Once again we can see a small difference of 1.8ms between the two NIC's, however the graph seems to show less fluctuation in ping for the Killer NIC.


Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC & Killer K1 Network Cards Page: 6
Conclusion

Without a doubt the Killer NIC is one of the most technologically advanced network cards I'll ever lay my hands on. Bigfoot Networks have clearly put a lot of time and research into the Killer NIC and have gone to extraordinary lengths to bypass the bottlenecks found in the Windows networking stack. In addition to this, the FNA architecture allows developers to make use of the Killer NIC's platform - undoubtedly increasing the cards appeal as new and innovative applications are released in the future.

However, the results from our tests proved to be less than compelling and I can honestly say that if I'd purchased this card with a view to improving my FPS and ping, I'd be disappointed. It is quite possible that our test machine and server set-up left little room for any achievable improvement by the card, but it is my opinion that the user group with the largest interest in the Killer NIC is going to be people that are already running top-spec systems. For anyone running a lower spec'd PC, the results will most likely be much more noticable, but at ~$180 for the baseline Killer K1 card, surely wouldn't these people be better investing in an extra 1gb ram or a new graphics card?

Another factor to take into consideration is that the Killer NIC's results do seem to be largely dependant on the game played. Whilst Overclock3D is primarily an FPS (First-Person Shooter) community and our testing reflects this, lots of people are reporting that the Killer NIC really shines when used with MMO games like World Of Warcraft.

On another note, I would be interested to see how the Killer NIC performs inside one of the Overclock3D game servers. With a large percentage of it's traffic being UDP based, maybe the card would be better suited to this kind of environment and could actually help reduce the ping of all players on the server. If we get an opportunity to perform this test any time in the near future, we'll be sure to update this review.


Pros
• The best looking NIC the world has ever seen!
• A good idea with plenty of future potential.
• Reported to produce best results with MMO games on lower spec systems.

Cons
• Expensive
• Little or no gain on high-end PC's in FPS games.
• ~$180 could buy a more worthwhile upgrade.
• Didn't play nicely with our Windows 2003 x64 system.

Innovation Award

Thanks to Bigfoot Networks for making this review possible.


Manufacturer Response

In order for all reviews to remain fair and accurate, Overclock3D allows every manufacturer 24 hours to respond to any comments or issues brought up during the review. Bigfoot Networks have taken this opportunity to highlight the following points:

1) We are glad you saw the smoother and lower Pings and the significant frame rate improvement on F.E.A.R. and CounterStrike. We believe you would have seen even more noticeable improvement had the testing been done on maps where other players were playing too. Killer is designed to give you that extra performance edge you need when the explosions are going off and the bullets are flying all around you. Those are the precise moments where you can’t afford to lose your CPU due to networking or to have a latency spike, and Killer helps in both cases.

2) In regards to your x64 experience, we only support Windows XP and Vista so it is no surprise that you experienced trouble on Windows 2003. We support both 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows XP and Vista.

3) There is a significant feature of Killer that was not tested as part of this review, and we would love it if you had the time to take a look at it and incorporate it into this article. The feature is our hardware offloaded torrent downloader, called FN Torrent. This program consists of an easy-to-use Windows application that works with a torrent client that runs on Killer’s Flexible Network Architecture. The idea is that you plug a USB thumb drive or hard drive to the back of Killer, and then when you run FN Torrent you can download an unlimited number of torrents without impacting your CPU utilization at all. Literally, your CPU utilization stays at 0% while you are downloading your movies, songs, etc… Because of that and the other features of Killer, you can actually play an online game while downloading tons of torrents and your game play will not be smooth, fast, and unaffected by the torrent downloader.

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