When Bigfoot Networks‘ VP of Marketing John Drewry unveiled its partnership with several motherboard manufacturers at CES 2011, he hinted at the possibility of a wireless version of the Killer NIC. In March, BFN announced the Killer Wireless-N series. We’ve finally gotten our hands on a pair of otherwise identical laptops — one with the Killer Wireless-N 1102 adapter and one with an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN adapter. We send a big thank you to BFN for arranging this comparison review.
First, let’s freshen the mind about the benefits of Killer NIC technology. The primary task of the Killer NIC is to offload network communications from a computer’s CPU onto another, dedicated processor on the NIC. BFN calls this an “NPU”, or network processing unit. It is so named in order to indicate its similarity in purpose to a GPU, a graphics processing unit. A GPU offloads the highly complex mathematics and such involved in creating live graphics; an NPU offloads the not-very-complex, but essential and often blocking network packet construction, transmission, receipt, and deconstruction process.
There are two primary benefits of relieving the CPU of this duty: higher framerates and lower latency.
Since CPU is available to do other things, it can send instructions to the GPU or calculate where an enemy or your recently-fired rocket will be in the next frame, or process a bit of voice data and so on. The measurable effect here is an increased framerate, measured in frames per second. The CPU is less involved in network communications, so it can spend more time making the visual experience enjoyable.
The NPU has no tasks other than receiving raw data from the CPU, processing it as it is sent and received, and returning data back to the CPU. When there’s a processor with its own RAM dedicated to running simple calculations and concatenating data, it can do that really fast. That the modern Killer NIC lines, including the Killer 2100, Killer E2100 and the Killer Wireless-N, have a 400 MHz processor and 128 MB of RAM is simply the parts necessary to accomplish it at a suitable speed to blow away the competition while maintaining an affordable price. The effect here is that the NPU is able to do its job faster than a bogged down CPU. The measurable result is lower latency and a more consistent latency at that. The most common measure of latency is “ping time”, but that can mean a lot of different things based on the protocol used to measure the latency.
To summarize, if you drop a Killer NIC in your system or buy a system with a Killer NIC pre-installed, you will generally observe a better visual experience and your actions and other players’ actions will be reflected more closely to real-time than ever before.
We’d be remiss not to mention the Killer NIC’s software, which does three things BFN highlights: Advanced Stream Detect, which prioritizes traffic to provide a smoother multitasking experience, Visual Bandwidth Control, which shows users which applications are using the available bandwidth so that the user can close or limit something if it’s being a hog, and Online Gaming PC Monitor, which is essentially just a system health and performance monitoring tool. See our Killer 2100 review for more on these technologies.
Colin Dean has been a writer for ThinkComputers since 2006.