Interview: Bigfoot's Killer NIC, Exposed

Since its release, the Killer NIC has garnered a reputation for being an extravagant and largely unnecessary add-on for the do-it-yourselfer. Seeking additional insight, we approached the card’s designer.

A few weeks back, we ran a news story about the Killer NIC becoming available from Dell as an option in its XPS 630 and 730 high end systems – both the M1 and K1 version of the card are available for stand-alone purchase from Dell as well.

However, we feel that we may have caused some confusion surrounding the effectiveness of the Killer NIC based on feedback received from our readers. In an attempt to clarify the claimed pros & cons of the Killer NIC, Tom’s Hardware went straight to the source. We managed to catch up with Harlan Beverly, CEO of BigFoot Networks. Harlan is the mad scientist behind the Killer NIC’s technology and he has a very impressive track record of engineering under his belt. Once a design engineer at Intel, Harlan knows the down-low on networking.

So before we move onto the actual interview itself, let us rewind a little and explain what the Killer NIC is, what it is supposed to do for you, and what it purportedly brings to the table that other Network Interface Controllers (NIC) do not.

The Killer NIC is a specially designed NIC targeted specifically at the hard-core gamer. A lot of people dismiss the Killer NIC as ‘bogus’ because they think that its main focus is to ‘lower your ping’. Technically, that is just one aspect of the card.

As we all know, we have no control over what happens between our personal computers and the servers on the Internet that we access to inflict damage upon our fellow friends and gamers. What we do have control over is the resources within our operating systems. This is where the Killer NIC is claimed to shine brightly, using its ability to bypass the Windows IP stack and directly handle & process all User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets. UDP is the foundation for communication in multi-player gaming online and on Local Area Networks (LAN).

Pretty much every enthusiast motherboard comes complete with at least one or two on-board Ethernet controllers. These on-board controllers often offer TCP Offloading. TCP Offloading has its place and gaming is not one of them in this author’s opinion. There has been a large misconception surrounding this for a long time. TCP Offloading is useless in gaming for two reasons: TCP Offloading is designed to increase throughput, not decrease latency and games do not use TCP packets for communication.

Another misconception is that plonking a server NIC into your workstation will render the same results. This is far from the truth, actually. Server NIC’s do not process UDP with their own on-board processors. Server NIC’s are designed for increased throughput and handling large amounts of TCP streams at one time.

So how does Killer NIC increase your frame rate and lower ping, exactly? According to Bigfoot:

The Killer Gaming Network Card from Bigfoot Networks is designed to reduce lag and latency often experienced in high action interactive MMO and First Person Shooter games. Killer accelerates your game data for a smoother more responsive online gaming experience and a competitive edge.

*-Improved Responsiveness: Bypasses the Windows® network stack reducing in-game ping and giving you the edge you need. *-Smoother Gameplay When it Matters Most: Offloads all network processing from the CPU to boost frame rates, especially during moments of intense action. *-Faster Game Data: Game network packets are prioritized so they get to and from your game faster.

The problem here is that most gamers know that while you can optimize your own hardware, you can’t exactly do anything at the connection level, the routing level, the ISP level and the serving end. Despite significant criticism and doubt, Harlan Beverly is out to clear up what he considers to be misconceptions about the Killer NIC. He details to us just exactly why the Killer NIC is different from other NICs and talks in detail about the on-board processing that goes on.

We’re waiting for our own sample to test these claims, however. Until then, true performance numbers are still up in the air. We’ll do a full review once the cards are in, but in the mean-time, check out our interview with Harlan for the scoop behind his company’s flagship product.

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  • Anonymous
    Surely the overall game network is only as fast as the slowest component. Your network card may be optomised but if it is waiting for slower player's systems to respond then where is the advantage? Is there any benchmarking to show an advantage for this technology and are millisecond gains noticable in the real world?
  • Anonymous
    the game has to wait for windows to handle the IP normally. faster systems do this faster but its always faster if the whole stack is operated by specialised hardware. i think the reduction in latency is a 2 digit figure. thats noticeable in twitch games
  • Anonymous
    There are people out there still using wires??

    Bring me a killer wireless card, then we can talk.
  • Flakes
    lol at cablefree.

    ive seen reviews on this card before, there's one on anandtech, the difference is about 1-2fps and a ping difference of 1-2... IMO the card is a waste of money simply because calculating the UDP and TCP stacks is not a process hungry task until LARGE amounts of data are being transferred, so in conclusion when gaming the only time this card will have an effect is when you are downloading a 600MB map, then don't forget that you router/switch/firewall will also be a bottleneck.

    and if anyone wants to argue about the process hungry statement, please use common sense first, u are limited by your internet connection, even on a 20MB internet line your not passing enough data through your onboard NIC card for your Processor to break a sweat.
  • Anonymous
    lol@cablefree too.
    do you have any idea the kind of latency that goes on through a wifi stack?
    also, given that wires toasts any wifi network no matter what the speed, both on latency and throughput, i'll continue to use wires for my main desktop machine..
    do you happen to use a MAC by any chance? :D
  • Flakes
    i want to take back a comment i made just b4...

    this card is a waste of money for gamming there simply isnt enough large packets going back and forth for it to be useful, HOWEVER in a file server or a desktop that is used to transfer large files over a gigabyte network a card like this would greatly increase performance of the PC since the CPU would not be doing as much.

    To Tomshardware,

    when you get the card can you do a test on normal gaming and transfer a large file over a LAN using a gigabyte network.
  • Anonymous
    have a 10/100/1000 nic card?
    who cares.
    still have to wait for the crappy cable modem from comcast to process it or their bad switch in your neighborhood.
    plus they use to regulate your traffic until recently to slow down your game or bit torrent traffic....
    so much for a killer card.
    The backbone company and the cable modem is the slow part...
    since when do you see cable modem going to 100 mb/s to internet?
  • Anonymous
    @Flakes

    It wouldn't help with file transfers as this is only optimising UDP packets not TCP which file transfers use.
  • Anonymous
    "do you have any idea the kind of latency that goes on through a wifi stack?"

    That was my point - surely a good target for 'killer' hardware?
  • karnak
    No actual benchmarks just a lot of blah blah blah.
  • Alfin
    I've owned the top end card since it first came out. I love the firewall (bear in mind I'm a security specialist). I must say though that when it comes to improving the fps of online gaming it REALLY ROCKS!!! I've mainly played EverQuest II and LOTRO and both improved greatly ( I did write down all the figures ) I've up graded my pc in the mean time so my initial system was a dual core clocked to about 3ghz with 2 gigs of ram and and AGP!! Gainward Bliss GS 7800 something lol. Now on a quad core clocked either 2.4 or watercooled to 4ghz :) 4 gigs of ram and 8800GT alphadog XFX. Both showed marked performance on paper but the Killer excels with the feel of the game. The claim that there's no more jerk-ola in Brie in LOTRO is absolutely spot on. Worth mentioning I have tried this on many ISPs and networks ranging from 2Mb/s to just over 21Mb/s actually measured speeds before the Killer. I find I often recommend this card to anyone who'll listen :p Buy one then see for yourself. I don't know if they off a money back guarantee but they should as they shouldn't need to pay out on it.
  • plasmastorm
    @ Alfin ,
    Quote:
    Killer excels with the feel of the game.

    So you 'feel' that it's faster but no actual figures to show us and then......
    Quote:
    Now on a quad core clocked either 2.4 or watercooled to 4ghz :) 4 gigs of ram and 8800GT alphadog XFX

    which you then go on to tell us
    Quote:
    The claim that there's no more jerk-ola in Brie in LOTRO is absolutely spot on


    well i can tell you im running the same setup, q6600 @ 3.2ghz 880gtx and 4gig ram. with NO killer Nic and never had a second of lag or less than 60fps in any online game since i built it.
    if there was then to be blunt i would send the parts back as faulty lol
  • plasmastorm
    @ Alfin ,
    Quote:
    Killer excels with the feel of the game.

    So you 'feel' that it's faster but no actual figures to show us and then......
    Quote:
    Now on a quad core clocked either 2.4 or watercooled to 4ghz :) 4 gigs of ram and 8800GT alphadog XFX

    which you then go on to tell us
    Quote:
    The claim that there's no more jerk-ola in Brie in LOTRO is absolutely spot on


    well i can tell you im running the same setup, q6600 @ 3.2ghz 880gtx and 4gig ram. with NO killer Nic and never had a second of lag or less than 60fps in any online game since i built it.
    if there was then to be blunt i would send the parts back as faulty lol