Bigfoot Networks has, for the past few years, been trying very hard to bring high powered, intelligent network interface cards to the desktop. We previously looked at their Killer NIC with some interesting results, and today we've got the Killer Xeno Pro in our labs.

The major difference between the older Killer NIC and the newer Killer Xeno Pro is the inclusion of an audio path and audio processing for voice chat acceleration. They Killer Xeno Pro also has twice the RAM of the original. Despite the improvements, one of the major benefits is that the Killer Xeno Pro will be available at a lower retail price than the Killer NIC was. Oh, and it is sort of cool to see the new hardware dialog talking about a PowerPC Processor:

I sooo want to hack this thing now.

In our original investigation, we did see some situations where the Killer NIC could make some difference, but, for what you get, the cost was much too high. One of the ways that Bigfoot is trying to combat this is by selling chipsets and letting vendors like EVGA build and market boards. They've managed to get their costs down and the price of the Killer Xeno Pro, while very high for a network card, is much more reasonable than the original offering. The EVGA Killer Xeno Pro can be had for about $120 USD.

The EVGA Killer Xeno Pro in all its glory.

Let's start by saying that this isn't going to be a network card for someone hanging on to a 7 Series NVIDIA card or a Radeon 1k part from ATI in a single core CPU system. When upgrading, spending the $120 cost of the Killer Xeno Pro on a better graphics card will net you a great deal more performance. Even putting that money into the CPU is likely to get you more for your money in general. This is a card that should be targeted at the online gamer with a good system who wants to make sure every possible advantage is covered.

This hardware at this price is just not for everyone. It still needs to come down to more of a commodity price in order to see wider adoption. In our opinion, those who should even consider this card should already have a modern dual core system with single GPU graphics hardware capable of delivering a good, steady, high framerate at the preferred resolution in the majority of games. We don't expect that everyone who has such a system will want to invest in the Killer Xeno Pro either, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Up first we will look at the Killer Xeno Pro, its features, and why we should expect some level of increased performance at all from a typical network card.

The Card and Features
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  • navilor - Sunday, July 5, 2009 - link

    Thank you for your insight. I value your input.

    World of Warcraft uses TCP. I couldn't believe it as I thought it would use UDP. I ran Wireshark on my network just to make sure.

    The CPU doesn't have to generate an interrupt for any packets at all when packets are processed. I believe that it would be similar interrupt coalescing but without the assumed latency increase.
  • has407 - Sunday, July 5, 2009 - link

    Interesting.... Maybe the WoW dev's need some remedial instruction in network programming :) Even if they use TCP, they could easily segregate and prioritize time-sensitive TCP traffic. Hnmmm... so is the Killer NIC a $120 compensator for bad app design?

    As to whether "The CPU doesn't have to generate an interrupt for any packets at all when packets are processed."... Ummm... yes it does, in some form or another--even if it isn't a hardware interrupt--as that is how it eventually gets the app's attention (e.g., via DPC/IRP whether the result of a hardware interrupt or polling). You get one or the other: coalescing interrupts (hardware or software) and increased latency, or more interrupts and decreased latency.

    I can believe that the Killer NIC driver tries to split the line between latency and interrupt overhead. I can also believe it reduces latency bit, but I find it hard to believe it reduces by a significant amount--unless of course you're doing torrents and other stuff while you're gaming--in which case the appropriate answer is: Don't do That.

    Again, I assert that a properly tuned system with a decent and lower-cost NIC would fare as well. But I'd like to see some properly engineered tests to confirm that.
  • mindless1 - Saturday, July 4, 2009 - link

    You overlook something significant. "Offloading" isn't necessarily a good thing, if the processor it's offloaded to is no faster, let alone slower, than the main CPU. I'm not suggesting it is or isn't, but the core ideal that offloading is a positive thing is quite misleading.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, July 5, 2009 - link

    This is a good point -- if you offload it you would want to offload it to something that could do stuff faster.

    the issue here, though, isn't as much that the 400MHz PPC core actually be able to do the work faster than something like a Core i7 3GHz ... the major bottleneck in network processing on windows is the operating system and the software network stack ...

    bypassing the OS, even though it doesn't seem to deliver a better experience from what we can tell, really does seem to be faster when using the Killer Xeno Pro ... but again the major issue is not client side processing but the rest of the network when we are talking about gaming on a standard desktop ...
  • swaaye - Saturday, July 4, 2009 - link

    Well it's nice to hear that you THINK that you are seeing a benefit.

    The problem is that it's apparently rather unprovable through testing and that means that it likely is placebo effect.

    I'd like to hear a network / NIC engineer chime in on these cards anonymously.
  • navilor - Sunday, July 5, 2009 - link

    Have a friend randomly switch someone's connection from their KillerNIC to an onboard NIC while they are out of the room. Ask them if they see a difference. Repeat several times.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, July 5, 2009 - link

    I'd want to try and make it double blind and do it with multiple people ...

    It'd be a great idea for a LAN party or tournament (maybe not during competition though as people would surely cry foul even if it didn't benefit anyone).
  • haplo602 - Saturday, July 4, 2009 - link

    I see this hoax gets the trashing it deserves ... folks just google windows xp tcp tuning or similar for vista and you will find advices that put this 120$ nonsene right into the recycling bin where it belongs ...
  • swaaye - Friday, July 3, 2009 - link

    Note that even Marvell and Realtek integrated NICs have substantial hardware offload these days. I just don't see the justification at all for one of these cards....
  • RU482 - Friday, July 3, 2009 - link

    Where I work, we use a PC to serve up hard drive images to as many as 96 computers at a time (using Symantec Ghost). With a consumer grade Realtek 8169 ethernet card, we achieve around 600MB/min (that's the metric that is reported) throughput. With a card like the one in this article, could we expect to increase throughput rates...slightly or dramatically?


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