Killer NIC Technology

Hopefully you are still with us after the previous segment as writing it was better than taking a dose of Lunesta. In all seriousness, the technology of offloading network transactions to a dedicated processor has proven to be very beneficial in the corporate server environment. The typical TNIC is designed to handle data payloads that are larger than 8KB and in certain instances will have reduced performance (lower throughput and higher latencies) with smaller and more frequent data payloads in the 1KB to 4KB range. This range is what most messaging traffic, web services, and real-time data applications such as games utilize at this time. TNICs are generally optimized for TCP (transmission control protocol) packets where the vast majority of games today utilize UDP (user datagram protocol) packets for data transmission.

The differences between the two protocols are numerous but we will hit the highlights. TCP has a standard header length of twenty bytes versus eight for UDP. The normal TCP header will contain metric information such as sequence and acknowledgement numbers along with a requirement for a checksum number. UDP packets do not include metrics and the checksum information is optional. In other words, UDP does not provide the reliability, security, or ordering (queue) guarantees that TCP can deliver. The datagrams in the UDP packet may arrive out order or not at all and your system or application may never notice. Unlike TCP, UDP provides no guarantees for delivery or proper queuing, so why use it? The answer is simple: UDP is faster and far more efficient for time sensitive applications such as gaming, and you don't need every data packet to game properly. (I.e., if you miss one packet that says player X is at coordinates (10,10,15) but you get the next packet that shows X at (12,11,15), the missing packet will not seriously impact the overall experience unless of course you missed a shot or took one.) With this simple premise in mind BigFoot Networks decided to take TOE technology and design a TNIC that focused on UDP protocols and latency reduction.

The main technology focus of BigFoot Networks is centered on their LLR technology. LLR (Lag and Latency Reduction) technology that implements a 1-packet 1-interrupt model to eliminate the entire queuing and buffering operations standard NICs do during the packet receipt and transmission process. When in game mode, the Killer NIC will also completely bypass the Windows networking stack which contributes to further latency or lag reductions depending upon the application. When BigFoot Networks discusses ping improvements in games they are not talking about reducing ping through your network or at the server. This is completely out of their control and although their marketing information is not clear about it the reduction in ping comes on the host machine. These reductions come from bypassing the Windows Network Stack while in Game mode. Depending upon the application and packet size there is generally a 1~3ms delay due to system buffering and another 3~10ms delay in the queuing and processing of data packets in the current Windows Network Stack.

What makes LLR work is the NPU (network processing unit) on the card. This processor powers both the Windows Network Stack bypass engine and the 1-packet 1-interrupt model. In short, this NPU gets the normal network transactions out of the graphics path in games. This can result in improvements in FPS (frames per second) and reduced lag. With a standard network card, before nearly every graphics frame is drawn, there is first a check to the server to see if a new data packet has arrived or if one needs to be sent. Checking the server for new data packets can use up processor clock cycles whether or not data is there. Instead of a multitude of interrupts as we discussed earlier, the Killer NIC will receive or send those data packets in a single instruction. The Killer NIC has the further ability of interrupting the game directly when new data arrives. The Killer NIC is designed around reducing latencies and not throughput.

While LLR technology is impressive to some degree we have to temper any enthusiasm with the fact that most games are designed very differently in their handling of network tasks. Some games do not check for new network data on every graphics frame so any FPS improvements will be minimal at best or completely nonexistent the majority of time. Several older games do not use UDP packets so performance could suffer as the Network Stack bypass model is not used and the card must act as standard NIC. The one thing that we have learned during testing is that many games do not report accurate latency (ping rates) so any improvements are not as measurable but at times can be felt do to smoother game play. The basic TOE and TNIC technology still applies to this card and has been proven over the past few years in the corporate server environment. Converting this technology to the desktop with the added spin of improving gaming is certainly an admirable feat but how well does it work? We will answer that question in a few pages but first let's take a look at the obligatory marketing information.

Technology behind the Killer NIC Killer NIC Marketing Materials
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  • DaveatBigfoot - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    Dave from Bigfoot Networks here. We wanted to reach out to comments and forums around the Internet, address some of the issues being discussed, and be available for any questions you may have.

    I worked with Gary while he was writing this review. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him and Anandtech.com. I'd be liar if I didn't admit that we were disappointed with the performance and experience that the Anandtech review reflects. We welcomed the "Pepsi Challenge", and appreciated the real-world approach taken.

    While the performance numbers reported were lower than what our customers report, and what we see internally, we thought one of the best testimonials for the Killer was the blind test where a the Killer was added to gamers PC without his knowledge, and he thought there was a new video card or more RAM in the system. Truly, that is what the Killer is all about...smoother, faster gaming...less lag, better performance.

    Back when this review was written, we did have some issues with our drivers. I believe each and every issue manifested itself during Anandtech's testing. It was very unfortunate and not anticipated. Bypassing the windows network stack and putting a Linux computer on a PCI slot is a bit tricky. We aren't using that as an excuse, just stating it as a fact. Our latest software suite addresses all the issues that are referenced in this review.

    We have also recently released IPtables firewall for the Killer NIC. Many more FNApps are on the way, and with time the Killer's value will increase. A rarity in the hardware world.

    We sincerely hope, at some point, Anandtech will give the Killer another shot. We firmly stand by our product and believe it holds tremendous value for online gamers.

    I am also happy to answer any questions you may have about the Killer, so fire away!
    Reply
  • lwright84 - Thursday, November 9, 2006 - link

    http://hardware.gotfrag.com/portal/story/34683/">http://hardware.gotfrag.com/portal/story/34683/

    explains some of the features and shows some better results with this card.
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    They only tested two games and both were optimized for the KillerNIC. They give it an editors award for improving FEAR by 6.7%, come on. Reply
  • trajik78 - Sunday, November 5, 2006 - link

    did i mention $300 is f'in crazy for a NIC? Reply
  • cotak - Sunday, November 5, 2006 - link

    This is as useful as something that makes guys quicker during sex.

    As for people talking about this being enterprise storage technology. They use fiber for that with expensive fiber switches not Ethernet and not something you'd be able to afford at home.

    What's the point of reviewing something like this. In the first part of the review they say "the internet is variable". That's your key right there. There's no point in speeding up your connection to your cable/dsl modem when everything else from here to whatever is unknown. 300 bucks on a card like this and connecting it to your typical linksys router with the new VxWorks firmware with limited number of NAT connections it's about as dumb putting huge spoilers on a shitty car.
    Reply
  • trajik78 - Sunday, November 5, 2006 - link

    yup, pretty much every review has confirmed that this product is more than not-worthy of the $300 that could be better used for say a couple kegs of beer, or towards college tuition.

    when it comes down to it, your built in MB ethernet interface is more than worthy of your use for any circumstance, even it be HUGE FRAGFEST AT YOUR FRIENDS LAN PARTY!!
    Reply
  • aswinp - Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - link

    Check out this site for more info on TNICS:

    In my (small) experience in enterprise storage solutions, I believe one of the main reason for using TOE NICS is for iSCSI (SCSI over IP) SAN applications, instead of using Fiber Channel or other SAN solutions. So you basically have a SAN whose fabric is not based on expensive Fiber Channel hardware but on regular Ethernet.

    Top 10 Reasons to upgrade to a TNIC:
    http://www.alacritech.com/html/toe_top_ten.shtml">http://www.alacritech.com/html/toe_top_ten.shtml

    Benchmark Reports:
    http://www.alacritech.com/html/benchmark_reports.s...">http://www.alacritech.com/html/benchmark_reports.s...
    Reply
  • mlau - Thursday, November 2, 2006 - link

    I strongly suggest you read this mail and the paper it links to:
    http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/linux/linux-kernel/2003-...">http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/linux/linux-kernel/2003-...

    TOE is another marketing fad, nothing more.
    Reply
  • aswinp - Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - link

    I guess Killer NIC saw this technology starting to rise in popularity in the enterprise storage market and thought... "Hey, what happens if we apply this thing to gaming?". And so you get the Killer NIC.

    Although I admit the FNA feature is very interesting, if ever any software ever gets written to take advantage of it.

    What I'd really like to see is what happens when the Killer NIC is put in comparison to true TOE NICS in IP SAN applications. Coz its less expensive than these guys.
    Reply
  • soydeedo - Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - link

    hey guys. there have been scores of complaints regarding lag and such when running the new titan mode in battlefield 2142. if the titan [a very large airship] is moving while many players are aboard it things can get a bit hairy. i've experienced this myself although not very often, but it's pretty aggravating and severely impacts playability. i'm requesting that you play a couple rounds with a moving titan [it's imperative that it's moving] and report back your results with this killernic. i've made a post about this on firingsquad and totalbf2142 to no avail so if you guys would test this out i [and potentially many others if it offers any benefits] would appreciate it. thanks. =) Reply

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