T is for technology
Before I really get started, let me explain the technologies that this card brings to the table.
First of all, the card itself is essentially a mini computer with a parasitic relationship with your actual machine; feeding off the power supplied by the PCI slot and sending back processed information. The card uses a modified version of Linux which is powered by the 400mhz processor coupled with 64mb DDR PC2100 which sits underneath the rather ornate Thermaltake designed heatsink (and for those who are wondering at the shape – like myself – it has two eyes in it).
The idea behind the card is that it will offload the processing requirements of running network data from your CPU onto itself, meaning that your CPU is used for more pressing matters (read: playing games). While this is nothing new (several network cards have done this), there are a few extras that may make it worth the cash.
The first is GameFirst. GameFirst simply priorities the game packets going in and out of your computer so they are sent first. This means that if you are running a download program in the background, your game always gets the best speeds. This is different from simply throttling your download speed as throughput (i.e. kbps) has minimal impact on your ping. In fact, this is where the Killer NIC shows its teeth; it’s NOT designed for throughput, it’s designed for latency.
By replacing the Windows network stack completely, the card becomes the go-between for the internet and your applications. The network stack in Windows is designed around getting the most data in, in the shortest amount of time; i.e. throughput. The ‘replaced’ stack by Killer NIC lowers the actual throughput and also decreases the latency.
The way that the card does this is by reversing what has been happening for years with network cards; especially the on-board type. Instead of asking the packets that are streaming into your computer every time that they are received, it lets a couple through before it sends a hardware interrupt which finds where these packets are going, and what they are doing. The Killer NIC sits there are looks at every single packet (i.e. interrupts on every packet) meaning that your computer can act on each packet immediately, shaving a couple of milliseconds off processing time and improving your ping.
If you have an nForce network onboard chip, then it can also do these tasks. nVidia have certain technologies which mimic the Killer NIC, with FirstPacket which when taught for certain applications lets that traffic leave or be processed prior to any other data being looking at. Also nVidia has TCP/IP acceleration, which basically does the same as the Killer NIC by bypassing the Windows networking stack and sends the networking data directly to the application rather than needed the CPU. Erroneous or unrecognised packets still need to be sent to your CPU for further processing. The Killer NIC does all of this including UDP which is more widely used for games, and as it has a 400mhz processor, can sort through the unrecognised packets too, providing any application a stream of processed packets, all of which requiring zero CPU cycles.
Another part of the card is that as it’s essentially a computer in your computer, it can do other tasks at the same time. The card runs a modified version of Linux, which allows it to run applications, which are called FNApps. Packaged with the Killer NIC are two, Bittorrent and Firewall. These do exactly what they say on the tin and take additional load off your PC to have to carry them out. FNApps are an awesome idea, and fun for anyone who likes to mess around with technology although there is little out there currently that offers anything that can be called truly useful. Fortunately, BigFoot have released a SDK allowing any developer to write their own FNApps meaning that community content will be around soon.