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Killer NIC Hands-On Testing 134

basscomm writes "IGN has gotten their hands on the 'Killer' NIC recently mentioned here on Slashdot and have written a two part article detailing their impressions: 'The performance boost we got out of the Killer NIC in this testing exceeds Bigfoot Networks' own claims of 10-15% gains by a long shot and certainly seems to validate the potential of the technology. We suspect, however, that the fact that these computers were marginal at running F.E.A.R. in the first place had an impact in the comparison. In many cases the non-Killer NIC machine became absolutely bogged down as particles flew and grenades exploded, enough so that the entire machine would hang for a moment as things got sorted out. Obviously this murdered average fps figures.'"
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Killer NIC Hands-On Testing

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  • by bunions ( 970377 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:17PM (#16054514)
    Killer NICs, hanging machines, framerates getting murdered ... oh, Jack Thompson, you were right all along!
    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      The big scandal is that the Killer NIC got rated Everyone by the ESRB!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by B'Trey ( 111263 )
        Nah, the real scandal is that a web site like IGN couldn't put together two identical decent gaming rigs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ryan Amos ( 16972 )
          IGN isn't a hardware site, so when they review a piece of hardware, you've got to be a bit suspect. This looks like a carefully planted "review" to prove to people they "need" a TOE network card. If you do, just buy an old 10/100 Intel ToE card off eBay for like $20. No need to drop tons of cash on this junk.
          • You might have wanted to add some additional information about TOE network cards and forgot so....

            From http://linux-net.osdl.org/index.php/TOE [osdl.org]

            TCP Offload Engine (TOE) is the name for allowing the network driver to do part or all of the TCP/IP protocol processing. Vendors have made modifications to Linux to support TOE, and these changes have been submitted for kernel inclusion but were rejected.

            A TOE net stack is closed source firmware. Linux engineers have no way to fix security issues that arise. As a res
  • I've gotten so used to plain-jane NICs I never knew there could be anything else -- but at $279.99 [bigfootnetworks.com], I think I'll be able to live with a longer ping time. At least until I have the cash to build my ultimate b0x0r of DOOM!
    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      The last network card I got cost $12 USD since that was cheapest gigabit card I could find at the time. At $279.99 for a NIC, forget about it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sumdumass ( 711423 )
        I have a few wanting networks that are big enough to demand some speed but small enough not to be able to justify some of the expense. When I fist started looking into speed issues on one of them, we noticed that a simple 3com 3c905b or better nic instead of the netgear or onboard cards helped quit a lot. People don't really think something as simple as a NIC or even sound card can rob performance from an otherwise good performing computer. As a matter of fact, perceptual increases were noticed by the users
        • nforce 5 boards do the same thing as this card does.
        • "I'm not sure I would spec it out in a barand new machine but spending $300 on a NIC instead of $6-800 on a new computer might be well worth it."

          Also spending 40-60 bucks on spell and grammar checking software looks like it might be well worth it in your case.

          (first and last nazi post for me)
  • I would have never guessed that the "Killer NIC" really did that much. Impressive, but worth the price tag? I couldn't justify it.
    • I have spent that much, for less FPS increases, myself.

      After reading both articles, I am really interested in this product. I am REALLY looking forward to more real-world numbers. I did find it interesting, that the guy doing the review, still seemed skeptical, and suggested watching for more reviews. Though, now, we have a physics card and a "Killer NIC" card... which do you buy first? New CPU?
      • "I am REALLY looking forward to more real-world numbers. "

        According to the article the card resulted in "....a more than 65% performance gain." in framerates.

        that's a huge increase with a capital bold 'H'... Huge.

        Few questions though:
        --would a regular card help instead of using onboard?
        --after reading this how much does a onboard sound card hurt fps compared to dedicated card?

        This opened a pandora's box of questions I'd like answers to.
        • I DID see an increase in frame rate, with my Xfi, after upgrading from onboard. Of course, the sound QUALITY went up exponentially, as well.
    • I can see NIC cost + premium, but that's a little too much premium even if it's not snake oil. Get the price down towards $100 and I can see a lot more people buying it.
  • Killer NIC? (Score:4, Funny)

    by KiloByte ( 825081 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:33PM (#16054607)
    The article is nothing but a slashvertisement. But, if you want a _real_ NIC killer, here [fiftythree.org] you go.
  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@k[ ]stead.org ['eir' in gap]> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:34PM (#16054619) Homepage

    Yes it runs Linux...

    If you did a double take at the spec's of the Killer NIC's NPU you weren't alone. It's dramatically overkill for common networking processing that the card will encounter. That doesn't mean it's useless, however. Far from it, as a matter of fact. The Killer NIC is actually running an onboard Linux build that handles all its networking duties, and, best of all, is entirely accessible to the end user via console prompt or with what Bigfoot Networks is calling Flexible Network Applications (FNA).

    Now, does it run *IN* Linux? Probably not.

    This is a pretty cool concept - a self-contained VM in hardware to handle your whole networking stack.

    It could have potential security benefits as well, in that it would likely be impossible to use say a buffer overflow exploit in a networking protocol with this card, because the overflow would occur *inside the VM*. All that would happen is your NIC would suddenly die - not *great*, but better than having your machine compromized. The host OS could probably even detect this lockup and 'reboot' the VM on the card.

    • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:50PM (#16054745) Homepage Journal
      This is interesting, not just for the game nuts but for other server-related possibilities. I wonder how "smart" this build of Linux is. Could dropping a pile of cash on this card actually turn out a solution comparable to setting up a dedicated proxy box?
    • a self-contained VM in hardware

      Or, to put it a little more succintly, "a machine".
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by bunions ( 970377 )
        yeah. this thing is as much "a self-contained VM in hardware" as a video card is.

        In other news, the day I trust IGN to do hardware reviews is the day I just give up, buy whatever the internet tells me to and spend 30 minutes punching the monkey to win.
        • But the monkey loves to be punched!

          Seriously I can see the need for this in server machines as a network frontend more than gaming will ever really need it. But if its a way to get it to market, so be it. I hope they have the smarts to make a "professional" version that markets it this way.
          • by bunions ( 970377 )
            My guess is that the reason they're after the gamer market is because it's the tech-world equivalent of audiophiles - where some people in the market are willing to pay big money for items of questionable utility that would likely not stand up to hard scrutiny by people who actually know what they're doing. Prove me wrong, KillerNIC, prove me wrong!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hpa ( 7948 )
      This is a pretty cool concept - a self-contained VM in hardware to handle your whole networking stack.

      This is not a new concept; it's called TOE (TCP Offload Engine) and is a standard feature of high-end networking cards (especially 10GigE cards.) The problem with TOE is that it completely screws up a *properly written* OS TCP stack, which is why the Linux networking people have pushed back strongly on it (the Windows ones might have as well, I don't know.)

      Intel is now pushing something called IOAT (I/O Ac
      • Misunderstanding (Score:4, Informative)

        by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@k[ ]stead.org ['eir' in gap]> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @07:38PM (#16056504) Homepage
        A TOE is exactly that, a TCP Offload Engine. I tis not a replacement for a networking stack - what it does is assists in the constructoion and destruction of packets in the TCp protocol. it doe snothing for other protocols, such a UDP, ICMP, IGMP, etc.

        This card is a complete top to bottom stack (as complete as Linux's stack is, since it *is* Linux's stack). The host OS's networking layer is totally bypassed and all commands are given to the card's stack. It's not really the same thing as TOE at all.
        • The host OS's networking layer is totally bypassed and all commands are given to the card's stack. It's not really the same thing as TOE at all.

          How is that going to work with things like the Microsoft ISA Firewall Client, Zonealarm-style software firewalls, or Google Desktop? Is the answer "not at all"?
        • No. This is a TOE card. The Engine for it is Linux. The point of the existence of TOE is what it does for layer 4.
  • by Tarlus ( 1000874 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:35PM (#16054622)
    I'd just buy a gigabit-capable mobo.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      That or a server-class Intel dual gigabit port NIC which is essentially the same product (onboard NPU) but not with the fancy heatsink.

      Good luck finding a modern gaming motherboard with a vacant PCI slot if you already have a seperate sound card and Agea PHYSX card since most gaming boards (SLI, etc) have 2 or 3 pci slots and usually one is unusable as it is being covered by the video card.

      THis card is nowhere near worth it unless you're a linux junkie who suprisingly has money to burn.
  • ROI, bitches (Score:5, Insightful)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:37PM (#16054638) Homepage
    We suspect, however, that the fact that these computers were marginal at running F.E.A.R. in the first place had an impact in the comparison.

    Which is why spending 300 bucks on a NIC is such a retarded move. Why not spend that money to upgrade the video card, or add more ram, or do something that's going to bring the level of the machine up a few notches?
    • by HexRei ( 515117 )
      Currently, you're right. Eventually these will come down in price. The first batch of 3d GPU equipped video cards also seemed extravagantly expensive for the small gains they really delivered. I think that within a few years offloaded network stacks will become relatively inexpensive and commonplace.

      In the meantime, this product will exist in the domain of the bleeding-edge early adopter crowd.
      • The first batch of 3d GPU equipped video cards also seemed extravagantly expensive for the small gains they really delivered.

        Small gains? Have you completely forgotten how much better the 3dfx Voodoo made games look? It was like night and day. That's why 3d accelerators became mass-market products.
        • by HexRei ( 515117 )
          I'm speaking in terms of performance games for network gaming. When it came down to it, it didn't really matter whether you had a 3d card, you could kick ass either way. Now its a necessity.
        • Small gains? Have you completely forgotten how much better the 3dfx Voodoo made games look? It was like night and day. That's why 3d accelerators became mass-market products.

          Sure, the improved image quality of Voodoo Graphics abd the Rendition Verite were amazing, but they also cost $200-300 (just like this NIC).

          I personally waited until I could pick up a Rendition card for around $100 before I jumped on the 3D bandwagon. So did most people. The 3D generation didn't really take off until 1998, when you co
    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:36PM (#16055079)
      As you noted, getting a better video card would be the more intelligent option.

      But, the PRIMARY problem is that they're running the test on two different machines. Even if they're the same make/model/etc, it doesn't matter.

      Another item is that you SCRIPT the test. You don't play the game itself.

      And, finally, related to what you were saying, you get a machine that does not have trouble running the app in the first place. Upgrade the video card, get a better processor, OR RUN A LESS DEMANDING GAME!

      And put a SNIFFER on the network to find out what is happening on the wire. If we're talking a hub, a card that spews packets is going to outperform a card that obeys the protocols if they're played on the same network.

      This "review" reads like a crappy ad for that card. There's no real information.

    • by RonnyJ ( 651856 )
      No, testing the card only on two poorly specced machines was the stupid move.

      You may be right, and upgrading the video card or other parts might improve the network performance just as well. On the other hand, it might not.
  • wouldn't it be more reasonable to get a more powerful CPU or turn the detail level down? IIRC the manufacturer claimed this thing will give you better ping times (which is why it got branded as snake oil by Slashdotters in first place, you can't reduce the network latency that easily unless it's not really the network that's lagging) but does the ping time really matter when your game is chugging along at 5 FPS?
    • you can't reduce the network latency that easily unless it's not really the network that's lagging

      And according to the description that IGN made, that's also how the Killer-NIC handles the problem :
      - it's basically a small linux router that it shrunken to fit inside a PCI a card and drivers that directly tap network traffic from Windows before it even enters inside the win32 TCP/UDP stack.
      - it's not supposed to magically make the *network* faster.
      - it just hopes to that the onboard linux will be better at *

  • by itwerx ( 165526 ) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:46PM (#16054717) Homepage
    Awright, color me ignorant but I'm not finding a whole lot of technical info on this so I'll ask the crowd:
          How is this different than any other high-end NIC with onboard processor?

    By this I am referring to the high-capacity NICs which have been made for the server market for many years by various companies. E.g. Intel has had a series of NICs for ages which have (if I recall correctly) an onboard i860 CPU, RAM etc and it's own little OS in firmware to offload the number crunching from the OS. (And a damn tiny set of drivers as well since all that code was on the board instead of the driver files).
          As near as I can tell this is just like any other of these NICs only somebody slapped some pretty graphics and plastic doodads on it and tripled the price.
          Or am I completely off base and this really is a quantum leap in areas other than marketing...?
    • by bahwi ( 43111 )
      I haven't decided on whether I like this product or it's just too expensive to be worth it, BUT. The other thing is has is the ability to run secondary applications on the onboard linux SOC, potentially even a voip-type thing(for voice chat in the game) although I don't know if this is true or not. And you can access the linux terminal via console in XP. Basically it wants to offload more than just the game, but other things which help enhance the game or otherwise.

      Read the article ? it talks a little about
    • by arete ( 170676 ) <areteslashdot2NO@SPAMxig.net> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:53PM (#16055192) Homepage
      Basically it's the same idea, just on crack. It's not a quantum leap in theory - it's just more machine in the NIC than you're used to.

      This Killer "NIC" is a 400Mhz computer with a NIC, that fits in a slot. They replace the entire network stack in Windows with the simplest possible stuff, and the Killer does _all_ the work, including extensively queueing, and lots of real-world software exceptions... I suspect a big part of what they do is making sure that when your CPU is bogged it doesn't context switch into dealing with the NIC as often...

      If your CPU _ISN'T_ pegged you'll probably see no improvement at all, though.
      • If your CPU _ISN'T_ pegged you'll probably see no improvement at all, though.

        That's what I would expect.

        Essentially, in this "test", they chose a system with (accidentally) had a specific set of bottlenecks (on board NIC, under-powered graphics card, under-powered CPU, intensive game) and then tested against a similar system with a card designed to compensate for some of those bottlenecks.

        Amazing how that works.
    • Sounds like it has a more complicated setup (running Linux and all) but I doubt it's really much different from an Intel server NIC.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you've ever wanted to stab someone with a network card, look no further!
  • No way (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crabpeople ( 720852 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @02:53PM (#16054763) Journal
    Theres no way this could possibly make any difference in speed.

    The test must be flawed. They should have used a seperate 3com nic or something not onboard.

    Theres no way that there is a 65% performance gain becuase of the nic card. thats impossible.

    • by TadMSTR ( 996071 )
      The performance gain was in fps not ping. By offloading the network traffic to a seperate processor it leaves more cpu power for gaming. So an increase in cpu would allow for an increse in performance. Make sense now?
      • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
        Yea, because CPUs struggle under the massive computational load presented by the awesome size of the 1960s developed TCP/IP protocol.
  • by pc486 ( 86611 )
    To quote the article: "Our test computers weren't fully fledged high-end gaming machines, but we don't have two identical high-end rigs, but we made do."

    So what IGN is saying is that the Killer NIC performs better on a machine that is not the same as the control machine. IGN's results are entirely invalid. Heck, the little data that is presented isn't correctly formed.
    • by TadMSTR ( 996071 )
      The machines used are identical. They are just not high end gaming rigs. They were Dells.
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:05PM (#16054857)
    OK, here may be a goofy idea, so bear with me:

    Most people who game are plugged in behind a router, because they're sharing their internet connection. We know this decreases our ping, but what can we do? Well, if this card were itself a router, we might just have our answer! If it had a single LAN port, or maybe four (they'd fit), the gaming computer could be connected directly into the internet, with the rest of the home network behind it. Firewall and other network services could easily run from the on-card Linux. Really, it wouldn't need extra hardware apart from the ports themselves. Other software features could prioritize ping-sensitive packets like VoIP and game stuff, so that my roommate's bittorrent doesn't interfere with FEAR.

    One disadvantage would be that the gaming computer would always need to be turned on for the router to do its job. Or maybe not: the card could have its own 12V plug and get its own power, so it stays on 24/7 even if the hosting computer is turned off. I expect this really could significantly improve ping numbers (vs standard NIC behind a router) plus it would be seriously cool.

    • People turn their computers off? Why? I leave mine on 24x7 (two desktops). I do keep my laptop powered down when not in use.
      • Mine's noisy as fuck. I only ever leave it on when I have something that needs doing in the background.
  • by GoRK ( 10018 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:09PM (#16054892) Homepage Journal
    Well, the result certainly is interesting, but I don't really trust their conclusion. If anything, they are showing what an onboard NIC tacked on for about $1.50 is really worth. I agree that it would be quite a bit more interesting to test the performance against a decent dedicated network card, many of which do quite a bit of offloading as it is.

    It's also worthwhile to note that the card is bundled with F.E.A.R. and arguably biased towards it -- perhaps the game has code to better take advantage of the capabilities of the hardware or god forbid artifically cripple itself if not running with the hardware. It certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen such a claim, with the PhysX drivers showing faster performance in software-only mode on very new, very fast cpu's despite a game generally refusing to run with the added physics settings without the hardware.
  • Looking at the driver disk [ign.com] it looks like a lightscribe [google.com] disk or something. Anyone have any idea if this is pre-release package or if that is how the disk actually looks?

    The idea itself is interesting, but I think the most interesting part is that it has a usb port and can theoretically be programmed to do certain other non-gaming tasks. Unfortunately it would probably have to catch on before any interesting hacks turn up for it. It doesn't seem likely catch on though unless they reduce the price at least
  • What strikes me odd is that (in my ignorant opinion) a hardware TCP/IP stack should not be too hard to implement. This thing is heavily overpriced to try to get money from ppl who will throw $500+ at a GPU; so if it does work I imagine that several NIC manufacturers will start offering the feature at a much cheaper price. So... wait & see...
    • What strikes me odd is that (in my ignorant opinion) a hardware TCP/IP stack should not be too hard to implement

      It's not. You can implement a reasonably complete TCP/IP stack by reading RFC-791 through 793 in somewhere around 2000-5000 lines of C code, which boils down to perhaps 64K of ROM/EEPROM space. Takes a month or three of developer time from someone who knows something about what they are doing; less if they've written network stacks before.

      so if it does work I imagine that several NIC manufactu

  • I would like it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kirsha ( 201264 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:43PM (#16055131)
    ...for this:

    "The Killer NIC also has its own USB 2.0 port, which expands its capabilities even more. A BitTorrent client designed for the NPU could run on the card and use an external USB hard drive for storage, which would make it invisible as far as Windows is concerned. Thanks to the Killer NIC's traffic prioritization capabilities, users will conceivably be able to play the most demanding games while using extra bandwidth for BitTorrent, without any performance hits due to BitTorrent CPU load or hard drive access."

    Mmm...invisible bittorrent...
    • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
      If your PC is so poxy that bit torrent loads it up to breaking point (or even to barely noticable point for that matter) then the $300 would be better spent on a new CPU. Dual core AMD64 chips are as cheap as... umm... chips these days.
      • by Kirsha ( 201264 )
        Nah, its not like it brings it to its knees. Just the casual jerk while playing games like Doom 3, etc. Which annoys me.

        And even if it was too bad, I would spend quite a LOT more than 300 bucks like you say. I would need a new cpu, new mobo, possibly new ram and a new videocard.
        • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
          "or even to barely noticable point for that matter"

          In other words, bit torrent should be a trivial load. If it isn't, your computer could benefit from something other than a $300 NIC.
          • by Kirsha ( 201264 )
            Like what, pray tell?
            • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
              For about $500 US I could bulid an entire new PC with a dual core AMD CPU.

              If that doesn't put the $300 price of a NIC into perspective, then yes, the maker of snakeoil NICs deserves your money more than you do.
              • by Kirsha ( 201264 )
                I do agree the price is high, but I think it's expected for it being a new product. But to call it snakeoil, at this time? Thats going too far.

                And I bet you would need more than 500 bucks to make a new pc, at least a GOOD gaming pc.
                The videocard alone would take more than half your budget.
                • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) *
                  I'm sorry, but some products are just intuitively BS.

                  15% extra framerate? By offloading the network stack to a dedicated GPU? That's like saying the network stack accounts for 15% of the PC's current load. Given that network's worked fine back when then-top-end entire PCs accounted for less than 1% of an average modern PC's processing capacity, this is INTUITIVELY a load of BS.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...is that IGN doesn't know how to set up a benchmark.

    To conduct our testing we got both computers running on the same F.E.A.R. server with both players on the same team (when applicable) and using the same primary weapon. We ran FRAPPS to tally fps over repeated 15 minute play sessions, and periodically (about once a minute) compared and noted latency between the two machines. In general deathmatching we tried to stay together as much as possible, but a variety of uncontrollable factors such as slowdown ca

  • With Vista's CPU hog of an interface, I might just need this...
  • ... what i want to know is whether offloading the entire TCP/IP stack onto a network card is going to help with security.

    If there's an exploit for your TCP/IP stack on the network card, and it manages to compromise your NIC's tcp/ip, then it's still some way off compromising your host machine's OS? Yes/no?

    I'm no expert on these things, so I'd be interested to hear from someone who IS as to whether or not it's a useful security measure...

    • If there's an exploit for your TCP/IP stack on the network card, and it manages to compromise your NIC's tcp/ip, then it's still some way off compromising your host machine's OS? Yes/no?

      No such luck. Not when compromising the NIC means you've got control of a busmastering PCI device which can use DMA to scribble malicious code into the host machine's RAM, or, conversely, use DMA to read stuff from the host machine in order to snoop on the user. Note that your standard host-based virus scanner or malware

      • by smash ( 1351 )
        Aha... so in other words, this NIC is a potential security hole that can not easily be closed :)
        • Yes. This is also true of external broadband routers, of course, and perhaps even of less intelligent NICs with enough smarts to become confused.

          Really dumb NICs aren't bright enough to be hacked, but the smarter ones which offload the stack are more likely to be working with very limited resources like their initial TCP connection table (used for half-open connections during the 3WHS, ie, exchanging SYNs)-- SYN-flooding is more likely to result in a DoS on them then when the host OS is dealing with the TC
  • I have had to reinstall the netwrok stack in windows quite a few times on various machines because of spyware or viruses that completely hosed any network functionality, I wonder if using this card would remove the possibility of the stack being corrupted or if the kernel/OS the card uses is just as vulnerable?

    For 2-300$ it's still not worth it to me, but when the price becomes reasonable it might be something to think about if the embedded stack is not vulnerable to corruption by spyware or viruses...
    • by BLKMGK ( 34057 )
      It's apparently running Linux of some flavor so I doubt it's "just" as vulnerable as Windows. However it's capable of running code on it's own so if it was ever taken over you might not even know it - depends on how it's setup. For instance does it reload the onboard code at each boot? That would make it harder if that loadable area was protected.

      Could it compromise the host? Sure, if the host is downloading executables via that interface then adding a little special sauce to it doesn't seem like it's beyon

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