Performance in Vista
Compared to our performance results under Windows XP, the Killer NIC K1 actually looks better under Windows Vista. In Day of Defeat: Source, I saw a 5% frame rate increase when using the Killer NIC versus the on-board networking on the Intel 975XBX2 motherboard. The latency while playing DoD:S wasn’t showing any positive, measureable gains though, as the ping rates remained pretty constant. The game did “feel” a bit faster, just as I reported in my testing under Windows XP, but once again, I am hesitant to put too much weight on that claim as it is such a vague and hard to verify point.
Under FEAR, I saw even more impressive results, especially considering that in Windows XP I saw NO change in performance. The frame rate increased by a healthy 7.5% and the ping dropped by 10% — those results are you can actually see and measure.
World of Warcraft was our big winner previously and is once again showing the most improvement of any of the games tested. The average frame rate was increased by 7% but even more importantly was the increase of the minimum frame rate: 48 FPS to 57 FPS or 18%! For users with a slower CPU and/or GPU that 18% could be even more important when framerates are dipping into the teens and 20s. And once again, the latency being shown in World of Warcraft was lowered by 16%.
The Killer NIC K1 offers all of the features that the original Killer NIC (M1) had, if you get the K1 model that supports FNApps. Last time I told you that the most interesting feature was the FNApps that were “coming soon” and now we actually have one for you to use! The FNA Bit Torrent client is a perfect starting point from which other FNApps can grow and easily shows off the potential that the Killer NIC offers.
The Killer NIC K1 still uses the PCI bus, so users looking for a PCI Express version are still going to be waiting a while longer; no news from the BigFoot Networks camp on this yet. As for why they would be offering an advanced card like this on the PCI bus rather than the PCI Express bus:
The answer of course is the sellable market. Without using a PCI bus interface, users with older systems like the one I tested with the Athlon XP processor wouldn’t be able to use the card without a complete system rebuild. It all comes down to market share — the majority of users still have PCI bus and not PCIe bus motherboards, and Bigfoot Networks would like to sell more cards. The only area users might miss the full PCIe bandwidth on the Gigabit Ethernet connection is in system LAN data transfers as we all know ISP connections and online games can’t come close to saturating that kind of speed.
As it turns out, even with the updated networking code of Windows Vista, the Killer NIC cards see a BIGGER performance gain over other NICs using the new operating system. The reasoning for it is pretty complex, but as it turns out BigFoot Networks has put together a white paper on just that subject.
Even just looking at Microsoft’s own objectives reveals intrinsically why the Vista Networking stack is inferior: in summary, it is bloated and designed for throughput, not latency.
…games will continue to use UDP/IP, receive no benefits of the new Network Stack, and in fact will run SLOWER as a result of Microsoft’s’ renowned feature bloat, such as the wasteful new WDK interface.
The paper gives us a lot more details on what features exactly the new networking stack implements that may adversely affect the UDP networking traffic critical to most online gaming. And, as it turns out, in order to get the most throughput from the networking stack, Microsoft might have been willing to sacrifice some latency, thus making latency dependent applications suffer slightly. Of course, Microsoft is always going to be adjusting and updating their networking code as updates warrant, but for now, the Killer NIC M1 and K1 do a great job on the Vista OS.
Pricing and Availability
There is one thing that caused all kinds of controversy with the first release of the Killer NIC: the price! The first version of the Killer NIC, the M1, full speed with fancy heatsink, is still sold for $249 at nearly all online vendors. And as I said before and continue to agree with, most users will find the idea of spending $250 for a network card pretty crazy.
What the Killer NIC K1 does though, is drop that introductory price substantially. The K1 version can be found in two forms: one with and one without FNApps enabled. The model that supports FNApps is going to cost you around $179 retail, and Newegg.com has it for sale for $178 as of this publication date. Some other vendors have it for sale for slightly less; down to about $169. The initial release of the K1 also had a version that did NOT support FNApps on it that sold for $149 but I am told now that it is being phased out. And that makes sense: anyone that was going to pay $150+ for a network card would want probably its most unique feature.
So the Killer NIC K1 offers the same functionality as the original Killer NIC M1, with a slightly slower processor and without the fancy heatsink, for a savings of $75. That’s a pretty good discount, though it still is a high price to pay for a network card, no denying that. But perhaps now more users will find the performance and features worth the added cost…?
Even with this new, less expensive model, the Killer NIC card is NOT going to be in every gamer’s system; but with a lower price tag, similar specs and the same great features, the new Killer NIC K1 definitely takes a leap in the right direction for high speed online gaming. The introduction of the FNA Bit Torrent client should open user’s eyes to the possibility of what the Killer NIC MIGHT turn out to be, but BigFoot Networks needs to continue to prove that they are going to support the card with more applications to take advantage of the unique design of the card. And because I initially gave the Killer NIC an award for innovation, it seems only right that the new Killer NIC K1 card receive the same award for offering the same features and performance at a lower price.
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