A couple of months ago, I reviewed the Killer NIC here at MMORPG.com. While my testing concluded that the Killer NIC did indeed smooth out the MMORPG experience, a common complaint in our forums and elsewhere was that it was just too expensive to justify purchasing one.
The people at Bigfoot Networks have heard the complaints, and have answered the call for a cheaper version of the Killer NIC with their newest product: The Killer K1.
The Hardware - My what big ports you have!
The Killer K1 is a PCI NIC designed to replace your onboard ethernet ports. Just like its big brother - the original Killer NIC, now designated M1 - the Killer K1 runs its very own Linux operating system on an onboard processor and 64 MB of RAM.
Unlike its older sibling, however, the K1 runs its OS and LLR technology on a 333 Mhz Network Processing Unit (NPU). The M1 has a 400 Mhz NPU. Does this make a big difference in performance? Not according to Bigfoot Networks. They told me that the extra processing power on the M1 is used for the FNApps programs, so the K1 and the M1 should have almost the same performance effect in games. If you are running a game and an FNApp, then the M1 has the decided advantage, but at a higher cost. (FNApps are Flexible Network Architecture programs, designed to run on the Killer's NPU so they don't slow down your gaming.)
The Technology - Whatcha got in that there thing, anyway?
Just like the Killer NIC M1, the K1 uses LLR technology to bypass the Windows networking stack and deliver information to the game faster, while using less CPU cycles to do it. Basically, the K1 skips Windows in the networking process so your CPU is not being utilized for networking, which leaves it free to devote more time to your game. At the same time, skipping the Windows networking stack lets information travel between your game and the server faster.
The K1 also uses the LLR component Game First to prioritize your networking packets and make sure your game info comes in before Aunt Mabel's "Chocolate Death Surprise" recipe. (We always wondered what killed Uncle Fred...)
Appearance - Deceiving, or not so much?
The Killer K1 is a standard sized PCI card, and looks much like its older brother, the M1. That is to say, it's a black PCB (printed circuit board) with a PCI interface, one Ethernet port, and one USB port. Unlike the M1, the new K1 does not sport a giant aluminum K-shaped heatsink. It merely has a silver K1 embossed on the top of the chip. Bigfoot Networks assures us the heatsink is unnecessary due to the slower clock speed on the K1.
Of course, my favorite physical feature of the M1 remains on the new K1 card: The cool red blinking lights. Ooh, pretty lights...
Disclaimers - For those who read beyond the title of the article.
One - We are still not a hardcore hardware review site. MMORPG is concerned with whether or not a particular piece of hardware makes MMORPGs run better, play easier, or just plain makes them more fun. We still are not going to chart you to death. There are still plenty of places left that love to print charts for you. Big charts, small charts, skinny charts, tall charts. Starbelly charts, and those without. Just don't bring it back here, we don't want to catch anything.
Two - Yes, Bigfoot Networks advertises here. No, I don't get told by anyone that my review has to go one way or the other. No, I don't get any kickbacks. What is my point? This review is my opinion, and nobody influenced it one way or the other.
Testing Procedures - Aw, man! Don't put that there!
The test machine: Athlon 64 3000 CPU Foxconn Winfast NForce 4 motherboard 2 GB Corsair XMS DDR RAM BFG 7600 GT video card Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum 120 GB IDE Seagate HDD (7200 RPM)
Running game at a resolution of 1680 x 1050 (22" Widescreen LCD)
All tests were run with driver version 188.8.131.52
All gaming was done through a D-Link Gamer Lounge router with the latest firmware.
When I tested the Killer M1 NIC card, I wanted to see if the technology actually worked. After all, most of us are used to having the NIC come built in to the motherboard, or at most paying twenty dollars for a PCI Intel NIC card. I wanted to know if paying for a high end NIC with a built on network processor was actually worth any amount of money. Well, the M1 - to my surprise - performed as advertised.
I couldn't replicate the feeling of performance with the actual numbers I was seeing for a very simple reason: In order to accurately test performance differences between the Killer NIC and a built in Ethernet port, you really need to have two identical machines running side by side, one with the Killer NIC and one without. Then you need to basically have two players running about in game following the same path and doing the same thing, side by side.
Of course, I don't have two identical machines. Even if I could scrounge up two identical machines, my wife would move me in to the garage, and I would probably freeze to death. So, I did the second best thing. I played each game with the Killer NIC, and without, trying to replicate the same actions and paths I took at the same time of the day. I could notice the performance difference, but the numbers really didn't show what I was feeling.
But Jeremy, you say, this is the Killer K1 NIC review, not the M1 review, why do you bring all of this up? Patience, all will be revealed shortly.
You see, I know the technology works. I can feel the difference. I lost the use of the Killer NIC shortly after completing the article, and had to go without it for a couple of weeks. I found myself lamenting its absence. So I am not going to try to prove the K1 works. It's the same technology.
Bigfoot Networks assures me that the performance difference between the K1 and the M1 is almost negligible when just gaming, so I am not going to contrast the two. I will tell you the only difference between them that I noticed was a slight slowdown on the K1 when downloading a ton of Torrents and gaming, where the M1 just chugged along without a hitch.
So what am I going to do? Well, I am going to perform the same type of test I did while doing the M1 review. See, that's why I brought that all up before. It's all as clear as mud now, right? I basically wanted to test the K1 and see if upgrading a mid-range PC with it would help out, compared to, oh say - upgrading the processor to a dual-core model.
One note - In my Killer M1 NIC review, I noted that pings were all over the charts both with and without the Killer installed. I have since moved and obtained a new ISP, DSL instead of cable. My cable account had a 5Mb download speed cap, where my new DSL account has a mere 3Mb. However, due to the shared bandwidth nature of cable, my pings were impossible to nail down. I doubt I ever had enough bandwidth to myself to actually achieve a download speed even close to the limit. My DSL is testable and even. I can test any time of the day, and it almost always comes out right around 2.6 Mb per second. My point? This time I could, and did, average out ping scores. Does the Killer K1 lower pings? Let's find out.