Here we are today reviewing one of the more controversial personal computer products to be released in the last couple of years. If you thought the AGEIA PhysX product generated controversy about whether it was a viable product or not then you should read the comments around the Internet about the Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC. The phrase Snake Oil is one of the most commonly used online terms to describe the Killer NIC. While this did not surprise us given the aggressive marketing of the product, we think it is a bit unfair if the commenter has never actually used the product.

Hopefully our review today will prove or dispel this phrase. Of course our article commentary on the product just might inflame the masses into a further war of words on the subject. First, however, we need to revisit the first line of this paragraph. We really cannot call the article you are going to read today a review; it is more like an evaluation of a very controversial yet interesting product.

Yes, we will present data such as frame rates and ping times in several of the latest games available today. Along with this empirical data will also be NIC specific results, but our test results should only be used as part of an overall evaluation of the product. When it comes right down to it, the actual experience we will convey of using this product on a daily basis should be the crux of your purchasing decision.

At this time you might be thinking we drank some Snake Oil but let us explain our comments. Our test results cannot be accurately replicated by our readers, other review sites, or even ourselves in a very controlled environment. Our test results are accurate based upon the criteria we utilized at the time of testing but they cannot be consistently replicated. In some ways our testing was a grand experiment that provided more information about our network capability and broadband provider than the Killer NIC. Wow, maybe there was something in that glass besides water now that we think about it....

In actuality, figuring out how to properly test this beast of a card was somewhat perplexing at first, reached a frustrating crescendo, and even continues to be puzzling to some degree today. The problem lies in developing a set of benchmarks that will be consistent, repeatable, and fair. Those words consistent and repeatable sound so simple when using our standard benchmark suite on a daily basis, but they still haunt us to this day when testing this card.

We centered our efforts on reducing the almost infinite set of variables in trying to test this card and its competition. Almost infinite set of variables you ask? For starters, the two most important variables to address are our network connection and the performance of the servers we connected with during testing. We tried several different methods to address (tame) this variability with each ending in a dead end, endless nights of desperation, or just creating additional complexity that did not provide any new details. In the end, there just was no way to accurately control these two critical variables that were completely out of our control. Besides our connection and the server, any testing that involves the Internet is subject to countless potential influences on performance, and with games you also throw in other players which vary in number and location.

While not perfect and open for debate, we feel like the benchmarks we utilized will provide a general indication of the card's performance while our experiences with the Killer NIC will provide the other piece of the puzzle. After all, it's not every day that a network card is launched specifically targeting the online gaming audience with promises of giving you the competitive edge you need in the heat of battle. The marketing blitz continues with statements like, "Killer frees up your computer's processor to focus on the game giving you those extra Frames Per Second and lower Pings when you need them most. Finally you can focus not just on winning - but dominating." We figure it takes a big set of brass ones to make such claims... or maybe, just maybe, the product actually works as advertised.

Let's find out if aggressive marketing or engineering genius defines the capability of this product.

Technology behind the Killer NIC
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  • Gary Key - Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - link

    We tested these two cards as part of our Killer NIC testing routine. We did not report the numbers as they did not vary greatly from the NIVIDA 590SLI NIC solution.
  • Crassus - Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - link

    Sorry, but that plus the server test would have been very useful information I would have liked in the review. Or maybe we can have a different review, sort of a "NIC roundup". If your results are the same across the board, it's a finding worth mentioning as well, isn't it?
  • Frumious1 - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    I bet it doesn't even beat the onboard NVIDIA NIC. Or rather, it will tie the NVIDIA solution, which means it's equal to the Killer in most situations and fractionally slower in a few games. Maybe it has lower CPU usage when doing gigabit transmits, but high bandwidth with low CPU usage isn't going to matter much for gaming. Not that any NIC related stuff matters much for gaming these days.
  • vaystrem - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    I agree its very difficult to test NIC performance and kudos to Anandtech for trying. But, it seems to me that using the card as a server for the games where it saw the most improvement, Fear/CS, and even for those that it didn't may be more enlightening than exploring the client side of things.
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    We set up one of our test beds as a server for a couple of the games we tested. The performance was actually worse than our NVIDIA NIC (dualnet/teaming), Intel PRO/1000 PT, and barely did better than our D-Link PCI NIC in half of the tests. We will not fault the card for its peformance since it was specifically designed as a client side card. This very well could change in the future due to their ability to optimize driver code on the FPGA unit. The article could have gone another five pages with the server and LAN tests that we completed (neither showed any significant differences). It appears from several of the comments that anything over three pages was a waste anyway. ;-)
  • EODetroit - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    Except according to the PR material the card is made for game clients, not optimized for game servers.
  • VooDooAddict - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    While the POSIBILITY of embeded linux apps is interesting. For someone who would have the $$ do buy this ... they would have the money to put inexpensive PC parts together into a linux machine. Likely they have spare parts leftover from thier last upgrade.

    Anyone else think the company name is strangly fitting? "BigFoot" ... Myth and Hype?

    Certainly not saying a nice NIC isnt'a good investment ... but at almost $300 ... it's a joke. Drop the embedded linux, hit the $50 price point and this thing would probably sell like mad to WoW Addicts. (eventually also have a PCIe version)

    The aegia(sp?) physics processor is the same way. Great concept, but the tangable benefits are so minimal for the price. $300 Video cards took off because there was a tangable benefit.

    Dropping anothre $300 into the Storage System, Monitor, CPU, Video card, RAM, or even Audio system (surround speakers) would give one a much mroe imersive experience.

    Someone made the wrong decission to stick with the embedded linux thing. Seriously a sperate leftover parts Linux box and a DLINK 4100 router would be a far better way to go.

    So any guesses as to the next $300 (*caugh* gimic *caugh*) expendature to "improve" gaming?

    For those comparing this to SLI/Crossfire. SLI and Crossfire can offer substantial image quality enhancements for people with large pixel count LCDs. The ability to run LCDs at native resolution for gaming is a very tangable benefit. Not something everyone agrees it worth the $$. But the benefit is there.
  • VooDooAddict - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    I was really hoping for somethign major from this card ... just from the perspective of reliving history.

    Around 10 years ago now (back around '96-'97) when NICs weren't build onboard spending $60-$70 on a 3Com 3c905 or a server class Intel NIC would make a bug differance in overall system performace when working with the Internet, LAN, and Gaming. They gave me big advantages over anyone who just went out an bought a cheapo $20 NE2000 comptable NIC (16-bit ISA even!).

    I'm talking Quake 1, Duke3D, Quake 2, Quake CTF, Original Unreal... A single 3dFx VooDooGraphics Board + 3c905 = pwnage (back when "pwnage" was still a typo). I was so often accused of cheating by laptop wielding, software emulating, newbies (wasn't spelt "noob" then).

    ... That above is why I picked up the handle "VooDooAddict"
  • EODetroit - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    And they deleted it. Claiming it needed to be moved from "Testimonials" to "General" forum. Whatever, but they didn't actually move my post, they deleted it and replaced it with a post of their own, with the link, plus quoted all the good things said in the Anandtech review and none of the bad. Typical and misleading, but hey, its their web site. They can do what they want. Still, misleading people doesn't endear them to anyone.
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - link

    I admire the amount of engineering that went into this product. It's obvious that the product isn't "snake oil" in the same way that, say, SoftRAM software was back in the day. There's a lot more to this card than just a NIC.

    That said, I don't think it provides enough benefit to justify $279 (unless perhaps you're making $50k+ a year in the PGL). Today's NICs are already pretty well optimized for most situations, plus many mainboard NICS are directly on the PCIe bus, something the Killer NIC can't offer (and as someone pointed out, try doing gig ethernet across a PCI slot; it really isn't feasible, especially if you already have the PCI bus shared with other components like a TV tuner or sound card). The Killer NIC's most interesting feature, FNApps, is not useful at the moment, and I'm still concerned that it might pose a security risk through a malformed application (that's assuming someone coded that app in the first place, considering how little marketshare the Killer NIC is likely to have). Like the Ageia PhysX, at this point in time, I don't see the justification.

    P.S. Is it just me, or does the heatsink "K" look like a Klingon weapon? I'm thinking either Klingon brass-knuckles or a hybrid bat-lef. ;)

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