Articles: Networking
 

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The games we play today are generally very heavy applications with high system requirements, especially regarding the graphics subsystem. Some of them, like Crysis Warhead, are so merciless in their demands that you can only play them comfortably at the highest graphics quality settings if you purchase a flagship card from AMD or Nvidia for a few hundred dollars! Of course, there are trends that limit these insatiable appetites of 3D applications. Particularly, there are more and more multiplatform projects whose developers have to make allowances for the hardware capabilities of today’s gaming consoles which are far inferior to those of the latest PCs. Code optimizations bringing their fruit, a multiplatform game can smoothly run even on mainstream GPUs, but at the expense of some visual luxuries that might be implemented if it were developed specifically for the latest generation of graphics cards.

However, not everything depends on the graphics card in today’s games. Sometimes you need an advanced CPU or an extra couple of gigabytes of system memory. A fast hard disk would also be appreciated by any game. And there is also a category of games that need a reliable network connection. The latter requirement refers to multiplayer shooters and real-time strategies, MMORPGs, and any other game that can be played over a network. Here, you can have top-end hardware but lose to an opponent with weaker configuration just because your network connection fails. The lag or delay between a player’s action and the reaction of the game character to it is the plague of all gamers who want to play against each other. This lag is largely determined by the server’s response time or ping, which is calculated in milliseconds. For example, a ping of 200 milliseconds means that there is a delay of 0.2 seconds between the player’s action and the game character’s response. That’s quite a lot, actually. The enemy you are aiming at may have taken this time to move aside, and your shot goes wide of the target. Or you may ruin a whole raid in your MMORPG by failing to hit the enemy or casting a friendly spell on your teammate at the right time. You think that’s not serious? Well, there are lots of reports of frustrated gamers breaking to pieces their keyboards, mice and even monitors when let down by a poor network connection.

So, minimizing the lag is the primary goal for a serious network gamer, but that’s not an easy thing to do. On one hand, a network game’s response time depends on such Internet connection parameters as the type of connection, physical condition of the data transmission channel, the current load on the ISP’s servers, and many others. On the other hand, game servers themselves affect the performance of the game, too. Of course, none of these factors is within your control. You can only try to lower your response time by unloading everything unnecessary from your computer’s memory such as your web-browser, torrent client and other programs making use of your network connection. And here is where the third problem comes in. It is the Windows network architecture and the specifics of network adapters that most modern PCs are equipped with. We will discuss the technicalities shortly. For now, let’s assume that the problem does exist and you can really try to solve it.

The first attempt was undertaken by Bigfoot Networks. In 2006 they released the network adapter Killer NIC M1 designed to minimize any lags on the user system’s part in network games. The technology did work but its effect was far from outstanding. The product itself was too expensive (nearly $300), targeted a very narrow audience and used the outdated PCI bus. All these reasons explain why it never really took off among devoted gamers. A cheaper version, Killer NIC K1, was released later on, but it was still too expensive to become a bestseller.

If you want to learn more about these all-hardware NICs for the PC, you can visit the developer’s website. In this review we are going to discuss the new model that uses the modern PCI Express bus and costs far less than its predecessor, which makes it potentially far more appealing for network gaming. Bigfoot Networks has partnered with EVGA to market their new solution. It is called EVGA Killer Xeno Pro.

 
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