Closer Look at EVGA Killer Xeno Pro
The point of the Killer NIC technologies is simple. If the software processing of network protocols implemented in the Windows OS family is not very effective in terms of minimizing game latencies, especially in a multitasking environment, and also consumes some of the CPU’s resources, why not offload the CPU by introducing an individual processor (Network Processing Unit in Bigfoot Networks’ terms) to handle all network-related issues.
By the way, a similar concept is implemented in hardware RAID controllers, each of which is in fact an individual specialized computer equipped with PCI-X or PCI Express interface. Software RAID controllers come with large and sophisticated drivers that put a high load on the CPU and often have stability issues since they depend on the operation of the mainboard and CPU. As opposed to them, a full-featured hardware RAID controller does all disk array related operations on the hardware and thus has a simple and compact driver that only serves as an interface for the specialized and host computers to interact and exchange data. This is roughly how the Killer NIC platform from Bigfoot Networks does its job.
Here are simplified flowcharts of an ordinary network adapter and a Killer Xeno Pro.
Of course, if all networking is processed on board the Killer Xeno Pro using a dedicated NPU, Windows’ network protocol stack does not do anything. Theoretically, this should not only offload the CPU but also lower the ping time because the CPU won’t introduce any delays. Besides that, an ordinary network adapter, which is usually represented by a mainboard-integrated chip from Marvell or Realtek, does not have any means of traffic shaping and prioritization or such features are implemented on the software level and in a limited way. And even if you take an expensive server network adapter, which can offload the CPU, you will find that it works for TCP whereas most games use the UDP protocol. Besides, such NICs are optimized to maximize bandwidth rather than to minimize latencies and response time.
Here is a practical example. If you try to use an ordinary network adapter to download a large file from the Internet and also play an online game that requires a low response time (e.g. any multiplayer shooter), you will most likely find that the file download process has occupied the entire Internet channel, loading the network adapter and increasing the game’s response time to huge numbers. The game will be practically unplayable. But when you have a hardware NPU, you can use the advanced traffic prioritization and shaping features to allot a certain amount of Internet bandwidth to each application. This is implemented in Bigfoot Networks’ solutions, including the EVGA Killer Xeno Pro.
One more benefit of a dedicated NPU is that it can be used to process voice communications since many gamers rely on them for joint action in such games as Eve Online and World of Warcraft. In this case, an NPU can serve not only as one more sound card, like a USB headset, but also perform all the compressing and decompressing of audio. Theoretically, this guarantees both high voice messaging quality and low response time, which may not be the case if you use ordinary network and sound cards. Bigfoot Networks’ previous-generation solutions, the Killer NIC K1 and M1, did not support that functionality, but the new EVGA Killer Xeno Pro is endowed with it. Capping all that, the Killer NIC platform is a full-featured Linux machine you can launch various applications on, including a firewall or a torrent-client. And such applications will be running without using any of the host computer’s resources, relying only on the computing capacity and memory of the Killer NIC/Xeno Pro itself.
The Killer NIC developer calls this Flexible Network Architecture and offers a set of developer’s tools called FNApps you can download from the Bigfoot Networks website.
Now we can have a closer look at the new generation of smart network adapters from Bigfoot Networks marketed by EVGA under the name of Killer Xeno Pro. At a recommended price of $100, this solution may be quite appealing if it can really improve our network gaming experience.