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Bigfoot Networks Killer 2100 NIC Review

Discussion in 'UO Resources' started by Llewen, Jul 21, 2012.

  1. Llewen

    Llewen Grand Inquisitor
    Professional Stratics Veteran Stratics Legend Campaign Supporter

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    The world is supposed to end in 2012, but not until December. But for me, my little UO pvp world started to feel like it was ending sometime early in the year when I started experiencing horrible lag in certain contexts in pvp. If you pvp, you know that lag kills. It isn't just an inconvenience, it's a game breaker. Now I'm a stubborn old coot, so I wasn't about to give up and throw in the towel. I started casting around for solutions.

    My PC is about a year and a half old now, with a video card that is about six months old. The components are good quality, and well matched, but it isn't by any stretch of the imagination, a high end machine. My philosophy is generally to spend my money on good hid devices, high quality keyboards, gameboards and mice, to save money on my processor, and to get what I can afford in terms of a video card that matches the rest of my components. And I'm always on the lookout for a way to stave off those inevitable, and expensive, system upgrades, and get the most bang for my buck, and to wring out the best possible performance from what I have, without jeopardizing my components.

    And this is where the Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC comes into the picture. One of the ways to extend the useful life of your processor is to buy components that lessen it's workload. Many of the old Creative SoundBlaster cards were able to do this in the days of Windows XP and earlier, by offering "hardware acceleration" for your computer's audio processing. In simple terms the sound cards had their own processors and were able to relieve the main cpu of the burden of audio processing. And it worked.

    It was a not very well understood fact that one of the most cost effective ways to improve the performance of your computer in gaming in the days of Windows XP was to buy an audio card with it's own discreet processor. In certain cases I saw improvements in frame rates in games of as much as 100%, although 20 - 30% was more typical, but that was a pretty good return on what was really a fairly small investment, you might have had to spend twice as much on a better video card, and possibly a power supply to support it, and still not be guaranteed to see those kinds of results, and as an added bonus you would get much improved audio for your games, and good audio is something I've always had an appreciation for.

    And back even further than that, in the days of dialup, you would see similar performance improvements when you purchased what was called a "hardware modem", vs. a "winmodem". A "hardware modem" again, had it's own discreet processor, and took the burden of network processing off your cpu - something that was even more important back in those days when processors only had one core. Well the days of the winmodem vs. the hardware modem are past, as are the days of hardware accelerated audio, due to changes that Microsoft made in DirectX 11, which no longer allow the audio processing to be passed on to an external processor.

    But you can still do this with networking, and this is what the Killer NIC is supposed to do. It has it's own discreet processor. Not only that, but if you know anything about networking, and you haven't been bought out or brainwashed by Microsoft, you are well aware that Linux networking is vastly superior to Microsoft's Windows networking. And the Killer NIC actually has it's own operating system, a mini Linux "distro" and it bypasses Windows networking, and replaces it with Linux networking, which in theory offers greater stability, and lower latency.

    However the wired versions of the Killer NIC, Killer 2100, and the previous version, received a very lukewarm, at best, reception from the hardware review community. It simply got bad reviews. Not only did the card cost $150 US when it was first released, before taxes and shipping, but it simply didn't perform any better, and sometimes even worse, in benchmarks, than the standard gigabit lan offered on most motherboards. However, I did read a few things in reviews that made me perk up my ears. First off, one of them mentioned improved frame rates, which is what you would get with hardware accelerated audio, and another mentioned that they expected the card would perform better in a context of heavy congestion, such as while playing an MMO with many other player characters in close proximity - but when does that ever happen? ;) And still another mentioned that those who would benefit most from this card would be those with older, or less powerful computers, the very people they said would not be able to afford to spend $150 on a network card.

    Well fast forward to the summer of 2012, and the card has been on the market for several years, and is approaching the end of it's retail lifespan. I can now get the card for under $100 Canadian, including taxes and shipping. I also want to love this card, so I am biased. First off, I've worked with Linux for many years, I've hosted games and websites on it, and I've had a router with a Linux operating system on it for as at least six years now. I know how good Linux really is, especially when it comes to it's networking. I also remember very clearly how hardware modems, and hardware accelerated audio improved my "real world" performance in games, and how disappointed I was when Microsoft killed hardware acceleration for audio. So I finally broke down and bought the card.

    One of the problems with Bigfoot Networks is that they made seemingly ridiculous claims about "speed" improvements with their card of up to 1000%. However, I had read the reviews, and I was willing to let that go, and true enough, when I installed the card, it was dead easy to install and set up, which was nice, but it didn't really perform any better in benchmarks, such as ping polling, or connection "speed" testing. However, I know from experience that for the most part "ping" is the fool's gold of network benchmarking, what really matters is connection latency, and "ping" is only part of that equation. Real network latency is hard to measure without highly technical, and not readily available, professional tools, which are designed primarily for enterprise network environments, and not your typical home network.

    So measuring real network latency becomes a highly subjective matter of "feel" for your average gamer, which is the bane of those attempting to offer credible professional reviews on websites dedicated to that sort of thing. And just as critical to real world performance in games is connection stability and dependability. And again, that is something that is hard to objectively measure because the artificial networking benchmarks available to most reviewers don't do a good job of stressing your average networking hardware and software, and offering tests where real world performance in terms of networking stability can be tested and measured in meaningful ways. So again, it becomes a matter of doing some gaming, and getting a "feel" for the performance of your networking hardware and software.

    So with that in mind, let me offer my opinion on the Bigfoot Networks Killer 2100 NIC. This is based on a couple days worth of gaming, which is probably the minimum I need to get a real "feel" for the performance of my new hardware, so if over the coming weeks my first impressions are proven false, I will report back and revise my review. However, in roughly two days of gaming involving several hours of play time in all kinds of situations in game, I found that the card peformed exactly as I hoped it would. Where I was consistently experiencing moderate to severe lag in certain pvp contexts, I only experienced that once in two days, and I was involved in some pretty large scale melees with lots of characters on screen. My connection felt "snappier", I appeared to move with less "choppiness" or "rubberbanding", in every context. It was easier to drag objects, a context in which latency in UO can be quite obvious, and in general I dragged objects with no noticeable hesitation.

    Having said that, I didn't notice all that much improvement in movement through areas heavily populated with many dynamic objects, such as Luna, or my favourite Zento rune library. There may well have been some improvement there, but it wasn't something that jumped out at me, so it's hard for me to say whether there was any real improvement in those contexts or not. The one thing I can say however, was that moving in and around Yew moongate in Felucca on the Atlantic shard was noticeably improved, and that is another area where there are a lot of dynamic objects.

    TLDR

    So what is my conclusion? As long as you don't have unrealistic expectations of ping times chopped in half, I personally think the Bigfoot Networks Killer 2100 NIC deserved far better reviews than it got. I think it offers noticeable, if not easily measurable, improvements in real network latency, and in connection stability, improvements that will make a "real world" difference in your gaming performance. So is the card worth spending $100 on? Which by the way still makes it the most expensive wired end user, non-enterprise, networking card that I could find. In my opinion, hell yes! If you are on a budget, spending that $100 on that card could delay you being forced to spend $1000 to upgrade your entire system, to remain competetive in an online gaming environment, by at least a year or two.
     
  2. Llewen

    Llewen Grand Inquisitor
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    I've had the card now for a couple of weeks. Just thought I'd post what I've learned in that time. Basically my first impressions have held up. My latency is noticeably lower, and my connection is more stable. This doesn't mean I never experience lag, but I experience it less often, and when I do, it is less severe for the most part. The only issue I've had with the card is that it doesn't play nice with Windows "sleep" mode, so I've had to turn that off. That does bother me, but not enough for me to remove my recommendation of the card. Other components of mine don't allow hibernation, so I can't say if it works well with that.

    Another issue is that I'm not a big fan of Linux QoS. QoS stands for "Quality of Service" which is how Linux prioritizes network traffic when the demand for bandwidth exceeds availability. I won't get into it much other than to say that it works on the basis of capping, rather than setting minimum guarantees, which is what I prefer. However, it does allow me to ensure that I don't hog all the available bandwidth, and should in theory allow me to keep gaming even when I'm downloading updates, etc. I'm still using it, but I'm of the opinion that the card might work better if you turn off the "Application Control", unless you are the kind of person that likes to share files, or download movies etc. while you game.