Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
EVGA Bigfoot Networks Killer Xeno Pro Review
Transparent
Date: Jun 18, 2009
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Transparent
Introduction and Specifications

Bigfoot Networks generated quite a bit of buzz back in 2006 when the company launched the original Killer NIC M1. As many of you probably remember, the original Killer NIC was / is a PCI-based device that featured an on-board network processor, or NPU, that was supposedly able to lower in-game ping times and free up CPU resources, which in turn could increase framerates. The Killer NIC performed these duties by bypassing the Windows networking stack through the use of custom software and offloading network related tasks from the host CPU. And generally speaking, the Killer NIC delivered on all fronts to some degree.

The $250+ price tag of the original Killer NIC was tough to justify, however, and almost immediately there were calls for a PCI Express version of the card. Instead, a few months later the market was treated to the more affordable Killer NIC K1 which had less elaborate cooling and a lower clocked NPU.

Fast forward to today, and Bigfoot Networks is ready with a completely re-vamped PCI Express version of the Killer NIC, dubbed the Xeno Pro. We actually told you about the Xeno a few months back, but the product hit the market just a few weeks ago.  We should also note that a Killer Xeno Ultra which sports more memory and an LED readout is also planned, but that product hasn't arrived just yet. We've had a Killer Xeno Pro in the lab for a few weeks though, and have the full scoop laid out in the pages ahead. First up the specs, and then we'll dig into the juicy particulars...

Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC Specifications & Features
Casual Gamers Need Not Apply

Speeds

10/100/1000 Mbps

Electrical

 

Power Requirements

Max 10W, Typical 3W

Network Processing Unit

400MHz

Memory

128 MB DDR PC2100 266MHz

Connector

PCIe

Ports

RJ-45, USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio input and output

Physical

 

Individual Card

4" x 4.5" x .75"

Weight

4 oz.

Operating Systems

Microsoft Windows XP 32 bit

 

Microsoft Windows Vista 32 bit; Microsoft Windows Vista 64 bit

Certification/ Compliance

 

Microsoft Certification

WHQL - XP and Vista

IEEE Compliance

802.3, 802.3u, 802.3x, 802.3z

Regulatory

FCC Class B (CFR 47, Part 15, Subpart B)

 

CE

 

RoHS Compliant



As the specifications above show, the Killer Xeno Pro is essentially a gigabit ethernet card, equipped with a 400MHz network processor and 128MB of DDR2 RAM (the original Killer NICs had only 64MB). There is also a USB 2.0 interface and audio input and output jacks. We'll explain why this network card needs all of these additional components on the next page, but specifications alone should tell you that the Xeno is no standard NIC.
Transparent
The Killer Xeno Pro

 

Bigfoot Networks is doing a number of things differently with the Killer XENO Pro. First off, the company is no longer selling the cards directly, and has instead adopted a model similar to NVIDIA and ATI, whereas partners distribute their own versions of the XENO Pro. In our case, the card came from EVGA, who happens to be the first of Bigfoot's distribution partners.

In addition to a new distribution scheme, the Killer XENO Pro is also Bigfoot's first PCI Express variant of the Killer NIC (the originals were PCI only). And gone from the card is the customized (and expensive) Xilinx Spartan FPGA. The result is a very compact expansion card that sports a simple chrome "K" sticker on its 400MHz network processing unit.
 

    

    
EVGA Bigfoot Killer Xeno Pro Gaming NIC

Adjacent to the NPU 128MB of Qimonda DDR2 memory is present. The memory compliments the NPU and not only allows the Killer XENO Pro to perform its networking processing duties, but to run apps written for the Killer NIC as well.

You'll also notice the USB port on the Killer XENO Pro. That ports gives users the ability to connect a drive, for file storage. You see, the Killer XENO Pro can be set up for fully-offloaded, BitTorrent file transfers that leverage the NPU. If you're paying attention that means the Killer XENO Pro has a processor, memory, and a means for storage--essentially the card is more than just a NIC, and is closer to a "system on a card."

The Killer Xeno NPU works as a dedicated smart packet processor for all network traffic.  The card's software bypasses the Windows network stack and offers direct to game interrupts. The Xeno Pro also features and integrated audio chip which offloads VoIP operations to NPU for cleaner voice communications while gaming, though currently only Mumble servers are supported, which limits the appeal of this feature. If your game uses a proprietary voice communications tool, like Valve's game engines for example, the Xeno integrated audio chip won't help.

In addition to smart packet processing and VoIP acceleration, the Killer Xeno Pro is also able to run applications like a firewall, and its inherent bandwidth controls allow the card to handle multiple workloads simultaneously with no system performance degradation. The Killer's bandwidth control and traffic shaping features prioritize network traffic for each application by setting bandwidth priorities and max/min limits through the driver interface. The culmination of Bigfoot's efforts are what the company calls its LLR technology, or Lag and Latency Reduction.

Transparent
Drivers and Software

 

Installation of the Killer Xeno Pro is very straightforward, despite the relative complexity of the card in relation to most other NICs or the network controllers integrated onto most motherboards.

Bigfoot Networks Killer Xeno Pro NIC
Drivers and Software

Simply insert the card, connect the audio pass throughs to the aux input on your sound card, install its drivers, and you're basically done. With the installation complete, an icon will be present in the system tray that gives user's access to the card's control panel and a few simple toggles.

Clicking on the system tray icon opens the menu above and allows users to quickly switch between game and application modes and access the Zeno configuration tools or bandwidth control menu. Game mode is just what it sounds like--the mode in which the card bypasses the Windows network stack and prioritized game data for reduced latency. Clicking on the Xeno configuration menu option, opens up the card's control panel, which is represented in the images below.

  

On the main screen user's are able to alter the card's link speed or configure the Xeno Pro's LLR mode for games or better application compatibility. And on the TCP tab, users can alter a trio of settings from MTU size to ACK (acknowledgement) frequency and Algorithm control. There is a third tab labeled "About" as well (not pictured) that shows the driver version and features a diagnose button that lists some specifics about the card when pressed.

Transparent
Gaming Performance

To test the Killer Xeno Pro, we installed it in an AMD Phenom II X2 550 based system running Windows Vista Ultimate, with 4GB of RAM, built around the Asus M4A79T Deluxe motherboard. The M4A79T Deluxe features an integrated Realtek RTL8112 gigabit network controller, which we used for comparisons to the Killer Xeno Pro. The rest of our network configuration consisted of a D-Link DGX-2208 gigabit switch, connected to a D-Link DGL-4500 router, which was in turn connected to a Motorola cable modem.

Bigfoot Networks Killer NIC: Performance
Real-World In-Game Performance


For our in-game tests, we played an on-line game for five minutes and recorded the framerate with FRAPS. Each minute, we also recorded the ping time reported by the games. It is difficult to exactly duplicate game tests taking place over the internet, but we made every effort to ensure the test runs were as similar as possible--we used the same servers, on the same map, with the same numbers of players / bots. The only thing that changed was the NIC we used to connect to the web...



In both our Left 4 Dead and UT3 framerate tests, the Killer Xeno Pro offered slightly higher average framerates, but markedly higher minimum framerates. The differences can most likely be attributed to the Killer NIC's ability to offload network operation from the host CPU, freeing it up to handle other things.
 





Ping times were also lower on the Killer Xeno Pro, virtually across the board in both games. The differences weren't huge, but the Xeno Pro definitely offered improved pings over the integrated network solution.

Transparent
Network Transfers and Impressions

 

We also spent some time experimenting with the Xeno Pro in normal day to day computing situations, copying files to and from a NAS server, downloading torrents, and of course gaming--but this time without FRAPS running. In addition to some hard benchmark data we also wanted to get a feel for how the Xeno Pro worked, and whether or not it enhanced or detracted from our experience in any way.

Bigfoot Networks Killer Xeno Pro NIC: Performance
Real-World Desktop Performance

Unfortunately for the Xeno Pro, network transfers proved to be a real problem. Whereas the integrated Realtek NIC was able to copy a large 4.3GB ISO from our NAS server at about 79MB/s the Xeno Pro peaked at a little over 9MB/s.

We spoke with Bigfoot about the slow transfer speeds and were told that since the card is optimized for latency and not throughput, and that most users won't have broadband connections faster than 10Mb/s, that this is the kind of network transfer performance to expect from the Xeno Pro currently. We also spoke to EVGA about this issue briefly and were given the impression that there may be some driver tuning that could change this situation, but we don't have any solid information on any updates just yet. Regardless, at this point, tuning bandwidth control or toggling game mode on or off via the Xeno Pro's current drivers doesn't improve network transfer speed very much (our scores were taken with bandwidth control off in application compatibility mode). Whether that statement is true in the future remains to be seen.

Gaming Impressions: The benchmark data on the previous page shows that the Xeno Pro does in fact improve gaming performance. But is the difference perceptible? We're going to answer that questions with a tentative yes. Having used the card for a few weeks during our normal routine, we would say on-line gaming was better overall, with fewer dropped connections and more stable pings during long gaming sessions.

The Xeno Pro also shined in less than ideal conditions. For example, if we played Left 4 Dead while streaming music and downloading a file simultaneously, the Xeno Pro was much better able to handle the load than the integrated NIC. The game was still perfectly playable on the Xeno, but the integrated NIC's performance in-game vacillated wildly, which detracted from the experience.

Transparent
Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Depending on the situation, the Killer Xeno Pro performed relatively well. In our game tests, which measured framerates and ping times, the Killer Xeno Pro worked as advertised--the card improved framerates somewhat and lowered ping times over an integrated gigabit solution. However, optimizing the Xeno Pro for latency had a detrimental impact on network transfer speeds, which were dramatically lower on the Xeno than they were on the integrated NIC.

In the conclusion of our review of the original Killer NIC back in 2006, we made this statement:

The Killer NIC does everything Bigfoot Networks claims it will do. The card's dedicated NPU offloads network processing from the host CPU, freeing it up to perform other duties. And with its advanced traffic shaping capabilities, prioritizing gaming packets and bypassing the built in Windows Network Stack, the Killer can reduce lag and ping times in many games. Both of these things amount to a better overall gaming experience. But despite the fact that the Killer seems to do just what it is designed to, justifying the $279 price tag will be difficult for all but the most hardcore on-line gamers.

Although the Killer Xeno Pro's $129 is far more palatable than the original's, the Xeno is in the exact same predicament today. While the card does do what it is supposed to do, and it delivers on its claims of enhanced game performance, the deltas that separate it from the essentially free integrated NICs on today's motherboards are just too small to justify the additional investment for the vast majority of gamers. We should also point out that many broadband routers---some of which are cheaper than the Killer Xeno Pro--also have the ability to prioritize game data and manage bandwidth, further mitigating the Xeno Pro's advantages.

We're sure there is a small minority of gamers that won't mind making the additional investment in a specialized NIC specifically designed for gaming, if it gives them even the slightest edge in their favorite game.  Those types of users will probably be pleased by the Killer Xeno Pro, but that group of consumers is a rather small niche'.  If you're among that group, great, the Xeno Pro is a cool product.  If you're not, don't sweat it; your integrated NIC will serve you just fine.

  • Improved Framerates
  • Better Ping Times
  • Lower CPU Utilization
  • Accelerated VoIP Chat

 

  • Small Performance Deltas
  • Still Expensive For a NIC
  • Difficult To Justify The Cost

 



Content Property of HotHardware.com