Promising technology, but with too many problems to recommend it
When we reviewed the first Killer network card (Holiday 2006), we found that the meager performance gains it offered couldn’t justify its $250 price tag. Now Killer’s back with the new Xeno, a PCI Express design that costs $100 less than the original card, but it still doesn’t offer much benefit for the price.
The Killer’s big promise with the Xeno is that it will improve your ping in games by offloading network overhead from your CPU to a dedicated processor on the board. To test this claim, we set up two identical test beds in the Lab. Then we joined the same Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead servers and followed the same players in spectator mode while measuring the ping and frame rate on each system at identical intervals, using Fraps. In this test, we measured a fairly consistent ping difference of 5ms in favor of the Xeno, which is in line with what we measured in 2006.
This second-gen Killer network card features a PCI Express design and an onboard PowerPC processor.
The Killer NIC also promises advanced Quality of Service, which prioritizes time-sensitive gaming traffic over less-critical traffic. QoS should let you run bandwidth-intensive tasks, such as BitTorrent, at the same time you play games, without impacting your game. Because Killer runs QoS on the card, it lets you configure priority based on the name of each application’s executable. However, we didn’t experience any benefit from QoS when testing the Xeno. In our side-by-side tests, the Xeno actually suffered a fairly consistent 5ms ping disadvantage compared to the stock machine. We also tested the Xeno on our home broadband, with similar results.
When we experienced wimpy performance, we dug deeper into the Killer’s control panels, which led us to another problem. The Killer applet is very complex and poorly documented. For example, the first thing you should do when using the Killer is input your connection’s real-world upstream and downstream speeds. But, while the tool requests numbers in Kb/s, the web-based tool the app recommends reports in Mb/s. Not a problem for the technically savvy, but confusing for a neophyte. Furthermore, the app automatically defaults the bandwidth to typical DSL speeds, so if you don’t disable bandwidth control before you run the online speed test, you won’t know what your actual bandwidth is, and could inadvertently cap your own connection’s download speeds. If you have a passing knowledge of firewalls and general networking, you shouldn’t have a problem. But, neophytes beware.
We found some other problems. Installing the Xeno on our Windows XP 32-bit test bed caused problems with everything from Digsby to iTunes because the firewall blocked them by default. The BitTorrent client that runs on the card’s CPU couldn’t connect to any of the torrents we tried. We also tested the Xeno on 64-bit Vista and experienced similar problems.
While the Xeno did deliver a meager ping improvement, we still don’t think it adds enough to warrant its price tag.
EVGA Killer Xeno Pro
Improves ping by about 5ms; PCI Express 1x card.
Minimal performance gain; QoS seems ineffective; software is confusing.