A Review of the Bigfoot Killer Wireless-N 1102 Network Card

We take a look at the new embedded Wireless Network Card from Bigfoot and see if it really increases speeds as much as it claims to.
In my job I tend to do a fair amount of traveling over the year. I live on the East Coast and, as luck would have it, most MMOG developers are situated on the West Coast. This means that in any given year I can count on at least 100 or 200 hours that will be spent flying or in airports and for roughly one month out of the year I'll be in a hotel somewhere. Yup, I'm a traveling gamer and as such I spend a fair amount of my work and game time from a laptop. I'm not a rare exception nowadays, either. More and more the popularity of laptops grow every year, being used heavily by professionals, students, and everything in between.

If you've ever experienced wi-fi connections in hotels or aiports you'll know how much of a pain connections can be. So when Bigfoot approached me about reviewing their newest creation, the Killer Wireless-N 1102 embedded Network Card, I was very interested in seeing how it would stand up. I currently run a Killer 2100 Gaming NIC in my desktop and have been quite pleased with it. I was very anxious to see what kind of performance the embedded wireless variation would offer.

Let me preclude by setting expectations. The embedded 1102 obviously cannot magically fix a poor internet connection in say, a hotel. When the network itself is slow obviously anything connected to it will be slow. What it can do, however, is maximize performance for the connection you do have, ensuring that wherever you're connected you're going to see the best possible performance without worrying about your own laptop causing the issues.

The Sweet Suite of Software

The included Killer Network Manager is a powerful application, even on a desktop computer. It becomes even more desirable on a laptop when you're on the go or don't necessarily have the ability to throttle or otherwise manage traffic priorities through a router. And when you're in a hotel, airport or college dorm, it's unlikely you have that kind of control over the network. This is where the NIC really starts to shine.
The Killer Network Manager

The Killer Network Manager makes managing your bandwidth a snap.

Consider this: you're a student in a dorm room and you're using your laptop as a media center for movies, a gaming computer, and of course, homework. You're connected to the dorm network and you've got a project you need to finish by morning which has you bouncing around on the Internet gathering information. However, you also want to download a few TV shows from iTunes to watch after you're done, stream some music to listen to while you work, and patch World of Warcraft to play over the weekend. The dorm network only allows you a maximum of 1.5Mbps downstream so you really have to manage how you're going to do all that.

With the Killer Network Manager, managing those concurrent downloads is a snap. Simply open the Application Manager and drag the bar to the desired bandwidth capacity. In addition, LAN traffic (connecting to local computers without using the internet) can be excepted to any of the rules you set.

The Network Manager also lists all applications that are taking bandwidth. This is useful for obvious reasons, such as manual throttling, but it can also serve as a sort of security system. If your connections seem to be slow, no matter what you do, and you're sure it's not the network you're connecting to, take a look at the running apps. At a glance you'll immediately be able to tell which applications are running and which are hogging your bandwidth.

Advanced Stream Detect

For a real hands-off no-muss-no-fuss solution the Killer NIC also offers Advanced Stream Detect. These priorities will decide which application gets priority traffic. This comes in particularly handy if you've started a download, forgotten about it, and then went to boot up an online game. Instead of experiencing horrible lag, the Advanced Stream Detect will recognize that you're playing a game and automatically give the game priority bandwidth, while throttling your forgotten download. All priorities can be configured manually to set it up the way you want but by default the scheme works like this:

Priority 4 (low) – The default priority for all new or unidentified applications.
•       Torrent downloads
•       File sharing applications such as Dropbox
•       Update applications such as Google Update, iTunes Update, Adobe Updater
•       Email clients such as Outlook
Priority 3 (normal): User-interactive applications
•       Web Browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera
•       User Applications such as PowerPoint, Excel and Word
•       Killer Network Manager
Priority 2 (high): Real-time communications applications
•       IM clients such as  Yahoo, Google, AOL, MSN
•       VoIP clients such as Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, Xfire
•       Video clients such as OoVoo
Priority 1 (highest): Games, Video applications, performance tests  
•       All games and white-listed applications
•       Video chat clients such as Skype, Sightspeed and Vidyo
•       Performance tests such as Netperf and GaNE

Straight out of the box (or straight into the box, since we're discussing an embedded NIC) the Wireless-N 1102 will prioritize the applications that are important to you and ensure that you can do what you set out to do without interruption trying to manage bandwidth. Whether you're watching Netflix or busting up baddies, the Advanced Stream Detect makes it easy to manage.

Show Me Speed

The Killer Wireless-N Network Card What about speed? Does the Bigfoot Wireless-N 1102 really provide five times less latency than other wireless NICs like it claims to? It certainly can, but again, be realistic with your expectations. By taking some of the load off processing power and streamlining connections the NIC does outperform other cards.

In a setup with two laptops connected wirelessly to a network, one with the Wireless-N 1102 and one without, we ran some quick tests by pelting a third computer, connected via Ethernet to the same network, with simultaneous UDP Pings.  The results were conclusive. We found the average ping time of the laptop with the Killer technology to have an average of 0.804 milliseconds, whereas the laptop with another brand of wireless NIC averaged 10.02 milliseconds. The "jitter" or worst 10% packets showed similar results with the Killer's worst 10% coming in at 0.921 milliseconds and the Control laptop coming in at a whopping 78.322 milliseconds.

Finally we ran a simple throughput test from both laptops and this is where the real magic took place. A throughput test is done by seeing how much traffic can flow through to the laptop over a specific period of time. These results were also impressive as the Killer NIC came in at 152 megabits per second while the Control laptop was only able to reach 108 megabits per second.

More importantly, when we ran the same test using UDP (which is the protocol used by most online games) the Killer NIC again came out on top at 159 Mbps compared to the 138 Mbps of the control laptop.

Conclusions

From our basic testing above, there's no denying that the Killer NIC is indeed considerably faster than other embedded NICs. But perspective is needed here.

Definitively, the best improvements are seen on local networks. You're simply not going to be reaching the hundreds of megabits per second of the throughput test on an internet connection. But what's a laptop for, if not for LAN parties? Give yourself a huge advantage at your next TF2 party.

Otherwise, for every day internet use the main advantage of the card isn't necessarily its speed but rather its software. There's simply no easier way to manage your connections and bandwidth on a laptop than with the Killer Network Manager and Advanced Stream Detect. These two components alone make the Bigfoot Killer Wireless-N 1102 a huge contender in a world run by laptops and mobile devices.

So is it worth the price? Since the NIC in this review is embedded that price will vary from vendor to vendor, but it's safe to say that given the option a laptop with a Killer NIC certainly has more value than one without. For a complete list of vendors check the bottom of the product sheet found at http://www.bigfootnetworks.com/killer-wireless-n-1102/.

For my money, I'll keep an eye out for the NIC when I'm due for my next laptop upgrade. Maybe I'll find one at a good price at LAX.

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