About a week ago I had a chance to talk with Cofounder and CTO of Bigfoot Networks, Harlan Beverly as well as Sr. Product Marketing Mgr, Sean McCann. The subject was today's announcement of their new gaming network card. Before we get to that, I wanted to share with you what I learned about the company and what they are aiming for with the new card. Harlan actually came from working at Intel and was in charge of their line of networking products. So, for a person who wanted to improve our gaming experience on our networking side, he certainly has the qualifications. As a huge gamer, Harlan wanted to improve his experience and see what he could do on the networking side of things since that was his area of expertise. Through his research he found lag can take place in 3 areas: client, server, and ISP. He broke it down to 35% client, 30% network, and 35% server with some deviations in each one. Now there are two items on that list you have no control over unless you do operate the server. The third, client, was something he could improve on though.
So Harlan set out to improve the client lag trying to improve the gaming experience that way. Just like how some external sound cards can increase FPS by offloading the processing from the CPU, that's what Harlan set out to do with his network cards. He does this by bypassing the Windows stack doing what is called a TCP/IP offload intercepting the network code and directly interrupting the game to pass the information to it. What he found was this reduces latency and thus increased FPS a little and in turn achieves better responsiveness. Now, I know a lot of folks were/are skeptical about how a network card could increase performance in a game but Bigfoot Networks seem to have done a pretty good job over the years at showing consumers and press that their stuff does indeed work in some situations.
Now, today they are launching a brand new network called the Killer Xeno
. The Killer Xeno is essentially a mini computer as it's running a distro of Linux to do all the work needed. The card works in any PCI-E slot (Yes, even the tiny ones) and it offers a few improvements over the previous generation of cards. It does have use a native PCI-E chip and Bigfoot Networks didn't cheat by using a bridge to allow for it to work on a PCI-E slot. Secondly, the Killer Xeno now supports voice-chat acceleration. Given that voice is become a lot more popular these days with co-op games such as Left 4 Dead on the rise, voice is essential in keeping your team alive. The Killer Xeno will alleviate the CPU from encoding and decoding the voice stream thereby potentially decreasing the load and potentially helping further improve FPS and latency. Bigfoot Networks has partnered up with TeamSpeak and Vivox for support as well as the open source Mumble. Using any of those three applications you'll be able to take advantage of the hardware assisted voice communications provided by the card. For those that are wondering, yes you can then separate the voice stream from the game sound just like on consoles and have voice piped only into your headset which can be really convenient for those that play with speakers. It takes a 3.5mm jack for now and I did ask if USB connection was in the future since there are some USB headsets out there. Harlan told me that they are considering it so hopefully one can come out to interact with headsets such as Logitech's G35. Bigfoot Networks did say they are having ongoing talks with other companies as well on software support so hopefully we can see some support for other applications like Steam or XFire. The processor is an upgrade over the previous generation of cards. For those wondering about Windows 7 compatibility, there will be drivers available for you to use the card on the new OS. Finally, the price has been lowered to help adoption rates be much easier to attain. $130 gives you a card with all the features along with 128MB of DDR2 ram while $180 gets you the Ultra version of the card with 256MB of DDR2 ram and an 8 panel, 14-segement LED display.
The new Killer Xeno is being launched by two partners for now, Alienware and eVGA, with more to come in the future. They are also being bundled in computer setups from various OEMS such as Dell, Falcon Northwest, and Commodore. I'd like to thank Harlan, Sean, and the people who help setup the interview as I learned a lot about their products as well as reminisced about the old Commodore 64 days a little as Harlen was a C64 gamer as well. Look for a review of the Killer Xeno in the near future.
Bigfoot Networks Launches Killer Xeno(tm):
Second-Generation Gaming Network Card
Partners Alienware and EVGA First to Distribute Killer Xeno;
TeamSpeak and Vivox First to Partner for Killer Xeno Voice-Chat Acceleration
SAN FRANCISCO, Game Developers Conference - March 23, 2009 - Bigfoot Networks, the networking technology company behind the Killer(tm) line of gaming network cards, today launched Killer Xeno, the company's next-generation voice chat-enabled network interface card for online gamers. The new product comes with more memory, an upgraded network processing unit (NPU), and integrated audio for hardware-accelerated voice-chat, all designed to bring gamers the ultimate online experience. The Killer Xeno platform provides Bigfoot Networks' partners and customers the fastest time to market with a flexible product design for customizing, licensing and distributing Killer Xeno.
Killer Xeno's voice-chat acceleration technology addresses the most requested gamer feature, and will enable the millions of online gamers worldwide who utilize these chat services to enjoy a "hiccup-free" voice experience while playing the latest generation of online games. Bigfoot, in providing voice chat, has partnered with companies supporting leading products such as TeamSpeak and Vivox as well as utilizing the popular open source application Mumble.
Killer Xeno is also a flexible product design platform that enables customers, including Add-In-Board (AIB) vendors and PC OEMs, to license and differentiate Killer Xeno products for their markets. Bigfoot Networks also announced today that leading game systems developer Alienware, Dell's high-performance gaming brand, will be the first exclusive PC OEM to ship the Killer Xeno Pro.
"The worldwide online gaming market is rapidly growing, and with more gaming customers come more customer requests, demands and needs. Alienware works to stay ahead of the curve and Bigfoot Networks helps us do this," said Frank Azor, senior vice president and general manager, Alienware. "The Bigfoot Networks' Killer Xeno gives us the proven technology needed to guarantee customers' ultimate online gaming experience."
Additionally, the company announced that EVGA Corporation, the leading-edge 3D graphics card and motherboard manufacturer, is Bigfoot's first exclusive third party AIB partner to license Killer Xeno to be distributed under the EVGA brand.
"EVGA, from the beginning, has embraced intelligent innovation and leadership within our product philosophy," said Andrew Han, EVGA president and CEO. "By partnering with Bigfoot Networks, EVGA can now offer the Killer Xeno Pro to members of the VGA community. In particular, this new product will greatly improve the immersive experience and competitive edge for online gamers. Addressing our customers' real-time networking needs and empowering them with new products is made possible with Bigfoot's Killer Xeno technology."
"Bigfoot Networks' products are designed to provide the best experience for today's new generation of real-time network-dependent applications such as online gaming, voice chat and file sharing," said Bigfoot Networks CEO Michael Howse. "Our new high-volume distribution partnerships with Alienware and EVGA will enable a wide variety of product implementations and price points for gamers and consumers worldwide."
The Killer Xeno gaming network cards deliver the ultimate online gaming experience, decreasing latency and offering better framerates, thus enabling smoother gameplay. Key features of the Killer Xeno include:
* PCIe interface: provides for higher throughput.
* Killer Xeno NPU: dedicated smart packet processor for all network operations, ensures the delivery of time sensitive data like game control and VoIP.
* Plug and Play compatibility with all games.
* Windows network stack bypass: provides for direct to game interrupts.
* Integrated audio chip: offloads VoIP operations to Killer Xeno NPU for '"hiccup-free" voice communications while gaming.
* On board RAM (256 MB/Ultra and 128/Pro): enables applications such as Firewall, VoIP chat and bandwidth control to run on the card simultaneously with no system performance degradation.
* Firewall: Stops intruders with zero gaming performance impact. Based on robust Linux iptable implementation.
* Bandwidth control: Prioritize network traffic for each application by setting bandwidth priorities and max/min limits through a simple interface.
* Onboard status display: Xeno Ultra model includes a customizable LED display for caller ID, network statistics, game information or any user-customized messages.
The Killer Xeno comes in two form factors, Killer Xeno Ultra with 256MB of on board ram, OnBoard Status Display and Killer Xeno Pro with 128MB of on board ram. Both models include audio processing for VoIP chat.
The Killer Xeno Pro will be available for $129.99 from both Alienware and EVGA in April 2009. The Killer Xeno Ultra will be available for $179.99 in May from leading online retail partners. Check www.bigfootnetworks.com for more details.
To see Bigfoot Networks at the Game Developers Conference 2009, March 23-27, at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, please visit us at booth #6406.