Bigfoot Technologies is the maker of the Killer Xeno
network cards that are made for gamers. Many people don't think about a network card as affecting their gaming experience but Bigfoot's CES and President, Michael Howse and their VP of Marketing, John Drewry talked to me at CES about how it does.
First off, I asked how their company was doing and Bigfoot has seen some nice increase in popularity in countries outside of the United States. Michael said it seems gamers in other countries have a better understanding of hardware and are more accepting in the notion that a network card can improve their gaming experience other than just provide a solid connection. With the economy the way it is, it's hard to justify spending a good amount on a card that doesn't involve graphics. Michael does understand the skeptics and they are trying to educate the consumers on how their product can help. For some folks it might make sense to spend some money updating their network card.
Since motherboards come equipped with network interfaces, John says we take that part of the computer for granted. Besides the speed increase over the years, Michael argued that there's no innovation in that area. This is where Bigfoot steps in and is looking to offer a product that is both innovative and useful for the gamer.
It's hard to really get a good measure on if a network card is helping without identical setups in the location, playing the same game, and connecting to the same server. John showed me how they looked at different aspects of lag besides seeing the stuttering and jittering of the screen. Bigfoot is working with game publishers to get approval and to show examples and to illustrate one of the aspects I was shown a scenario with Everquest 2.
The video had two characters on the same server with both machines on the same LAN. The characters are side by side and with both machines being the same except for one having the Killer Xeno card while the other does not. A standard race was then started where both characters ran towards a destination. What was intriguing to see was the machine without the Killer Xeno card only showed the single character running while the partner disappeared. In reality, the two characters are running side by side which was evident on the Killer Xeno machine. While the server has both characters next to each other, the explanation was that the machine without the Killer Xeno card wasn't getting the updates fast enough to show that. The time it took to send that information to the game after it hits your box was slowing on those not using the Killer Xeno so it seemed like the other character was lagging behind.
Once the two players stopped running, the one without the Killer Xeno has the character finally catch up while the machine with the Killer Xeno card had both characters side by side the entire time. So what this illustrates is that what's happening on your screen may not be what's really happening on the server because your network card is having problems keeping up with the updates. Both screens didn't show any stuttering but this aspect of lag was that the character updates just weren't being processed fast enough to keep up.
It's a pretty impressive demonstration and I don't know of any way one can really know unless they had the same testing setup. With that, it was hard not to see how a network card can help but again, it's going to be hard to really convince gamers that this is indeed helping gamers.
All this comes at no cost to your computer as there's no additional load when using the Killer Xeno card. Michael and John talked about various professional gamers advocating the Killer Xeno but I think people need the big gaming companies to also endorse it as well before we get a bigger acceptance on having a dedicated network card such as the Killer Xeno to be something that one would want to purchase for their gaming rig. Bigfoot is working with a lot of companies which they can't really discuss but I'd love to see more come out in support of the Killer Xeno.
I asked if they had talks with the console makers such as Sony and Microsoft about putting their product in the next generation system because if this indeed does work as they say it does and we're seeing such an explosion of online gaming in that area, this could help a lot of gamers get a better experience. They weren't commenting but they are looking to be the leader in the market and to get the network card right.
So, Michael and John put on a pretty convincing argument for their Killer Xeno cards along with a demonstration from Everquest 2 and some benchmarks using Team Fortress 2 that showed in their tests some frame rate improvements. I walked away from my meeting with them less skeptical and more open minded about their product. I'd like to thank Michael and John for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with me at CES 2010.