Have you ever made a flip book? A flip book is a collection of sequenced images that when the pages are turned quickly, you see an animation. Now, what if you remove some of those images? Or many of them? It’s just a jumbled, headache-inducing mess to watch. A similar result of stuttering gameplay is what happens to an online game when you introduce lag. Limiting that latency — at least on a user’s computer — is the main argument for Bigfoot Network’s Killer Xeno Pro network adapter card.
In principle, the Killer Xeno Pro offloads network traffic from your CPU and processes it through its own dedicated processor and memory, therefore freeing up the computer to devote more resources to fun stuff like graphics, audio and game code processing. It’s an oversimplification, but it may help to look at the Xeno Pro card as another processing core dedicated to processing data pushed through a network.
At GDC, I met with Bigfoot Networks’ Sean McCann, senior product marketing manager, who was representing the Killer Xeno Pro. There wasn’t a new version of hardware after last year’s rollout of the Xeno Pro hardware at GDC. However, there were plenty of new data and a side-by-side demo to showcase the professed advantages in dialing down latency when using the Killer Xeno Pro card, versus using a default network interface card (NIC) in a Windows PC. McCann pointed out how the Xeno Pro is especially well-suited for handling multitasking situations, while the PC is struggling while juggling a streaming video or downloading a massive torrent.
One of the displays McCann showed me was a running graph of the Dashboard, a free utility from Bigfoot Networks released late last year that monitors frame rates, latency, CPU load and more. What’s especially helpful is that this utility isn’t just for Xeno Pro owners; anyone can use it to do some basic troubleshooting into their hardware and network configurations.
Next to the clinical display of data was a more visually immediate demonstration of Frogster’s Runes of Magic, showcasing an avatar dealing with dropped frames and staggered gameplay in general as the situation dealt with in standard networking configurations. The improvement shown off between the before and after wasn’t dramatic in most instances of the video, but the gameplay was smoother overall. Whether the comparison footage recorded was taken in a controlled lab setting or in an “average” networking environment wasn’t clear.
There’s a lot of variables involved how effective the Killer Xeno Pro could be, of course: how wide the broadband pipeline is entering a user’s PC; bandwidth can get backed up at any point in the pipe before it ever reaches a user’s computer; how much does the user multitask with bandwidth-heavy applications; and in general, how good the user’s PC hardware is, and in specific, how many cores a user’s computer has to handle multitasking effectively.
At this time, you can find the Killer Xeno Pro hardware in stores around $100, which is very close to an attractive price point for hardware that aims to improve latency for a broad online gaming audience. Whether this hardware works as advertised depends on so many variables that every Killer Xeno Pro owner’s experience may come down to a familiar acronym: YMMV, or “your mileage may vary.”