The Killer brand of network controllers is evolving. The original company, Bigfoot Networks, launched on FPGAs over a decade ago, with super large heatsinks (that are now collectors’ items), and were eventually purchased by Qualcomm. The technology was updated into custom ASICs, but a lack of investment meant the technology meant that the brand stagnated a little. After discussing with QC, a number of the original Bigfoot team have spun the brand back out into a new company, Rivet Networks, while retaining a strong partnership with Qualcomm. We've kept tabs on the company, and their mantra is one of promotion and evolution: today is the launch of their new E2500 network controller, with a new UI. 

Describing why users should buy Killer over other solutions (and solutions that users have experience or feel comfortable with) has been difficult because the technology behind Killer requires a lot of prior networking knowledge. Public demos showing the feature sets have been obscure at best, and overly technical at worst. Nonetheless, the E2400 previous generation product was widely used in MSI, GIGABYTE and ASRock motherboards, as well as a range of gaming focused laptops as both an extension of marketing towards gaming products as well as the promise of increased performance.

The Killer E2500

The new Killer E2500 network controller is likely to make its way onto new motherboards and systems as they are released over the next few months. The E2500 is a newer ground-up design, which Rivet says offers better packet processing metrics than the E2400 and other competition based on a redesigned foundation for network application detection. Aside from automatic implementations purely in hardware, the software for Killer solutions is also important, and this is where a significant change occurs with the E2500.

The E2500 uses ‘Advanced Stream Detect 2.0’, the marketing name, for network connection detection and the packet analysis implementation. Rivet has designed it to not only detect programs and apply a priority spectrum, but it also detects up to 500 whitelisted websites in a browser agnostic fashion. This allows users to prioritize, for example, a Youtube video in one browser window at a higher priority than another browser window all while downloading, as well as keeping any game at priority one (and windows updates at priority six).

There are parallels with Intel’s processor line in this way of thinking. The latest Broadwell-E chipsets were marketed with a large spoonful of ‘mega-tasking’, for the user who wants to do it all and do it at once. This is the value add that the new Killer line is also going for – gamers who want to stream, or multifaceted users that do several tasks at once. So in order to play a game or a video, while also performing on-the-fly encode and upload, the downloads do not have to be switched off, for example.

The idea of improved Quality of Service by prioritizing content isn’t new - we’ve had cFos as a software tool for years (even bundled with a number of motherboards), however Rivet has stated that their hardware solution aims to provide better performance (packet processing latency, dispatch latency and prioritization) for less CPU time than the competition as well as a simpler interface this time around.

On the interface, the old version (as I reviewed many times) was a malady in terms of user experience. Rivet has been taking feedback (and reaching out personally to us at AnandTech among others) to figure out the best way to move forward. This is it.

The hardware solution deals with six levels of priority, with priority one being ‘real time’ and guaranteeing a front-seat in processing and being placed in the next packet. Detected games (from an internal list) automatically get priority 1 or 2, with messaging programs at 3. Website traffic goes in at either 3/4/5, depending on how the website interacts – video and audio is given a 3, most traffic is a 4, excess traffic is a 5. That leaves priority 6 for updates and large time-insensitive downloads. Programs or websites that need to be adjusted frequently can be pinned to this list, especially specific websites that can be chosen (for example, Facebook/Youtube/Twitch). The major speedometer on this front screen shows real-time bandwidth use (highest value of download or upload), with the maximum value determined via a speed test in the Settings menu.

The meat of the software is application management, which is the next tab down. Here we have all the applications listed, with buttons for direct blocking of access (if you see something consuming bandwidth and not sure what it is), as well as per-application bandwidth limiting via sliders for upload and download separately.

Both this screen and the last screen work with DoubleShot Pro, Rivet’s name for when two Killer interfaces are being used simultaneously. They use the wired+wifi as an example (so E2500 + 802.11ac Killer 1535), whereby the user can have priority 1-3 going over the wired connection for the best latency, and 4-6 over the wifi as something less critical. The color on the left indicates which connection (currently green for primary, blue for secondary), and the download and upload bars adjust in color as well for parity. With two connections, the main overview interface will show two speedometers as a result.

The software is continually a work in progress (Rivet Networks seems very happy to take on board any user comments) and is currently geared for release with E2500 equipped systems. When we spoke with Rivet, they stated that the new interface will work with the 1535 Wi-Fi module for the most part, but the E2400 and below will some features disabled due to the updated configuration on the new silicon.

Ultimately the Killer solution is marketed to offer better packet processing and network stream detection for hardware-based prioritization over any competitor solution, and any OEM that goes for Killer will be able to use the software on their platforms. No doubt we will see Killer's SDK allowing for customized interfaces as well in due course. Identifying how the Killer solution affects the end-user is going to be tricky, as the multi-tasking benefits of stream prioritization are hard to accurately measure, or that packet processing is a badly understood and usually synthetic metric. Something such as video conferencing while downloading is perhaps an interesting future metric to monitor: similar to how testing SSDs has evolved, testing network solutions to accurately represent real-world situations has to evolve as well, and we’re aiming to adapt along those lines. It will be interesting to see how the new (and old) solutions from Rivet, Intel, Qualcomm and Realtek perform.

Source: Rivet Networks

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  • Michael Bay - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    I can`t help but chuckle at the amount of KILLER in those slides.
  • zodiacfml - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    Aside from the NIC, they should have built a Wi-Fi router and put all their expertise on it to realize the benefits. For example, setting QoS for gaming is not user friendly for most routers. The NIC features are rendered useless when one from the house starts doing something e.g. streaming, torrents.
  • Phasenoise - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    That's what I was thinking. If all it does is classify things on your own PC, it's not very useful. To get best gaming ping I do what everyone does (killer nic or not) - I don't download stuff while gaming.

    The remaining obstacle is to handle the whole house's traffic. Existing solutions have either primitive QoS or generally awful UIs. Tackling THAT problem in a consumer router would actually be interesting.
  • Daniel Egger - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    True. QoS always needs to be applied where the queues are and thus the congestion happens, i.e. at your router at home (preferably at the provider end, too, since your router can only address outgoing packets...). The only non-BS product I can see here would be a Killer router...

    But who knows, maybe they have a few Killer tricks up their sleeves like ARP poisoning to take over the control of the complete LAN traffic and hence ensure that they can fully prioritise all packets going upstream...
  • bcronce - Friday, September 16, 2016 - link

    There has been recent AQMs that make my quality incredibly simple to implement. While I use HFSC, which is much more complicated, there are Fair Queuing AQMs like fq_Codel and fq_RED that only need to know how much bandwidth you have. That it is, no other configuration that setting your bandwidth. You'll never need to worry about high pings, packetloss, or something hogging bandwidth ever again, except for very slow connections.

    There is an in-progress AQM+Shaper called cake that is being worked on. It takes fq_Codel to the next level and will make even low speed connections below 1Mb have "low latency" within reason. While it still has issues, mainly because of the kitchen sink they're trying to install, they had it where it perfectly dynamically distributed bandwidth while isolating latency among all network flows. Again, just set the bandwidth, no other configuration.

    We are very close to having nearly zero-config low latency traffic shaping. This only helps the users link to their ISP. If the ISP cannot supply reliable bandwidth, you will still have issues. This configuration doe assume that the bandwidth you supply is available.
  • cuex - Friday, September 16, 2016 - link

    In fact, they actually have it, called Streamboost. The latest Router I know have it is TrendNet TED 824DRU. Streamboost actually WORKS in prioritizing Gaming packet.

    From all the comments I read here, seems I am the only one happy and have positive experience using Killer NIC (have used it for 3 years).
  • Phasenoise - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    The DoubleShot Pro slide is missing the last part where both of those big pipes go right back to the string and cans that is your internet connection.

    So you split it up to... combine it again on a device which probably doesn't have great QoS features.
  • bcronce - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    I just use an AQM+HFSC to keep my games with sub 1ms of additional latency while allowing YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Torrent, etc to max out my connection. A few weeks back I had Torrent downloading and uploading max speed while Steam was downloading a 60GiB game. My connection was running at 99% of its rated speed with zero dips for a few hours with over 10,000 established connections, and my ping stayed a flat 1.5ms+-0.3ms to my ISP.

    Looking at my ping/latency graph, it's nearly impossible to tell when I'm maxing out the connection, and it is precise down to 0.01ms.
  • Lolimaster - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    Blablablabla, it all depends if you have a shi*tty ISP with bad routing, nat3 or a decent one.
  • benzosaurus - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - link

    The question (as always with this company) is: is any of this work in any way detectable to the user experience?

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