It’s Actually an Intel Chip: Rivet Networks Launches the Killer Wireless-AC 1550by Ian Cutress on January 8, 2018 8:00 AM EST
LAS VEGAS, NV — One of the main criticisms about the Killer network controllers, either wireless or wired, is that they aren't Intel. The hardware isn't Intel, or the level of support isn't Intel. Today, Rivet Networks is announcing that its latest Wi-Fi chip, the Killer Wireless-AC 1550, is coming to market, and it is manufactured by Intel.
Wait, What? Manufactured by Intel?
To answer the obvious questions, let us start with a recap.
The back story: In 2006, Bigfoot Networks introduced the Killer NIC – a PCIe card using a Freescale processor that promised to reduce network latency and lag. In 2011, Qualcomm bought the technology, putting it alongside on its own Atheros wired and wireless chips, but also reducing the cost and expanded the user base. In 2014, the technology was spun out to Rivet Networks, a new company formed by the CEO and CTO of Bigfoot, but still using Qualcomm’s manufacturing expertise and connections.
The new story: In 2015, Intel discussed with Rivet to create a combined solution – the argument being that it would be better to collaborate than compete. Rivet was still ‘new’, managing the hardware post-Qualcomm, so initially nothing came of it. In 2016, Intel presented Rivet with defined roadmaps, and now with Killer across a fair amount of the industry (motherboards, Dell XPS, MSI), the partnership started.
What happened from here is that Intel was to design and manufacture the chip. Rivet had a list of hardware requirements in order to be able to perform the features needed to perform Killer functionality, and Intel built these into the chip and gave Killer the required access to the silicon. Ultimately the chip would provide two different products: the Intel AC9260, and the Killer Wireless-AC 1550.
With only one piece of silicon, only one set of regulatory approval was needed (which is expensive), and each company would sell the chip on its own, with company-specific features: Intel does its thing, while Rivet can enable their version with the features to make it a ‘Killer’ chip, such as packet prioritization, support for DoubleShot, etc.
The end result is that the AC 1550 should have the stability of Intel (in fact, the AC9260 has been on sale for several months already), but the additional features of Killer. The driver for both is pretty much the same, being a combined effort between Intel and Killer, while the Killer version will have a specific version of the driver for Killer-features, as well as a Rivet designed service and OS application.
The Killer Wireless-AC 1550
At the high-level, the 1550 shares all the features of the AC9260. It is a 2x2 Wi-Fi module with full 802.11ac Wave 2 functionality for 160 MHz channels, including MU-MIMO, and with the right router is good for up to 1.73 Gbps peak throughput. It will be available similar to current Intel and Rivet wireless chips, available either as an M.2 module or as a 12x16mm BGA package, but also with CNVi support. Bluetooth 5.x is also supported.
The additional Killer features brought to the table revolve around the prioritization software. As part of the evolution of the technology, the Killer chip can create six levels of priority, with level 1 taking the express freeway and being prioritized for low latency. The hardware supports a pre-prepared traffic whitelist, to which Rivet has already supplied it 1000 of the most commonly used applications and network traffic configurations (around 99.8% of all traffic, apparently). In the event that the app is not on its whitelist, users can put in their own options, or the controller can do Advanced Stream Detection.
Killer’s Advanced Stream Detection looks at the way network traffic is constructed and processed to determine if it is a game, VOIP, a browser, streaming video, or a download. If a user imagines what sort of network traffic (and how it is processed), then the ability to detect this sort of thing makes sense, and doing it in a way that requires minimal CPU power is going to add value.
Back at the office/data center, Killer run an automated nightly test of the 1000 commonly used applications in its whitelist to ensure that the software is still running correctly, as well as adding more to that list. In the event that a known application (such as a streaming service, or a game) changes the way the network runs and is thus no-longer detected properly, then the Killer engineers put it as high-priority for the next-day updates. I am told that this happens only a couple of times a month, or when a streaming service adjusts codecs.
The 1550 also supports other Killer features, such as DoubleShot Pro (sending traffic down different pipes), Killer xTend (using the device as a switch), and has the updated Killer Control Center with updated rule sets and UX updates. The idea here is that even though this chip is manufactured by Intel, there should be no regression in features: this chip has everything the previous chips had, and more.
The Bigger Picture
Ultimately, all the physical IP in the chip is from Intel, with the stream detection algorithms and software stack being the proprietary part from Killer. Some of the hardware changes that Rivet requested might be used by Intel at a later date, or Intel might leave it for the Killer brand. At the end of the day, each Killer Wireless-AC 1550 chip sold is an Intel sale anyway, and it would be interesting to compare the price competitiveness of the current Qualcomm-assisted chips and the new Intel-designed chips.
One might have suspected that Qualcomm might have wanted to aggressively retain the Killer business to keep sales numbers, but we are told by Rivet that there were no particular issues from Qualcomm about Rivet partnering with Intel.
The main complaints about previous Killer parts revolved around hardware, support, power, performance benefits, and functionality. With the 1550 being an Intel chip, some of those complaints automatically disappear. The 1550 is still likely to cost slightly more than the Intel AC9260, but Killer believes that the features provided justify the value-add and can offer partners product differentiation, especially with multi-taskers and streamers, two key markets that Intel wants to dominate.
Today the announcement is a partnership for a single chip, although we suspect that given the discussion of Intel roadmaps, the two companies are likely to collaborate further for future products.
Launch partners are Alienware and MSI first, with the chip being put into devices launching in January. Select notebooks, desktops, and motherboards over the next few months will have the new chip. No word yet if it will be available as a standalone module at retail, or for what cost.
- Rivet Networks Announces Killer xTend: Turning a Gaming PC into a Switch and Wi-Fi AP
- Rivet Networks Announces Killer Support for 10 Gbps Network Controllers
- Linksys WRT32X Gaming Router Announced with Killer Prioritization Engine
- Rivet Networks Launches the Killer E2500 Network Controller: Website Detection, New UI
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Freakie - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkIf you can't install the Intel drivers, you can always pick up the Intel AC9260 for $25 off of ebay so it's no big deal.
DanNeely - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkDoes this mean that OEMs will be able to smear the killer branding on their products for the clueless gamer types, while the rest of us can just install the non-buggy Intel drivers and ignore it?
timecop1818 - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkWhy does this shit still exist. Is there a group of users that's actually happy with the Killer trash? I don't even care if Intel manufactures these, I'll never buy another laptop with Killer WiFi in it.
Gunbuster - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkOn the plus side not made by Marvell so you can rest knowing that it's not the worst product on the market.
mjrpes3 - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkMy friend's Dell XPS 13 laptop came installed with Killer wireless chip, and it lives up to its name: it is somehow able to kill the wirless router. Like, you need to pull the plug from it and reboot. A common problem if you read the dell forums.
LordConrad - Friday, January 12, 2018 - linkAll of those other Killer wireless chips are Qualcomm or Atheros, these new chips are intel.
CheapSushi - Monday, January 8, 2018 - linkAlthough I totally get the often over exaggerated hated about the Killer NICs, mainly driver issues, it's kind of a shame that hardware wise it's not unique anymore. I bought one of the original NICs with the Freescale processor just out of curiosity a while ago. It runs a version of Linux in itself. Which is pretty cool. Of course, the drivers aren't great for Win10. But at this point, this is mainly just a software stack with gamer UI. It's neat in a way to get router-like functionality from a NIC. But I assume most of us have a router already. So there's just nothing really interesting here anymore. It's just that some boards come with the Killer NIC branding, so now, you're not really losing out on anything, especially since there's no PCIe card anymore. So there's no "bad" part. The only issue is that the name elicits a bad reaction.
LordConrad - Friday, January 12, 2018 - linkIt's a bit more than just the name. In the past, killer has used decent enough hardware but their add-on software has been a bit flaky (Killer problems usually go away when only the bare drivers are installed). While using intel chips is definitely a step up, that won't help very much until they debug their software. Killer's problem is this: The very people who would most benefit from the extra Killer features are the same people who are least likely to put up with buggy hardware or software.
schizoide - Friday, January 19, 2018 - linkAside from hardware and driver quality, which should be largely addressed by Intel making it, my understanding was that the actual _features_ of the Killer network stack were entirely useless and did not impart a perceptible or really even _measurable_ benefit in any scenario whatso-freaking-ever, gaming or otherwise.
Is that not the case? Will a Killer NIC help me get more BOOM headshots in CS:GO now, or whatever?