Monday, December 15, 2008

KillerNIC: trend or OS "epic fail"?

I was following a friend's twitter the other day that turned me on to a product called KillerNIC.

This is a high-end gaming network card that advertises superior network performance in games. At first glance, I think there's nothing to this, after all, network interfaces have become commodity items for years now -- hardly anyone buys a dedicated NIC card that isn't part of a motherboard or laptop these days.

But then I come across the striking claim: "Completely bypasses the Windows Network Stack"

Wha-what?! Ok, part of me thinks this is really cool. Maybe its the beginning of hardware optimization of parts of the stack that were previously tightly integrated with a particular OS. DMA and asynchronous bus access is the future! Building-block integration stacks maybe?

But another part of me says "wow, windows has really epic failed to get to this point." Let's see, it was cheaper and more effective to create separate hardware and completely bypass Windows Network stack than it was to deal with the cruft of 10 years and bad plug and play interrupt models? Having been a Win32 developer... yeah, actually I can totally believe that.

Apparently this card also reigns in the "spoiled child" model of modern application behavior. Now when McAfee or Windows Update "calls home" for updates in the middle of your game, you won't be disconnected. The card can be configured to give maximum priority to your current focus application and idle-priority other background apps.

This points to another epic failure of application developers. It's gotten so bad that we simply can't trust you any more to do the right thing, so we're taking away your network privileges at the hardware level. Ouch! Once again, I can totally believe that.