What’s next for Bigfoot? New CEO Michael Howse speaks out

We haven’t heard much from Bigfoot Networks since we reviewed the firm’s Killer NIC in the summer of 2007. Back then, our verdict was that this high-end gaming network card did indeed improve ping times as advertised. Yet it wasn’t a flawless product, and it was expensive—$170 for the K1 model and around $250 for the fancier Killer M1 version.

Bigfoot still offers the same two cards at roughly the same prices, so what’s it up to now? Is it fading into obscurity, or has it found a market for these products? We’ve spoken to newly minted Bigfoot CEO Michael Howse to shed some light on the company’s progress and to learn what it has in store for the future.

According to Howse, Bigfoot has been focusing its efforts on winning over major gaming PC vendors like Dell (with its Alienware arm), Falcon Northwest, CyberPower, and Commodore. Killer NICs purportedly make their way into 10-40% of gaming rigs from those firms, which—as Howse himself points out—isn’t half bad for a start-up’s first product. Howse say he is "very pleased" with Bigfoot’s financial performance, and he told us sales actually went up between the third and fourth quarters last year. As we learned yesterday, graphics processor vendors weren’t so lucky.

Although you can purchase Killer NICs from e-tailers today, Howse said Bigfoot doesn’t have much of a presence in the add-in card market right now because of insufficient distribution. One of the firm’s goals is to reach more enthusiasts who build their own systems, since that demographic supposedly accounts for roughly half of the PC gamer market. At the same time, Bigfoot wants to keep pushing on the pre-built front and score even more deals with PC vendors.

Reaching out to a greater audience will naturally involve price cuts, since not many gamers are willing to shell out over $150 for a network card. When we inquired about pricing, Howse recalled his days at 3dfx, where a large portion of sales came from the $129 Voodoo 3 2000. Increased volume (and resulting economies of scale) eventually pushed that card to $99. The CEO revealed that a second-gen Killer NIC will come next quarter, and while he wouldn’t explicitly announce pricing, he suggested that Bigfoot is aiming for a similar ballpark. Both increased volume and a switch from field-programmable gate arrays to custom-made chips will allow Bigfoot to cut costs.

In addition, Bigfoot could eventually take on the likes of Realtek in the motherboard market. We asked Howse whether Killer NIC hardware might make a good addition to some upscale X58 motherboards, and he immediately responded, "I think it would be an awesome addition." He added, "We’ve certainly had discussions with some of those folks [motherboard makers], and as our prices are coming in line with the expectations of the pricing of the motherboards, I think we can get there." Howse went on to lament the dearth of innovation in client-side networking hardware, and he noted that Bigfoot’s potential in that area drove him to join the company.

We were also curious about how actual users were responding to the Killer NIC and whether Bigfoot had ironed out some of the problems we ran into ourselves. Howse sounded a little less enthusiastic as he explained that, while the cards got positive reviews, they came out "a little early"—and some consumers had problems with drivers that "weren’t as solid as they could be." Bigfoot has "reacted really well to customer complaints and requirements," he went on to say, a process that’s been aided by Dell and Alienware’s "extremely rigorous" qualification process.

Speaking of software, the Killer NIC’s built-in Linux distribution allows it to run custom applications (dubbed FNApps) on the card itself. Another one of Bigfoot’s goals this year is to continue improving existing FNApps and offering new ones: Howse mentioned a bandwidth control application and a "whole host" of new apps coming out.

In conclusion, Bigfoot perceives the network interface market much like the early 3D acceleration market, and it’s bent on capturing a broader audience—not just the hard-core gaming niche. Ageia had similar aspirations for its discrete PhysX physics processors, but there are key differences: Bigfoot’s product works with existing games and fills in for existing, albeit more pedestrian, network hardware. If Bigfoot can bring prices low enough and integrate its chips on motherboards, gamers might one day come to favor Killer NICs over existing hardware from Realtek and Marvell.

Comments closed
    • indeego
    • 11 years ago
    • toyotabedzrock
    • 11 years ago

    I think there high end model needs a price of $100-$125 the low end should be $75-$90. If its a integrated part then it needs to sell for $50 MAX. And they need to have an FNApp that has a quality firewall, the high end version would also need to have a virus scanning firewall, with perhaps it could use the npu to do scheduled scans. A more polished bit torrent app wouldn’t hurt either.

    I just hate that all the motherboard vendors stopped selling any boards with an integrated Intel nic. Only server boards use them now.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 11 years ago

    i briefly considered this with my build but i don’t even play online enough… and a good thing too now that comcast is super slow sometimes. This card is a cool idea, i will probably get one with my next build because i will have a job and $$$ then… assuming the economy doesn’t get 10 times worse (i think it will flatten out at twice as bad as now).

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    Realtek 8111C FTW.

      • shank15217
      • 11 years ago

      That company has caused more headache for Systems Engineers than anything else out there except for maybe certain Broadcom Nics

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        How so?

        My only grip is that Realtek’s FTP servers seemed to be slow or just have insufficient bandwidth for the constant demand they are having.

        Otherwise, their NICs work as good as any other customer-grade NIC.

          • Crayon Shin Chan
          • 11 years ago

          Tell that to the authors of the rtl8139 Linux kernel driver. They seem to have cleaned up their act though.

          • Kurlon
          • 11 years ago

          You must not have ever dealt with anything other than the current generation of RealTek nics… The earlier units were crash inducing cpu hogs with horrid drivers. If you want a good chuckle, read the comments of linux or other open source OS realtek drivers as a prior commentator noted. You’ll get a full review of just how mind boggilingly bad these nics were, essentially the absolute bare minimum to function, rely on the cpu for the rest, oh and broken to boot. Realtek finally started to figure things out with their second generation gig nics, the prior stuff… ::shudder::

          Via Rhines on the other hand, I think are the only NIC that can compete with RealTeks on the crappy implementation scale.

            • A_Pickle
            • 11 years ago

            It’s the truth — but the 8111C is pretty stable, Realtek has a good driver turnaround time (they update them like, at LEAST every month), and has pretty low CPU utilization on gigabit transfers.

            What’s not to like?

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    This is really a server product. Most of the interesting apps are server-oriented. But the commercial server market is already well-served with sophisticated NICs, and Bigfoot has neither the reputation nor the validation to get themselves into those boxes.

    It’s too bad the home server market hasn’t really developed, because I could see this having a place in that. If you could buy a box that plugs into your broadband connection that is self-configuring for firewall, media library NAS (just keep plugging in standard drives), print serving, torrents, etc, a lot of the apps could actually run on the card without waking up the rest of the machine.

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      Expect Killer NIC was on a PCI bus of all things. XD

      PCI-X or PCIe if you want to be a “true” server-grade product.

      • shank15217
      • 11 years ago

      How many server cards are out there that are programmable? The only ones I can think of are in the $1000+ range.

        • UberGerbil
        • 11 years ago

        By the time they got through validating it for servers, it would be $1000 too.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Killer NIC would be cool if it was marketed as a packet shaper and hardware firewall build into a NIC.

    It is a shame that Bigfoot didn’t realize this from the start. I expect them to be another victim of the economic turmoil. Somebody else will end up buying their IP for the cheap.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      Did you mean firewall rather than firewire?

        • Krogoth
        • 11 years ago

        I stand corrected.

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          All right, all right, sit down.

          • MadManOriginal
          • 11 years ago

          It’s funny because your comment made me go look at the TR review for the NIC trying to find a firewire port ๐Ÿ™‚

    • wingless
    • 11 years ago

    They need to get their hardware integrated onto motherboards. It will add a premium to the mobo, but enthusiasts won’t mind a little extra honestly (as long as it doesn’t add over $20 or $30).

      • burntham77
      • 11 years ago

      That would be a much better use of the technology. Use this as the onboard networking for a gaming motherboard, kind of like how some boards are showing up with X-fi onboard audio.

    • odizzido
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t think you can compare this to video cards, since, you know, most of the delay you get on the internet has nothing to do with your computer.

    • evermore
    • 11 years ago

    10 to 40% of the gaming systems sold by those OEMs. Sounds great for them at first, but then, what percentage of the OEM systems sold actually are gaming rigs? 10% of 10% is only 1% of total systems sold, and an actual number is the only way to know if that’s good or bad (1% could be 10 PCs a month or 1000).

    The entire conversation could have been scripted by a computer using a database of manager-speak. He said what a CEO has to say about the company and its products.

    The product came out way too late, and trying to push it as still being of any value (without any price changes even!) is just silly. Integrated networking in chipsets became more than good enough long ago, and there are cheaper options that provide similar benefits. CPU speed was already so high when the Killer NIC arrived that any hit from using cheap network controllers was already essentially irrelevant, and it’s just gotten more irrelevant since then.

    If you can’t sit random people down at two PCs and have them tell from use which one has a Killer NIC and which doesn’t (without benchmarking), then the product is unnecessary. Even having 50% of them pick the correct PC would be nothing but chance.

    • Perezoso
    • 11 years ago

    Can’t wait for the Crapal1ty version of this thing [/sarcasm]

    • bdwilcox
    • 11 years ago

    *[

      • albundy
      • 11 years ago

      LMAO! nicely done. They could could always make a killer parallel port card!

      • shaq_mobile
      • 11 years ago

      “killer” bankruptcy…

      150 bucks for unnoticeably better ping… i suppose thats not much worse than 1500 dollar case paint jobs with wizards and fairies on it. i guess this goes on the list of stuff that makes you look like a jerk… along with body kits for your used 1988 civic and beanie/baseball cap hybrid

      • MattMojo
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, I tried the M1 card and it wouldn’t work on (3) of the (4) computers I tried it in. It would install and even update but no traffic — Tried it in other computers only to come to the same conclusion. Finally it worked in a Dell 530 but not in any of the other Dells I tried it in.

      Once I got it working… noticed no difference at all over the built-in — same processor percentages and same transfer times and actually the ping times went up a hair.

      The need for a NIC of this “caliber” is never going to be — if you want a good NIC with great management and better “features” go with an Intel server NIC with multiple ports.

    • TurtlePerson2
    • 11 years ago

    I like the idea of an NIC, but it has to be either incredibly cheap or integrated. I don’t think I’d ever drop $100 on a networking card, my GPU didn’t even cost that much.

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    I got the impression their was some serious number play in that article.

    BigFoot has between 10% and 40% of the pre built gaming rig market……. 10% to 40%….. lol.

    they went on to say half of enthusiasts build their own systems….. ok it’s not scientific but I know 2 ppl who have alienware gaming systems who also have their own homebuilt…… and I know 30+ who have homebuilt gaming systems….. I’m also curious of the requirements for a system to be considered gaming….. an add in graphics card 7xxx and X18xx and above?

    out of this miniscule test sample any asked about the Bigfoot Killer nic have universally responded with a resounding “too expensive”.

    5 have expressed interest but balked at the prices even when NCIX.com puts the Killer Nic’s on limited quantity specials they don’t move hardly at all.

    20 available for 40% off the MSRP and 16 were left…… and having a look around NCIX.com’s user reviews for a card that has been for sale for 18 months and it’s got 4 reviews with 1 not being an owner and the other 3 mixed.

    Newegg.com has 179 reviews which seems good sales wise until you read the reviews and consider that 51% gave it 4 stars or above and the rest less.

    • edh
    • 11 years ago

    Sounds to me that even among niche products, it’s a niche product….

    • shiznit
    • 11 years ago

    a $40 Intel pci-e NIC will work just as well.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 11 years ago

      This is the route I took too.

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    If i had $150 to blow i would personally get beer.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      That’s probably why no one calls you Networking Bob!

    • Kent_dieGo
    • 11 years ago

    Even $99 is too high. If they can get to the $30-$50 range their product could really take off.

      • 2cans
      • 11 years ago

      agreed.if my memory serves me corect fps improved only a few % points

        • willyolio
        • 11 years ago

        it’s not even supposed to improve FPS much, its main purpose is to lower latency.

          • 2cans
          • 11 years ago

          they did tout improved fps

    • indeego
    • 11 years ago

    If I had $150 to improve the transport, versus the endpoints, I’d pick the transport every timeg{<.<}g

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Must be why Monster exists.

        • indeego
        • 11 years ago

        It’s why Cisco existsg{<.<}g ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Meadows
          • 11 years ago

          We both know which one is a better joke butt, though.

    • FireGryphon
    • 11 years ago

    Great mini-article (aside from beginning the last paragraph with ‘in conclusion’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

    KillerNICs built into motherboards sounds interesting. Would such solutions be able to run FNApps? Will the mobo versions of the chip consume less power? Will a move from FPGA to proprietary silicon mean less-configurable functionality?

      • ShadowTiger
      • 11 years ago

      I somehow doubt that they would release a FPGA reconfig in a firmware update… so it shouldn’t make a big difference except faster, smaller, & perhaps less power consumption.

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