Killer Wireless-AC 1535 Review: The MU-MIMO Era Begins
Killer Software and Conclusion
This might have seemed like a review more of MU-MIMO thus far – and to an extent that’s true. But one of the biggest advantages of the Wireless-AC 1535 has to be the Killer software. MU-MIMO for its part promises to make things better for multiple devices in simultaneous use on a network, but the Killer software allows for complete control over network traffic on the client.
The bandwidth control can be set to favor throughput or latency
While MU-MIMO might allow for a much more even distribution of available wireless bandwidth, there’s a lot of bandwidth being demanded by the various applications on just one system. The Killer software will automatically shape traffic depending on the profile (max throughput or low latency) that you select. But there's much more control available if you want it. With individual application priority a user can manually adjust the balance of bandwidth if desired.
In the above screenshot I had changed the priority of my torrent application to "low", and the priority of my browser to "high". (Applications can be completely blocked from using your connection with the software as well.) With the Killer software making things more balanced on the system I was able to play HD YouTube videos during my torrent downloads without any buffering. While torrent client bandwidth can be controlled manually within the app, there are many cases where manual control from this software would be invaluable.
Gaming: The latency test
So what kind of impact does multi-tasking involving your internet connection have on something as vital as latency for an online game? To check out how this works in real-time I made use of Team Fortress 2’s optional console functionality to display ping.
Connected to a server that offered a 35 ms ping I started up a few torrent downloads, and with the Killer bandwidth control disabled I watched as this absolute worst-case scenario completely killed my ability to play this online shooter.
700+ ms ping is amazingly bad! How on earth can software do anything about this?
QoS (quality of service) has been an option on home routers for years, and enabled power users to allocate priority to a certain computer on the network. I like to think of the Killer suite as a software version of this. There is proprietary traffic-shaping that happens behind the scenes, and can be tailored to prioritize either throughput or low latency. For gaming online with something like TF2 I of course wanted low latency. Here's a look at that same session before I switched off the bandwidth control:
A rise of a less than 10 ms compared to the unplayable nightmare I saw before enabling the Killer software is downright shocking.
So what other kind of magic can this software work? Well, that really depends on how far you want to go with it. Without any customization you can see the real benefits with situations like large downloads; a torrent (or Steam game) that would normally devour all available bandwidth from your ISP is reduced automatically as other apps need to use internet bandwidth.
Overall my experience with the Killer Wireless-AC 1535 adapter was extremely positive. The power of the client-side software bandwidth management is tremendous, making it a shame that this technology is limited to so few devices - since you can't just go out and buy a Wireless-AC 1535 card for your existing system. The inclusion of this adapter in a laptop like the MSI G72 Dominator Pro G helps sweeten the deal for that machine, but the gaming market isn't the only one that could benefit from the Killer hardware/software combo I experienced during this review.
As impressive as the hardware was, and MU-MIMO as a new technology, in my opinion the best part of the experience is the control offered by the Killer Networking software. It's something that has to be experienced to really appreciate, and once you do it would very hard to go back. But would I trade my existing motherboard or laptop to get it? Probably not, but I would buy an add-on card (such as PCIe or USB 3.0) if it was offered at a competitive price. There's certainly room for improvement with my own wireless setup at home, and what I was able to do with the Killer Wireless-AC 1535 and the Linksys EA8500 router made me want an overhaul.
Bottom line, the Killer Wireless-AC 1535 is a really impressive product that has the distinction of being the first 2x2 MU-MIMO adapter on the market, and it boasts powerful network management software to boot. However, though I recommend the 1535 based on my experience, the lack of widespread availability (as a standalone product) unfortunately makes this more of a footnote than a headliner - something I don't think it deserves. (As important as networking is, how many people buy a laptop for the included adapter?). Still, if you're shopping for a laptop seeing the Killer name should definitely be considered a positive, and after you've tried it yourself just might be the deciding factor.