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Killer Networking, a staple of upgraded wireless and wired connectivity on high-end gaming PCs, is poised to go mainstream thanks to Intel’s acquisition on Wednesday of Killer’s parent company, Rivet Networks.

Rivet and its Killer brand will join Intel’s Client Computing Group and complement the chip giant’s own Wi-Fi and other networking chips, which are found in a wide variety of PCs at all prices. Intel did not disclose the terms of the acquisition. 

The deal comes as many consumers struggle with Wi-Fi signal reliability, especially those who live in large homes or dense cities where many signals compete for limited wireless spectrum. The problem is especially acute now that coronavirus stay-at-home orders have forced many Americans to work from home, connecting more devices to their home Wi-Fi networks for longer periods of time than before the pandemic.

Intel estimates that homes now have an average of 11 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, and many service providers have reported skyrocketing Wi-Fi use in the past few months as people stay put. Comcast says subscribers of its Xfinity Mobile service used 40 percent more Wi-Fi data in April than in March, while data transmitted over LTE networks dropped 20 percent.

Circumventing Wi-Fi Bottlenecks With Killer

Makers of PCs, routers, and other Wi-Fi devices have positioned the Killer brand as a way to circumvent bottlenecks caused by crowded Wi-Fi networks, especially for hardcore gamers and other users for whom strong Wi-Fi can make or break their computing experience. Not only are Killer Wi-Fi components faster than some competing ones from other manufacturers, including Broadcom, Intel, and Qualcomm, but they can also preempt Wi-Fi traffic from non-Killer devices on the same network that could lower bandwidth. 

Killer’s flagship AX1650 Wi-Fi chip, based on the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard, delivers 2.4Gbps of theoretical throughput, far more than the 1Gbps or less that is common on consumer PCs using Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) technology. In addition to allowing faster connections, Killer says the additional throughput can also reduce latency, the scourge of many gamers. The AX1650 is available for purchase as a standalone add-on card, as well as integrated into some mainstream laptops like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and several premium gaming PCs.

Meanwhile, some Linksys routers aimed at gamers have firmware that automatically gives network priority to devices that are equipped with technology known as the Killer Prioritization Engine. When the router detects a device equipped with Killer networking hardware, it gives that device the lion’s share of bandwidth to raise the chances of smooth, lag-free online gameplay.

Killer networks Wi-Fi chip

Part of Killer’s appeal is that its products are relatively niche. If more devices use Killer technology following its integration into Intel’s existing networking business, their ability to circumvent bottlenecks could suffer. Intel has not announced its long-term plans for the Killer brand, and the company did not respond to a request for comment. 

How This Affects 5G, Wi-Fi 6E

Intel last year announced that it would abandon its 5G modem business, focusing instead on its existing networking offerings. The Rivet acquisition, therefore, won’t have a major effect on the ongoing 5G rollout, but it could affect the next-generation Wi-Fi technology known as Wi-Fi 6E.  

The FCC recently opened 1,200MHz of 6GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi use, which will pave the way for Wi-Fi 6E products. Intel says it is currently working on Wi-Fi 6E chips estimated for rollout by the end of the year, but has not announced any specific products. Competitor Broadcom announced the first Wi-Fi 6E chip in February, which it claims is capable of doubling Wi-Fi speeds while cutting latency in half compared with Wi-Fi 5. 

Rivet hasn’t announced any Killer-branded Wi-Fi 6E chips, but its existing AX1650 is already significantly faster than Wi-Fi 5. With Rivet’s research and development efforts rolled into Intel’s own existing Wi-Fi 6E efforts, the company’s networking offerings will be better-positioned to compete with those from Broadcom and Qualcomm over the next few years. 

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