So here's a new (to me at least) hardware niche: gaming network cards.
A company called Bigfoot Networks is the manufacturer, and the card is called the Killer Xeno Pro. The card features Voice Chat Acceleration (does that make anyone besides me think of Alvin & the Chipmunks?) as well as a dedicated Network Processing Unit (NPU) which is supposed to offload networking chores from the CPU, reducing network lag.
It sounds as though your VOIP application will need to be supported in order for the Voice Chat Acceleration to work, and popular services such as Skype and Ventrillo are not listed. Granted this is supposed to be for gamers and Skype isn't often used while gaming, but Ventrillo certainly is. Teamspeak, the other popular voice chat service for gamers, is supported.
As I mentioned, this is the first time I've heard of a gaming network card (and I do consider myself a gamer). I'd love to hear from someone who owns one of the earlier versions of these cards, in order to see if it really makes a difference. Does lag in gaming really start in your network card, rather than coming from internet latency and congestion? I suppose I can understand how offloading networking duties to a dedicated card can eke out a few more cycles for your CPU, giving you a better framerate. But I'm still mystified by what Voice Chat Acceleration means. I get that the card is supposed to take over the voice chat duties from the CPU, but Acceleration?
You can read the full press release here (it's a PDF): Bigfoot Networks Launches Killer XENO™: Second-Generation Gaming Network Card. The card also offers some firewall features and other goodies, so the PR is worth a read.
So what do you think? Is this the next must-have gaming accessory, or is it the network card equivalent of paying for Monster Cables? The price for the Xeno Killer Pro will be $129.99 when it ships next month. A Killer Xeno Ultra will follow in May for $179.99.