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Ubicom StreamEngine
game: Ubicom StreamEngine
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Ubicom
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed May 11th, 2005
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed May 11th, 2005

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Ubicom's StreamEngine technology promises traffic shaping? technology that you can plug into your existing home router/modem setup. That's pretty great for gamers, but also for just about anyone sharing network access. The idea behind traffic shaping is that different applications not only take different priorities, but different types of data can be moved along in ways to make all the apps fighting for your bandwidth get along in peaceful harmony. And while you're creating mayem and havoc in your games, you want to think about your computer and network as being mostly harmonious. 

The StreamEngine should be out in a stand-alone form later this year. We were lucky enough to see a white-box? version (which, oddly enough, was actually a naked circuitboard) and give it a shot on the GF! networks. While we're a little nervous about exposed PCBs and whatnot hanging out in our dungeon of gaming delights, the promise of better bandwidth usage is a serious lure.

The StreamEngine pretty much works fine right out of the box. You plug it in between your router and modem and it will start automatically prioritizing and shaping your traffic. There is a browser-based interface for the unit, which allows for customization and further prioritization, if the out of the box settings don't do the trick. 

Did we notice much difference? Not at all. But that doesn't disappoint us. Here's why: At GF! we've been using the D-Link DGL-4300 GamerLounge Router. This bad boy looks great and works really well, and it has traffic shaping built into it. In fact, D-Link was a very early licensee of the StreamEngine technology, allowing D-Link to create what is really the first router designed for gamers (plus it looks like a stealth bomber).

From the early prototype of the StreamEngine standalone unit, we definitely see lots of gamers enjoying this functionality. With a planned price point of somewhere around $50 (this is early price speculation), the StreamEngine could become a good add-on for gamers looking to enhance existing networks without replacing their routers. And with both the StreamEngine and the DGL-4300, the traffic shaping definitely outpaces anything available with the SVEASoft hack for the Linksys routers, or any other traffic shaping application we've tried. 

Really, the biggest complaint we have about the StreamEngine comes from having already tried the technology on the DGL-4300. In D-Link's router, these functions, and the administration of these functions, are situated side-by-side with all of the other network configuration options we might need to fiddle with during any given adjustment session. The StreamEngine is a stand-alone unit, which means that in order to get a new game on your system and prioritize it's traffic manually you have to access two different hardware devices with two different interfaces. It's just that much more of a hassle. So if it comes down to it, so far we're still going with the full router over the add-on unit.

But for some folks the price point is the only point that counts, and the functionality of the StreamEngine is as Ubicom promises: run multiple network apps, including IM, VOIP, FTP, and P2P, without impinging on your game bandwidth. It is easy to see that within a year or two, these devices are going to be standard issue for gamers, whether they come as stand-alone units or embedded into network routers and whatnot. This is certainly a device to keep an eye on.