If you read our original review of the X-Fi way back in November 2005, you already know about this card. Back then, Creative packaged this exact same card with a drive bay and remote and charged an impossible to justify $280 for the X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS soundcard.
We ended up recommending its cheaper sibling, the X-Fi XtremeMusic instead.
Fast-forward a year and a half, ditch the remote and drive bay, and you’ve got the XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Professional Series priced at $130 less than the original. But does the X-Fi age like a fine wine or a punch-drunk palooka? For Creative, it’s pure vino!
Unlike the other two boards we tested here, the X-Fi continues to use a true DSP with “10,000 MIPS of power.” We don’t know how true that 10K figure is, but in our tests, the X-Fi remains the boss, especially when compared to the CMI8788, which is nothing more than a glorified I/O chip. In FEAR with graphics options cranked down and audio options cranked up to emphasize soundcard performance, the X-Fi led by 10 percent across the board. However, if C-Media ever releases multithreaded audio drivers, the day of the DSP will likely fade.
Of course, a good soundcard isn’t just about frame rates. In close listening using reference-quality earphones, two Maximum PC editors favored the X-Fi’s bottom-end push while listening to a variety of 24-bit audio.
We also give the edge in gaming fidelity to the X-Fi, as the subtle audio cues in games (in particular, Battlefield 2) stood out with this card. This may be due in part to the developer-relations money Creative spends to help developers utilize its technology. Most top games today support Creative’s OpenAL initiative, which is the only way to get hardware-accelerated positional audio in Microsoft Vista.
Although we think the X-Fi is the best of the cards tested here for general PC use, the real-time Dolby Digital encoding of the two other cards and optical SPDIF make them far better suited for home theater use. We must also note that the now-defunct XtremeMusic version of this card can still be found and is a better value. But for gamers, the X-Fi is the best choice.
DSP gives it a performance edge.
Fear 5.1 Min (FPS)
Fear 5.1 Avg (FPS)
Fear 5.1 Max (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Min (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Avg (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Max (FPS)
3DMark03 2.1 0 Sources
3DMark03 2.1 24 Sources
3DMark03 2.1 60 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 0 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 24 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 60 Sources
Best scores are bolded. Our killer rig consisted of an Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of DDR400, 400GB 7,200rpm, and a GeForce 7950 GX2 running Windows XP Professional.