As we said with the Auzentech, we’re impressed when companies go above and beyond reference designs for products. Razer’s Barracuda AC-1 is such a product. Though it uses the same C-Media Oxygen HD chip as the X-Meridian, you wouldn’t think the two cards were related.
The AC-1 gives you a proprietary DVI-like connector that you can directly connect to the Razer’s HP-1 headset (or your standard speakers using the included dongle). And like the X-Meridian, the AC-1 features dual optical ports, but this card is definitely intended for gaming. And that’s where it gets interesting. The CMI8788 isn’t a DSP, like the X-Fi, it’s more of a super I/O chip that passes data from the PCI bus to the various components on the AC-1 at a very efficient clip.
Most of the filtering for 3D effects, including Dolby and other processor-intensive chores, is done on the computer’s CPU. In FEAR, for example, the X-Fi’s DSP gives it about a 10 percent frame-rate advantage over the other cards in analog mode. (Dolby Digital encoding adds even more overhead to the Razer card, but the X-Fi is incapable of real-time DD5.1 encoding.)
We’ve been wondering if our stance against host-based audio was outdated in the age of multicore CPUs, but a 10 percent hit is still painful—it’s like dropping the CPU down a rung or two.
Of course, the DSP doesn’t always work against the AC-1. In 3DMark03, which uses simpler audio routines, the AC-1 performs the same as or better than the X-Fi. Performance could also improve if the drivers for the AC-1 were multithreaded.
In gaming fidelity, the AC-1 fared well in our tests, with one exception. In Battlefield 2, we noticed dropouts in audio. The same happened with the X-Meridian, so we suspect it’s a problem with the chipset or its drivers that is induced by the tremendous amount of audio BF2 throws at you.
Where does that leave the AC-1? At $200, it’s pretty expensive. In fact, the AC-1 costs more than the X-Fi with its fancy schmancy (and so far useless) onboard X-RAM. It doesn’t help that the AC-1 lacks OpenAL support and sounds inferior to the Creative card in many of the games we tested.
Doesn’t include Creative’s software bloat.
Five-volt keying makes the card ineligible for PCI-X slots.
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.