Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty audio card

Much ado about X-RAM

IT'S RARE THAT a new product completely outclasses its competition, but that's what happened when Creative introduced its X-Fi audio processor—not that there are many real competitors left in the PC audio market, mind you. Still, it's hard to argue with the X-Fi's attractive blend of exceptional sound quality and hardware acceleration for positional 3D audio. Those attributes, combined with the X-Fi's flexible architecture and a well-stocked quiver of useful features, were enough to earn the chip distinction in our Best of 2005 Awards. The X-Fi XtremeMusic won an Editor's Choice award when we reviewed the card back in October, too.

While the XtremeMusic's reasonable price tag has made it our favorite X-Fi, the card doesn't offer much in the way of extra I/O ports. It also lacks X-RAM—onboard memory that can be used by the X-Fi audio processor to store additional voices and higher quality audio assets. Creative claims X-RAM can ultimately improve gaming performance. Fortunately, both X-RAM and additional I/O ports are available on the X-Fi Fatal1ty, with a red LED riding shotgun, of course.

To explore the X-Fi's potential with X-RAM onboard and a collection of extra I/O ports at its disposal, we've cornered an X-Fi Fatal1ty for testing. Read on to see if it can match the XtremeMusic's impeccable audio quality—and whether X-RAM makes a difference in the games that support it.

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