Creative Labs X-Fi: The Last PCI Sound Card? Should you buy one?@ 2005/08/21
Gamers building new systems should at least think about either the Elite Pro or the Fatal1ty FPS. The overall price, though, leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths. The lower cost unit still weighs in at $279, which is a lot of spare change for simply adding 64MB of RAM and a fancy logo. As more games support X-RAM, however, this could become a more compelling solution. High fidelity enthusiasts and people who want to do a little content creation should give the Elite Pro some thought. The high end DACs, guitar input, and music creation apps make the Elite Pro seem like a fairly decent deal. In some ways, the Elite Pro is more powerful than the entry level E-MU pro solutions, though perhaps not as well tuned to the needs of professional gamers.
What's really lacking is an entry level gamer's card. We'd love to see a $149 retail card without the front panel bay (and minus the logo), but with the 64MB of onboard X-RAM. If Creative is serious about promoting OpenAL as a solution for the gaming industry, they need to make the X-Fi's much more pervasive. While developers may like the idea, they'll want to see ROI based on a substantial installed base. Only a scant few gamers will actually run out and get a Fatal1ty FPS unit at $279.
We suspect the price will come down over time. Creative does need to amortize their investment, and it's clearly been a substantial one. When you strip out the concerns about pricing, the X-Fi is a stunning achievement in PC audio. Whether it will turn around declining market share of add-in audio solutions, however, is unlikely until that pesky pricing issue is addressed.