Review: Crucial Radeon X1600 Pro AGP
Iain Laskey argues speed isn't the only criteria in a graphics card
|Product||Radeon X1600 Pro AGP|
|Price||£113.96 including shipping|
|We like||Great image quality, price, shader 3.0, DirectX 9.0c, H264 support|
|We don't like||Not very fast, slightly too pricy|
So, you have a PC that's a couple of years old, still quite serviceable but starting to groan a bit when playing the latest games. Upgrade the graphics card I hear you say? Sure, except your PC has an AGP slot and the shops are full of PCI Express cards.
Given that there are a lot of PCs with quite fast CPUs, often 3Ghz or more, laden with RAM and bristling with hard disk space, it is surprising just how quickly graphics card manufactures have largely abandoned AGP in favour of its newer replacement PCI Express. It seems very short-sighted and is forcing many people into buying PCI Express equipped motherboards and often new CPUs just to allow them to upgrade their graphics cards.
If you are prepared to dig around a bit, there are still a few decent AGP cards on the market though. One such unit is the Crucial Radeon X1600 Pro AGP 512Mb. Based on ATI's technology, this card has an interesting mix of features making it a compelling choice for anyone looking to upgrade an elderly graphics card.
Our test system has what is now a rather dated card in the form of a Radeon 7500. Apart from being slow, it doesn't support many of the features any self-respecting modern graphics card should have. We have chosen the Crucial X1600 Pro to give our test PC a mid-life kicker to help it make the most of newer games and technologies.
The X1600 is certainly well featured. The obvious selling point is its support of the latest standards in the form of DirectX 9.0c and Shader Model 3.0. It also offers HDR (High Dynamic Range) combined with full screen anti-aliasing. Connection wise it sports a dual-link DVI-I connector as well as standard VGA and s-video. It also comes bundled with a selection of leads including a DVI-I to VGA adaptor, an s-video to RCA adaptor, s-video to HDTV (via 3 component RCA jacks) and a standard s-video lead. It also has DVD playback software but alas no bundled games to show off your new go-faster stripes.
With a nod towards standards of upcoming importance, the X1600 Pro provides hardware support for H.264 which ensures it is ready to maximise the quality with HiDef formats such as HD DVD and Blu-ray.
Whilst on the subject of DVD playback, the X1600 Pro has a raft of technologies which fall under the Avivo banner. These include 3D comb filters for improved image quality on playback, better colour fidelity and hardware noise reduction as well as artifact reduction and playback smoothing.
The card is ready for Windows Vista and has all the features needed for the new Aero interface that Vista offers.
It is fair to say that the X1600 series isn't the fastest option if outright speed is your goal. If you want more grunt then you may want to consider Crucial's similarly priced X800 GTO. However, what the X1600 Pro does offer is superior image quality and support for the very latest features such as Shader 3.0 and DirectX9.0c. That said, it's certainly no slouch. We ran some benchmarks with the 7500 and the X1600 Pro and it was at least twice as fast in most tests and considerably faster in certain key areas such as hardware anti-aliasing.
We're not convinced that it really needs 512MB of RAM though. We'd rather have seen 256MB of something faster. However, the card as supplied seems happy to overclock by quite a margin so you can always coax extra speed out of it that way. We managed to get it running quite stably with the core at 570MHz (usual speed 500MHz) and the RAM at 500MHz (usual speed 400MHz).
The one thing that really stood out during tests was just how much better our various games looked. Whilst it is quite a jump technology wise from a 7500 to an X1600, it does show how much the state of the art has moved on in the last few years and some of the images were genuinely breathtaking. giving some games a whole new lease of life.
As long as you remember this is a mid-range card and don't expect it to handle the heavy weight games with aplomb, you won't be disappointed. It would make an ideal upgrade for a PC destined to be a media PC where the DVD and video processing features would be made good use of whilst still being able to handle most games thrown at it. Its other big selling point is it's an AGP card and there's not many options left in that area. If you have an AGP motherboard and feel the time might be right to upgrade your graphics card whilst you still can, we think you should ensure the Crucial X1600 Pro 512Mb is on your shortlist.