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The Asus EAX1650XT is a good budget option for a Vista upgrade or simply to give new life to a gaming machine while cards supporting DirectX 10 trickle into the market.
Price$ 279.95 (AUD)
The Asus EAX1650XT is one of the best value budget graphics cards available on the market. It will run older games with ease and handle current games with modest quality settings without breaking the bank. This card is a great option if an upgrade to Windows Vista is on the agenda, as it meets the requirements to run Vista's Aero interface. It will also provide a good interim solution if you have plans to buy a bigger, more impressive graphics card later in the year when a greater variety of DirectX 10 supported cards become available. It performed well in our tests at a resolution of 1280x1024, but struggled with high quality image enhancements and at resolutions above 1680x1050.
With support for DirectX 9 the Asus EAX1650XT is capable of running all currently available games, including some of the most popular titles such as Half Life 2 and FEAR. The EAX1650XT graphics processor unit (GPU) allows this card to render complex shading effects and enhancements found in current games, such as anti-aliasing (AA) and high dynamic range lighting (HDR), but with a 128-bit memory bus and 256MB of GDDR3 graphics RAM it won't run games in extremely high quality modes or at resolutions such as 1680x1050 or higher without sacrificing the frame rate.
We found this card ran best at a resolution of 1280x1024 (or 1280x960), the native resolution of many 17in and 19in screens. It has 24 pixel pipelines and 8 vertex shaders, with a core speed of 574MHz. The 256MB of GDDR3 RAM runs at 1.35GHz (675MHz). This gives this card enough power to render scenes smoothly, as long as you don't expect to turn on all the bells and whistles. In Quake 4 we ran a number of tests, all on High Quality, but with different AA settings and at two different resolutions. At a resolution of 1280x1024 with no AA the Asus EAX1650XT managed to keep an average of 67.5fps (frames per second) throughout the test. Sixty fps is considered a comfortable average for smooth game play, so performance in this test was good. As soon as we turned AA to 4x the frame rate dropped to 42.2fps. While this is still a playable frame rate, the result shows that this the card will clearly struggle if you hope to soften the scene with AA, a feature that smooths the jagged, pixelated edges of rendered images. At 1600x1200, a resolution found on 22in screens or higher, the Asus EAX1650XT still managed a frame rate of 51.4fps while AA was turned off. Again, turning on 4xAA dropped the frames by about 20fps to a not-so-playable 31.9fps.
In our F.E.A.R. tests we weren't able to crack the 35fps mark at either 1280x960 or 1600x1200. While AA had no impact on the frame rate in these tests, we were only able to hit a maximum of 34fps in 1280x960 and a maximum of 24fps in 1600x1200. Our tests were run using maximum quality settings, so reducing some of the individual image quality features like texture quality or anisotropic filtering will improve performance.
While it doesn't support DirectX 10, the building blocks of the next generation of games, the Asus EAX1650XT is going to provide a descent gaming experience until a greater choice of DirectX 10 supported cards are available on the market. The board itself is quite small, but still encroaches into the space of the PCI slot immediately below it. The 50mm fan gives off a fair amount of noise, even when idle, but the card doesn't get overly hot, so you won't need to ramp up your case fans to account for it. It's also CrossFire ready, so two boards can be linked up on a CrossFire capable motherboard for twice the power.
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