A couple of years ago Nvidia was busy developing the fastest gaming graphics chips in the world so that it could take on the might of 3dfx, and at that time it seemed to be happy to leave mobile graphics and other niche areas to the competition.
The result was that ATI had the Video In/Video Out market neatly sewn up with its All-In-Wonder range, but no longer. Nvidia has developed its Personal Cinema products to take on the All-In-Wonders head-to-head and this XFX FX5200 Personal Cinema is as close to a reference design as you’ll get.
The X-shaped box is quite funky and eye-catching, but it’ll go straight in the bin, so let’s forget about the packaging. The graphics card bears some scrutiny, though. At first glance it’s a regular FX5200 with VGA and DVI-I ports, however where you might expect to find a TV-Out port, instead there’s an unusual rectangular port.
Reach for the other box in the package, the one labelled ‘Personal Cinema’, and there’s an I/O (Input/Output) box on a length of cable that plugs into this strange port. One edge of the I/O box carries the input stereo audio, coaxial video and S-Video ports while the other has the outputs.
Hook up your TV, VCR, camcorder or whatever and you can shift TV and movie content to and from your PC as you like. In addition to the I/O box, XFX includes an Nvidia-designed remote control which communicates with a USB receiver. It looks exactly like the ATI AIW remote, so you can sit in the comfort of your armchair as you watch DVDs streaming from your PC to your TV.
This sort of hardware isn’t much use without appropriate software and XFX supplies Nvidia’s Personal Cinema software, which includes Intervideo WinDVR and Ulead DVD MovieFactory.
As we said, this really is a reference design so XFX is unable to take the credit for this neat list of features and tempting pricing, but on the bright side that means that XFX shouldn’t take the blame for the appalling performance of the FX5200 graphics chip, which is a horrible piece of silicon that is a cut-down version of the FX5600.
Although FX5200 supports DirectX 9 it lacks the Z compression and colour compression features that would allow it to play any DirectX 9 games at an acceptable frame rate. In addition the 250MHz clock speed and effective 333MHz memory speed are very low by current standards. Indeed the chip is so slow that it uses a passive heatsink with no need for an active cooler.
We tried overclocking the card but it got very hot indeed and performance actually dropped. Of course there are plenty of PC users who have no desire to play games, but it seems like a questionable move to install an AGP graphics card that positively prevents you from enjoying one of the pleasures of a modern PC. We haven’t seen an FX5700 personal Cinema card yet, but if it has the features of this XFX product – but with decent performance – then we’ll be far happier.