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The old adage about looks being deceiving applies to eVGA.com's e-GeForce FX 5600 Ultra graphics card. Upon first glance, it would appear to be a standard graphics card. And it is, but the 5600 also functions as an analog-video-capture card--and a capable one at that, as long as your video-capture needs are fairly basic. Secondly, with the 5600 Ultra representing the middle of the GeForce FX family, you might assume that the 5600 Ultra is a mainstream graphics card; but its price tag hints strongly that it is &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Envidia%2Ecom%2Fview%2Easp%3FPAGE%3Ddesktop" target="_blank">targeted more toward gamers and enthusiasts. Its performance is strong, but demanding games will push the card to its limits at high resolutions with advanced feature sets enabled.
In an effort to differentiate its products from the competition, many graphics card vendors attempt to add value by bundling a few games. There has typically been little else, however, to distinguish the various offerings based on the same graphics processing unit (GPU). eVGA's 5600 Ultra, on the other hand, marks a fairly new trend in graphics cards by including onboard Video In/Video Out (VIVO) functionality.
VIVO capabilities allow the graphics card to do additional duty as an analog-video-capture and video-output device. A special cable is provided, which includes composite and S-Video input and output jacks. The card itself does not capture audio, however. To include the audio portion of a video, you need to supply your own audio cable and route the audio through your system's sound card.
Conveniently, the bundled capture-and-editing software, CyberLink's PowerDirector 2.1 Pro ME, can capture video and audio from separate sources. The software is not the most intuitive, however, and it lacks the wizards that novices might otherwise find very useful. It includes all of the video-editing basics, such as transitions and title options, but it doesn't have the advanced feature sets of a more robust editing package.
During our video-capture testing, the card successfully captured video without dropping any frames. We ran into a significant problem, however, when we first installed the PowerDirector software: It crashed every time we tried to launch it. We finally resolved the problem by downloading and applying a patch from CyberLink's Web site.
We also had to download and install a patch from eVGA's site for the bundled DVD movie-playback software, NVDVD 2.0, to improve the video image quality, which was of very poor quality initially. We had better luck with the other bundled applications, including full versions of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, America's Army, and a demo version of EarthView.
The 5600 Ultra card features VGA, DVI, and S-Video ports on its backplane, and it comes with an S-Video cable and a DVI-to-VGA dongle. The card's dual-display support can be shared simultaneously among any two of the card's three outputs. In order for the card to work properly on your desktop, your system must have a 300-watt or greater power supply, with an available internal power connector that connects to the graphics board.
As its name implies, the 5600 Ultra is based on an Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra GPU. The 5600 Ultra's core runs at 400MHz, as does the card's 128MB of DDR SDRAM. The 5600 Ultra GPU is the middle sibling to the high-endand the entry-level/mainstream . Core engine and memory speeds differentiate the GeForce FX GPU family, as do more-advanced features designed into the hardware as you move up the family line. Non-Ultra versions of the GeForce FX family also exist and typically feature slower engine and memory speeds than those of their respective Ultra counterparts. All of this makes for a confusing bevy of graphics card configurations from which to choose.
The 5600 Ultra's primary competition is the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro. The Radeon 9600 Pro GPU also runs at 400MHz, but its 300MHz memory is 100MHz slower than that of the 5600 Ultra (look for a review of the 9600 Pro soon).
Pitting the 5600 Ultra against the 9600 Pro garners results that track well with what we've seen lately when comparing similar GPUs from Nvidia and ATI: there is no clear performance winner. For example, of the 22 performance tests we run (we publish the results for only the 10 most-demanding tests), the 5600 Ultra and the Radeon 9600 Pro were split down the middle, with each the performance leader on 11 tests.