Alexander the Great had it easy. Imagine if, instead of conveniently dying just at the point he had conquered the known world, he had been forced to live for another 60 years.

With no horizons left to explore or civilisations left to conquer, would we remember him as a fat, miserable old drunk with an obsession with administrative squabbles, or the dashing young hero of school history books today?

So what happens when you become so successful that everyone else just gives up trying? Creative is doing a pretty good job of solving this Gordian problem. Last year's X-Fi topped its own superlative Audigy in terms of onboard processing power.

Throwing an expensive, 50-odd million transistor, 400MHz chip onto a consumer level sound card could have seemed foolhardy at a time when most folks are satisfied with the results they get from integrated options. Instead it proved that there is somewhere higher than the top, and that PC sound could - and deserved to - get better.

Some of the claims you might hear regarding X-Fi are a tad spurious: yes, it shows significantly less CPU utilisation than other sound cards, but the framerate advantage this confers to games is nowhere near big enough to make it part of the purchasing decision.

Similarly, no amount of 'Crystallisation' (Creative's neat sound enhancement function) is going to save a badly encoded MP3 from sounding like cats dancing on a tin roof in the rain.

But it does make games sound richer. Moving from an integrated sound chip to an X-Fi is a noticeable leap in quality. A 109dB signal-to-noise ratio and THX certification can't be argued with, even if you're not using the full 7.1 output.

We like X-Fi, then, and we like the new range refresh even more, mainly because it's a price cut across the board.

The Xtreme Gamer version shown here shouldn't be confused with the previous Fatal1ty gaming versions of the card - there's no front panel connector, nor is there any onboard RAM for caching sounds. Instead, we have a no frills, fully featured, half-height reworking of the X-Fi Xtreme Music card, and one that gets on fine with Vista.

The reduction in size helps with airflow in small form factor cases, but does leave the mic in and digital out sharing a jack, so you can't connect both at once. Most importantly, though, there's a £30 drop in the price. It's strange to see a sound card seeming like good value, but that's what we've got here. Adam Oxford