I WAS LUCKY enough to obtain a Creative Labs X-Fi Fatality FPS sound card at the 2005 Quakecon. Curious about it I wanted to know whether or not CPU utilisation is reduced or whether the marketing claim about 10,000+ MIPS was anything but hype.
My testing procedure happened on a Shuttle SN95G5V3 with an AMD 4400+ 2GB (2x 1GB sticks) of memory running at 2-3-2-5 1T, a 74GB WD Raptor, a WD 320GB storage drive, X800XTPE and the two cards tested were a SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS, and the Creative X-Fi with 64 Mb of onboard ram.
The first thing I noticed when taking the card out of the box was that it included a power splitter, to my surprise in the manual this sound card needed to be connected to a floppy power connector.
A front drive bay was also included so that gamers and just anyone in general can have easier access to their audio ports on the front instead of the rear of their computer.
The card itself isn't that much different from my Audigy 2 ZS, it is a little bit shorter and the number of caps on the board is greatly reduced.
The card itself is very impressive to look at, the new chip doesn't need any cooling.
The number of jacks has decreased. There are only four output jacks, one of them labelled digital I/O - this jack acts as a line in when digital output isn't enabled.
The chip and the XRAM are supposed to usher in a new age of audio fidelity. Here you can see the chip and the 64MB of RAM used as a buffer.
The testing was done as follows. I resized my main partition on my 74GB raptor and created a new 10GB partition On this I installed Windows XP SP2 A full format for each sound card install to eliminate driver problems, when you have a 10K RPM drive, Windows installs in nine minutes flat, followed by the 5.10 NVIDIA WHQL drivers, video drivers (Catalyst 5.7), then the latest sound drivers on Creative's site for my ZS. That means installing a driver from 2003 first, rebooting, then installing the update from 2005, rebooting. Finally I installed the tool I use to benchmark Rightmark 3DSound ( here), installed version 1.24 then copied over the new 1.30 executables from a rar file found on a forum. Rebooted and began testing!
The latest version on the site is 1.24 but I used 1.30 which I found on the rightmark forum (http://forum.rightmark.org/topic.cgi?id=2:52 ). It fixed the issue on some machines that results wouldn't be shown after a benchmark. After experimenting with version 1.24 on two laptops of mine, on one it worked the other it didn't. I did not want to take the chance on my testing so I am using version 1.30.
These are the driver files used for my ZS:
These are the drivers and add-ons that came with the xfi cd, now normally I would never install all of this stuff but for the sake of review I figure why not show you what these guys offer.
Something that concerned me a little is while I was installing these drivers a popup came up telling me today is August 15, 2005 these drivers will time out on October 15, 2005 and that I may remove them safely then. What does this mean? I don't know. Will I have to get my drivers off the web? Probably.
The following settings were used for Rightmark 3DSound:
These are the following results for the SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS:
And now the X-Fi:
Why is the CPU usage higher? This makes no sense to me right now. I turned off all the extra effects, retested, same result. Something isn't quite right here.
I can tell you this right now though, my MP3s have never sounded better with this 24 bit crystalliser. This is no marketing gimmick, it works. My Ace of Base collection, my metal collection, and my very hard drum and bass techno they have a notably better sound. The 3D effects are astounding as well. Giving Half Life 2 a load up, I walked through the first level and when people started talking to me I just walked around them, jumped on top of cars next to them, and their position reflected what I was hearing in my headphones (Grado SR-80).
In conclusion, in one benchmark it uses a little more CPU horse power but frankly I don't care because my gaming hasn't been affected in a positive or negative way when it comes to frames per second. Where this card shines is the audio quality. I was one of those people who "upgraded" from an Audigy 1 to and Audigy 2, and saw no noticeable difference. This unit, on the other hand shows a vast improvement from the moment I hit play.
While messing around with the drivers more, I experimented with what Creative calls "modes" since this chip can change between them i rebenchmarked my system with game mode enabled. sound quality remained the exact same but CPU usage shrank down to 1.34%
To further explain the modes here is a screen shot with all three modes visible.
This sound card is proving to be great fun and I am still only scratching the surface of the features it has. µ
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