The music [jazz, symphony, rock] coming from my Logitech speakers sound wonderful. Since I'm not a gamer, I had no idea about the young man's picture or how this card works for gamers [although it should be the same]..but as a retired sound engineer [for a PBS station back East] the music I listen to is crystal clear as with the sounds I've created for the web sites I've designed.
Boost your desktop's audio performance with a sound card from one of the premier names in computer audio—Creative Labs. The Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty sound card is designed to enhance your PC gaming experience. Named for professional gamer, Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, the card's X-Fi 24-bit Crystalizer will make your game audio more dynamic and realistic while improving both low and high frequencies giving you smoother, cleaner sound and immersing you in the game environment.
The card's audio processor, with help from Creative's CMSS-3D technology, is able to remix your stereo audio into surround sound—even through stereo headphones. This is ideal for playing first-person shooters so you can hear your enemies before it's too late. There's 64MB of onboard RAM as well, freeing up demands on your PC's memory and increasing overall gaming performance. Music and movies benefit from Creative's audio technology know-how, too. For enjoying your favorite DVDs, the card is THX certified and can handle decoding DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX duties.
The Crystalizer and CMSS-3D technology also team together to improve your digital music and let you "SuperRip" your CDs boosting the fidelity of ripped audio above that of low-quality MP3 files. Plus, the 5.25-inch I/O Drive gives you access to inputs and outputs from the front of your computer and the bundled remote turns your computer into a full entertainment center. X-RAMX-RAM allows high quality audio samples to be loaded into dedicated audio RAM rather than system RAM for a further boost in performance beyond standard Sound Blaster X-Fi technology in certain implementations. X-Fi 24-bit CrystalizerThe X-Fi 24-bit Crystalizer enhances MP3 and movie sound for cleaner, smoother and more audio that is even better than what you would expect from original CDs or DVDs!
It even automatically upgrades existing games to Xtreme Fidelity quality. X-Fi CMSS-3D Intelligent Surround Sound RemixingWith X-Fi CMSS-3D, intelligently upgrades your MP3 music, movies and games to surround sound using your multi-channel speakers. X-Fi SuperRipWith X-Fi SuperRip technology, rip your CDs into Xtreme Fidelity quality and enjoy permanently enhanced music! EAX ADVANCED HD 5.0EAX ADVANCED HD 5.0 delivers incredibly realistic gaming audio.
Drench yourself in an exceptionally dynamic and sensational gaming world. Hardware DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX DecodingWith DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX decoding, enjoy the latest cinematic technologies for the ultimate Home Theater PC experience! I purchased this sound card for my new gaming m-atx rig. I knew from the start that this sound card wasn't designed for audiophiles. The sound it produces is 100x better than onboard sound without a doubt, but compared to other sound cards within this price range there are better alternatives.
Alternatives such as Creative's own Titanium HD, which I also own.This sound card is deigned to give you the best precised audio precision and this sound card delivers with flying colors in that category. You can easily hear precised foot steps in games like Counter-Strike: GO in the correct positions they are coming from.
The Recon3D also includes an updated version of Alchemy to enable games with software accelerated sound.The microphone is comes with is pretty neat. It has dual microphones that connect together to give you a omnidirectional like microphone. It's post to latch onto your voice and block out environmental sounds. I don't use it because all my friends say I sound clearer with my $10 Logitech microphone. The Creative control panel also includes a feature to help reduce ambient noise.Overall, if you are looking at purely a gaming sound card then this one is the best one to get.
If you are looking more for audio quality, maybe take a look at an Asus Xonar. If you want an overall good in both categories but nothing amazing take a look at Creative's Titanium HD. I purchased and installed one of these just a couple of days ago..First of all, I'd like to make one point clear:I have an Evga 680i Motherboard, which runs on Nvidia Nforce 680i Chipset, and I have NO problems whatsoever with the sound card.The sound on my 5.1 config is crystal clear, with no popping, hissing or any kind of noise.I innitially installed the Sound Drivers included on the CD (which presented no problems either) and then proceeded to autoupdate to the current driver verion.I upgraded from an Audigy SE card, and the sound difference is quite noticeable.
I'm discovering new sound effects and details I wasn't hearing before on my Mp3s and Games. Also, it totally eliminated some stuttering problems I was having with new games like BioShock and MOH Airborne.The EXA environmental sounds are rich and detailed, with realistic sounding echoes, sound distance perception, and on-target positional audio.Took off one star due to the price (around $130) which still seems too expensive for a Sound card.
Also, I was dissapointed to find out that the 64MB of so-called "X-RAM" seem more like marketing Hype then anything else.I received Zero FPS increase on games (even the ones that claim to support it). Maybe this is noticeable on lower end systems, but on my overclocked Core 2 E6700 with 2GB of HyperX DDR1200, there has been no FPS increse over the Audigy.Overall, this is an outstanding sound card due to its high quality sound fidelity, but Xram doesn't seem to do much.
So it might be a good idea to save a few bucks and go for a regular XtremeGamer or XtremeMusic edition.
What’s especially puzzling about the X-Fi’s port cluster is the fact that there’s a fourth jack just sitting there. That port can be switched between an analog mic/line in port and a digital output port, but for some reason, it’s impossible to configure it as an analog surround output.
The X-Fi Fatal1ty makes up for these limitations with a 5.25″ drive bay insert that serves up a wide variety of extra ports. The Fatal1ty I/O drive offers digital Coaxial and TOS-Link S/PDIF input and output ports, analog RCA inputs, and 1/4″ headphone and microphone jacks. Individual volume knobs are available for the headphone and mic jacks, as well, although the knobs protrude about half an inch from the front of the drive bay so they may interfere with the drive bay doors on some cases.
For the musically inclined, the Fatal1ty I/O drive offers MIDI input and output ports, complete with a couple of MIDI adapter plugs. Creative also throws a 3.5mm-to-1/4″ headphone/mic adapter into the box, along with a little something extra for the home theater PC crowd.
Home theater PC aspirations?
Fatal1ty-branded products are primarily targeted at gamers and enthusiasts, but that hasn’t stopped Creative from including an IR remote control with the X-Fi Fatal1ty.
It’s actually a pretty nice remote, and we were surprised to find that the 24-bit Crystalizer, CMSS-3D, 3DMIDI, EAX, and volume control wheels work throughout Windows.
The individual controls even worked in games, complete with handy pop-ups icons illustrating the intensity level of each effect. Control over CMSS-3D, the 24-bit Crystalizer, and volume should come in especially handy when gaming, as different games tend to require little tweaks here and there.
Unfortunately, the remote’s other functions are limited to Creative’s bundled Entertainment Center software. Entertainment Center isn’t all that bad, but it’s a far cry from Windows Media Center Edition. Still, Entertainment Center is capable of playing back multichannel DVD-Audio, a feature missing from many media center apps.
Our testing methods
To test the X-Fi Fatal1ty’s X-RAM, we’ll be comparing the card’s performance with that of the X-RAM-less X-Fi XtremeMusic in Battlefield 2 and Quake 4—the only commercial titles that currently support Creative’s onboard memory scheme. We’ll also be testing the Fatal1ty’s audio playback quality in RightMark Audio Analyzer to see how it compares with the XtremeMusic, and we’ve even probed some of the Fatal1ty I/O drive’s extra input and output ports.
Since this review focuses on the Fatal1ty’s unique features, we haven’t run the card through a full suite of audio performance and listening tests against a wider range of competitors. You can see how the X-Fi stacks up against other sound cards in our exhaustive XtremeMusic review. We have included our motherboard’s integrated Realtek ALC850 AC’97 audio as a reference point, though.
All tests were run at least twice, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.
|Processor||AMD Athlon 64 3500+ 2.2GHz|
|System bus||HyperTransport 16-bit/1GHz|
|Motherboard||DFI LANParty UT NF4 SLI-DR Expert|
|North bridge||NVIDIA nForce4 SLI|
|Chipset drivers||ForceWare 6.70|
|Memory size||2GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair CMX1024-3500LLPRO DDR SDRAM at 400MHz|
|CAS latency (CL)||2|
|RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)||3|
|RAS precharge (tRP)||2|
|Cycle time (tRAS)||6|
|Hard drives||Western Digital Raptor WD360GD 37GB SATA|
|Audio|| Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic|
Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty
|Audio driver||Creative 2.07.0004||Realtek 3.82|
|Graphics||NVIDIAGeForce 7800 GTX with ForceWare 81.98 drivers|
|OS||Microsoft Windows XP Professional|
|OS updates||Service Pack 2, DirectX 9.0c|
Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. 2GB of RAM seems to be the new standard for most folks, and Corsair hooked us up with some of its 1GB DIMMs for testing.
Our test systems were powered by OCZ PowerStream power supply units. The PowerStream was one of our Editor’s Choice winners in our latest PSU round-up.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5
- Quake 4 1.0.4
- Battlefield 2 1.2
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the Medium detail image quality settings, with the exception that the resolution was set to 640×480 in 32-bit color.
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
We tested both Battlefield 2 and Quake 4 by using FRAPS and playing through a portion of the game manually. For these games, we played through five 90-second gaming sessions per config and captured average and low frame rates for each. The average frames per second number is the mean of the average frame rates from all five sessions. We also chose to report the median of the low frame rates from all five sessions, in order to rule out outliers. Finally, we’ve included an extra graph that tracks average frame rates over the length of our 90-second gaming session. We found that these methods gave us reasonably consistent results.
In Battlefield 2, the X-Fi cards were run with the game’s Creative X-Fi audio renderer and ultra high sound quality. The X-Fi renderer doesn’t work with the ALC850, so it was run with the game’s hardware renderer. Using the hardware renderer for the ALC850 also dropped the in-game sound quality setting from ultra high to high quality. EAX was enabled for all configurations.
Battlefield 2’s video quality options were set to their highest values throughout, with the exception of antialiasing, which was disabled.
So much for Battlefield 2’s use of X-RAM. Although the Fatal1ty manages slightly higher average and median low frame rates in the Strike at Karkand level, it’s a little behind the XtremeMusic in the Dalian Plant level. The Fatal1ty doesn’t appear to maintain smoother frame rates over the length of our 90-second test, either.
At least both X-Fis offer higher average and low frame rates than the ALC850. The ALC850 also doesn’t sound nearly as good, offering fewer simultaneous sounds, duller playback, and numerous positional miscues.
In Battlefield 2, the X-Fi cards were run with the game’s OpenAL sound system and EAX Advanced HD enabled. The OpenAL sound system isn’t compatible with the ALC850, so we tested the ALC850 with the game’s default sound system and surround speaker setting.
Quake 4’s video quality setting was set to high quality mode with antialiasing disabled.
Unfortunately, Quake 4 is capped at 60 frames per second, and both of our gameplay sessions spent most of their time at or above that level. That didn’t leave much room for X-RAM to differentiate itself, or even for the X-Fi cards to meaningfully distance themselves from the ALC850.
Capped frame rates aside, the X-Fis clearly sounded better than the ALC850. Sounds were much richer on the Creative cards, and although we didn’t encounter any positional miscues with the ALC850, it did seem to be playing fewer simultaneous sounds than the X-Fi cards.
Quake 4 – con’t
There are two ways to get around Quake 4’s capped frame rates, but neither is particularly attractive. We could increase the game’s video quality settings in an attempt to lower performance, but that could potentially confuse the issue by making the graphics card the bottleneck. Instead, we elected to disable the frame rate cap in the console by using the set com_fixedtic 1 command. This disables the cap, but since in-game physics are tied to the frame rate, it also makes things move a little faster than normal. A com_fixedtic value of -1 is supposed to disable the frame rate cap but keep the game’s physics in-check, but it doesn’t appear to work with the Quake 4 build we used for testing.
Not even removing Quake 4’s frame rate cap makes the X-Fi Fatal1ty’s X-RAM relevant. That’s a little surprising considering that Creative’s own web site points out that the game uses X-RAM to cache uncompressed audio. Sill, our results were consistent across five test runs.
Interestingly, the ALC850 doesn’t have much of a problem keeping up, even with the frame rate cap removed. However, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions given that the ALC850’s using a different in-game sound system.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – 16-bit/44.1kHz
RightMark Audio Analyzer was used to measure the audio quality of each sound card objectively. To obtain this first batch of results, we used RMAA’s “loopback” test, which routes a sound card’s front channel output through its line input. We’ll kick things off with 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality audio.
To keep things simple, I’ve translated RightMark’s word-based quality scale to numbers. Higher scores reflect better audio quality, and the scale tops out at 6, which corresponds to an “Excellent” rating.
As expected, the X-Fi Fatal1ty ties the XtremeMusic throughout. The ALC850 falls well short across the board.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – 24-bit/48kHz
My Nine Inch Nails With Teeth dual disc’s DVD-Audio tracks are 24-bit/48kHz, so we ran RMAA at those bit and sampling rates. Unfortunately, the ALC850 doesn’t support high-definition audio formats, so it’ll have to sit out.
Again, we see the Fatal1ty tie the XtremeMusic. The cards just about ace the RMAA tests, too.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – 24-bit/96kHz
Since the X-Fis support 24-bit audio at up to 96kHz for both playback and recording, we’ve run an additional set of RMAA tests at that resolution and sampling rate.
And once more, the Fatal1ty and XtremeMusic are even. This confirms my experience with both cards in casual listening tests, where I found it impossible to distinguish between the two.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – Fatal1ty I/O drive – 16-bit/44.1kHz
Our first round of RMAA tests were conducted with an audio cable running from the Fatal1ty’s front channel output to its line input, both of which are located along the card’s PCI backplane. Since one of the Fatal1ty’s key features is its I/O drive, we’ve also run a couple of the drive’s extra ports through the RMAA wringer. Here, we’ve tested with the I/O drive-mounted headphone output connected to the card’s line input, and with the card’s front channel output connected to the I/O drive’s microphone input. We’ve also included our first set of results, which use the card’s front channel output and line input, for reference.
Again, we’ll get things started with 16-bit/44.1kHz audio.
Results are reasonably close across the different input and output ports, but there appears to be a subtle drop in quality when using the I/O drive’s mic and headphone ports.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – Fatal1ty I/O drive – 24-bit/96kHz
Switching to 24-bit/48kHz audio amplifies the performance gap between the Fatal1ty’s card- and I/O drive-mounted ports in the noise level and dynamic range tests.
RightMark Audio Analyzer – Fatal1ty I/O drive – 24-bit/96kHz
Bumping up to 96kHz doesn’t help the I/O drive, either. There’s still a large gap in the noise level and dynamic range tests, and smaller differences throughout the rest of our RMAA results.
We’ve been impressed with Creative’s X-Fi audio processor since its launch, but X-RAM doesn’t live up to the hype. Only Battlefield 2 and Quake 4 even support X-RAM, and neither’s use of the X-Fi Fatal1ty’s 64MB of onboard memory results in higher in-game frame rates or superior audio quality. That’s a disappointing result, although since neither Battlefield 2 nor Quake 4 was developed from the ground up with onboard sound card memory in mind, our results are hardly a condemnation of X-RAM as a technology.
As games process an increasing number of simultaneous sounds and gamers demand higher fidelity, X-RAM could start to make a lot of sense. Yet despite Creative’s claims that more X-RAM-aware titles are coming, we really have to wonder whether developers will be willing to dedicate significant resources to fully exploiting a feature that’s only available on high-end sound cards that cost upwards of $250. Upcoming titles will clearly have to do more with X-RAM than Battlefield 2 and Quake 4 if onboard sound card memory is to become a must-have feature for gamers and enthusiasts.
So X-RAM may not be living up to its potential, but the rest of the X-Fi Fatal1ty is pretty impressive. The card boasts equivalent audio quality to the X-Fi XtremeMusic, which to our ears sounds better than any consumer-level PC sound card on the market. The Fatal1ty I/O drive is nice to have, too, if only to make up for the rather sparse array of output ports available on the card itself. Just keep in mind that the playback and recording quality of those I/O drive-mounted analog audio ports isn’t quite as good as those connected directly to the card.
The fact that the I/O drive is the X-Fi Fatal1ty’s saving grace actually doesn’t bode too well for the card. A virtually identical I/O drive is available with the X-Fi Platinum for as little as $152 online. That’s about $100 less than the Fatal1ty, and all you really lose is a red LED and X-RAM. Considering X-RAM’s dubious performance benefits with current titles, that’s not much of a loss. You’re far better off with an X-Fi Platinum or an XtremeMusic, at least until games are able to leverage X-RAM for tangible performance of quality benefits—unless, of course, you really like red LEDs.