Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS

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Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS

Pros

  • Sounds incredible

Cons

  • Pricey

Bottom Line

Overall, the SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS is an impressive piece of hardware that fulfils the key functions of a sound card better than any other consumer product. Hardcore gamers now face the difficult choice: a new graphics card, or an X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS?

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While many of us appear content with our motherboard's on-board audio, integrated sound drains precious CPU cycles - especially during games using 3D effects. To fix this, Creative has released the SoundBlaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS, one of four new sound cards featuring the new X-Fi chipset.

With 51 million transistors and an architecture that has much in common with current graphics processors, the X-Fi chipset is way ahead of existing audio hardware. This means more simultaneous voices and real-time effects, but there's more to it than just games performance.

The X-Fi's flexible architecture allows it to allocate resources dynamically when you switch between Games, Home Entertainment and Audio Production modes. In Games, the card puts its efforts into providing 128-voice support and EAX 5 environmental audio, Home Entertainment mode focuses on surround setups and CD/MP3 enhancements, while Audio production Mode provides recording frequencies from 44.1-96kHz, low-latency and hardware effects processing.

For headphone and two-speaker setups, Creative's new CMSS-3D provides the best "simulated" 3-D audio that we've ever heard, and this feature can be applied to any stereo signal. For example, using this with audio CDs or MP3 files gives them a much wider soundstage (much like Dolby ProLogic II Music).

Another new audio process is the 24-bit Crystalizer, which re-samples audio at 24 bits for a higher dynamic range. However, this is like resizing and sharpening a digital picture - the actual image detail isn't improved. What you're hearing is the volume and attack of audio "transients" (like percussion or plucked strings) being increased, giving music a more "aggressive" feel.

The difference in price between this and the $299 X-Fi Xtreme Music is down to a combination of external and on-board hardware. The X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS comes with a breakout panel for all your audio connectors (though FireWire has been dropped) and a remote control. More importantly, the card has 64MB of XRAM for storing audio data - like a graphics card's texture buffer - which means better performance from games that have been written/patched to take advantage of it (like Battlefield 2 and UT2004).

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