If you're a Creative fan and need pcie this is the product
May 27, 2010
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Pcie slot (more resources=more performance), soundblaster name, excellent directional, supports many speaker standards
Cons:Fidgety install, issues on 64 bit os, issues on nvidia sli chipset systems.
The Bottom Line: Pcie a bit young yet, may be a fidgety install, stick with pci unless you want some technological challenges but worth the battle. Research the differences in the 3 models.
I've always been a loyal soundblaster customer, in the past their cards were much superior to other brands in many ways; they were pretty much the standard. That isn't so true anymore there are other products now just as compatible with games and with just as many features. My favorite reason for sticking with soundblaster has always been the "directional" accuracy of the sounds put out by the card to the speakers. Even with only two speakers the sound is fairly accurate as to direction in the games I play (so you can hear the baddie sneaking up behind you, coming in from the side etc.). I've also always felt that their "microphone" handling was superior to other cards, people can always hear me over the mic with soundblaster cards while they complain about choppiness or weak sound with other cards (especially the built in chips that come on most all motherboards these days).
Recommend this product?
Creative has been around for years, their early products were pci (maybe asa don't remember exactly) and there are still many excellent pci products available because not everyone has upgraded to pcie (which is fast replacing pci). Pcie in theory offers a speedier bus than pci which should mean better performance, and the slots are backwards compatible with pcie cards that don't need a full bus (ie. you can plug a 4x pcie card into a 16x pcie slot and it will work). Since Pcie is a bit new there seems to be a few growing pains with pcie sound card products in general.
There are about 3 different pcie versions of this sound card (I own two of them, the cheapie and the professional), be sure you research so you know the differences before you buy. The lowest priced product reportedly does not have its own "sound processor and memory" it uses system resources to do its job. For most of us...that doesn't make much difference, but the audiophile may not have the same opinion. You will wonder why the cheap one is fifty bucks, the professional is a hundred fifty and the champion is over two hundred dollars. It has to do with the onboard processor, and, in the case of the champion the extra front panel that provides convenient controls and jacks without going into the software on the computer or pulling out the case to plug into the back of the pc. The professional can be upgraded to the champion by purchasing the front panel feature separately (79.00).
I'm not going to reprint the specs on the cards you can easily find that at http://www.soundblaster.com. The jacks on the back of the card are fairly standard except that there is no more "pink" microphone jack at least on the professional and champion models (as I remember the cheap one still has a pink jack). Color codes have gotten pretty common for sound cables and sound card jacks. X-fi professional no longer has a pink mic jack it's now blue and has other functions besides microphone--which is not unusual for a card that can support speaker setups from two desktop speakers to 7.1 surround with dolby etc. etc. etc.
There are tons of opinions going both ways on the soundblaster pcie products. There appear to be some issues with some motherboards that support SLI (2 nvidia video cards)...most of which seem to be occuring with SLI chipsets (primarily NVIDIA for AMD cpus); haven't been any issues yet for intel chipsets supporting SLI that I've read about. My MSI board has the NVIDIA 750a SLI (for Phenom II AMD cpu socket AM3). I've not seen any reports of issues with that particular nvidia chipset and apparently sometimes even if a board does have one of the questionable chipsets, it doesn't occur on every brand of motherboard.
SLI and/or Crossfire multi video card setups really stress the bus on a motherboard. SLI sucks a lot of system cycles from the cpu and the memory bus, what happens is that the pcie soundblaster products are literally being "starved of resources" because other hardware has a higher priority on the system bus highway; techie hardware wonks have found a few ways around the issues (check forums). When the pcie soundblaster is starved of resources you get pops, crackles, static, hiss, all kinds of annoying stuff. Creative has been releasing fixes and work arounds for this but there are still complaints. I have not yet heard of any crossfire motherboards with AMD chipsets having a problem (since AMD bought ATI they now are exclusively ATI with Crosffire, only Nvidia seems to be supporting AMD cpu with SLI). This issue might also be affected by the speed of your DDR3 ram and whether you're using a 2 core Phenom cpu or not...I don't think anyone's studied it in quite that way yet.
Another issue you may see mentioned on forums is with systems sporting over 4 gig ram running a 64 bit os like xp professional 64 bit, vista 64 bit or windows 7 64 bit; those folks are having driver installation problems and some other issues as well. I've seen other reports of problems with microphones do to the deletion of the microphone boost that all past soundblaster products had and problems with recording audio through the jacks (much whining about the deletion of that feature).
When you read stuff like this keep in mind that fixes may have been released, there is such a plethora of different OS and hardware that often a product can only be given testing with some common items and the manufacturers depend on the end users to tell them about stuff they run into with their particular configurations. Which is why I tend to make it my policy to not buy brand new hardware...wait two years for the bugs to be fixed by somebody else ;-).
Like so many companies these days, phone tech support is almost something of the past. You'll be better off sending an email or joining Creative's forum or one of the hundreds of other forums where people help each other. In the case of Creative's forums there are techs that hang out in there and answer questions...they are listening it just may be really annoying to not be able to get anyone on the phone; they do have a pay phone support program...but I say why? I like to battle out my own problems, I learn a lot that way that can be applied to future issues and I also get the satisfaction of helping somebody else on a forum if they run into the same thing.
What's in the box:
Quick install poster with plugs clearly marked and some basic speaker configuration and connection instructions.
Driver and software disc
You get a lot of the typical stuff provided by creative
Tray utility for handy controls for eq, crystalizer, speaker tester, volume, etc.
A recording utility that cleans up hiss etc.
List goes on see www.soundblaster.com
You can pick and choose what you want to load
Pull your old drivers and software out before installing a new card. Open the case, plug in the card, screw it down to the backplane, this card needs a pcie 1x-4x slot, the pcie slots are backwards compatible so it'll work in any pcie slot you may find on newer motherboards up to and including x16 slot (but why, those are usually provided for video cards nothing else).
Start the computer, if your motherboard has onboard sound you may need to enter your bios and disable the onboard sound...some motherboards disable it automatically when they detect the new sound card. My MSI board may be that way, I can't find a setting to turn off onboard sound but it does provide a codec selection.
Install software and drivers: The drivers you need, all the other junk you may not need. Drivers on product disks are often old, go to creative and get the latest ones or run windows update to see if microsoft has their own drivers for it. In my case...drivers didn't want to load it kept showing up as an unknown device. Experienced tech heads know how to force a driver installation from the control panel for the device which is what I ended up doing...I think my problem was using the drivers off the disk instead of following my own advice and downloading the newest ones first. A messy registry can also cause issues with driver loads, I recommend ccleaner (http://www.ccleaner.com) which is a donateware program (if you like it send him twenty over pay pal) and clean my pc registry cleaners; both found a lot of junk that may have been an issue for me. Be aware, that at least on my system the WDM driver would not install and I was getting no sound. Cleaning the registry and ripping out the WDM driver from the control panel fixed my problem...must not be needed on xp 64 professional for some reason(?).
Updates: Creative provides an update utility that will update your software and drivers automatically; handy works good. Don't let microsoft install drivers on update they're older than what creative has.
I've only had this working since this morning, I started up some hard rock music, played with the eq, turned it up loud, turned on the crystalizer (can't really do dolby with only two speakers so can't test that). When you first load drivers it asks if you want game mode, that can be changed with the tray utility loaded with your drivers. I have an SLI setup on my motherboard and I am running a pair of Geforce 9600 gt cards, booted up the favorite game on full quality mode (sucking hard on resources), sound was perfect no crackles or pops or hiss and the directional qualities of the audio are as good as any other soundblaster card I've owned.
Pcie sound cards like this one are a little new and apparently having some growing pains. If not for the fact that the only pci slot on my motherboad is too close to the second pcie x16 slot for the second video card (would block the video card fan and air flow) I probably would have stuck with my old reliable pci audigy card. The pci soundblasters are pretty darn good. If you're not forced to a pcie slot because of the connectors on your motherboard, or, you're not a fidgety techno wonk, you might want to stay with the pci cards for a bit till all the bugs have been addressed and all the os properly supported for the pcie products.
Now that it's all working it seems to be pretty dang good (should be for a hundred fifty bucks) and I'll be saving up for the front panel upgrade to Champion. Games are always a good test for hardware like this, especially the newer first person games that tend to really stress the system and if you're going to run into the snap,crackle, pop problem on an sli board you'll certainly hear it in a game first! It was a little annoying to have to force the card to install but the windows install I have has been on the machine for years and probably needs a fresh install, which might have been the difficulty. I will post more as I test out the recording capabilities. If you've already got a product like roxio you shouldn't even need the creative utilities that do the same thing, I haven't tried roxio with this yet but it's always been able to properly identify and use other sound cards that are installed in the machine that it is on.
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