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Creative may now dominate the sound card market with even competitors like Auzentech using its technology, but thankfully the company still has its eye on innovation. While most sound cards are designed to be fitted in older, slower PCI slots, the Fatal1ty Pro uses the company's latest EMU20K2 chip which has been tweaked to add native PCI Express support. As a result it will happily sit in a x1, x4 or x16 PCI-E slot, meaning that it'll still be useable in the future, long after the slower PCI bus has gone the way of the dodo.
When you take the Fatal1ty Pro out of the box you'll notice that it looks quite different to your run-of-the-mill sound card. This is down to the large black shielding jacket that covers the main circuit board and helps shield it from other cards and noisy components inside your computer. The only other visual tweak is a small X-Fi logo which is backed by a white LED so it glows when your computer is turned on. Naturally, this serves no purpose other than to make you feel smug about owning a top-of-the-range card.
That said, the Fatal1ty Pro is not exactly overflowing with inputs and outputs. It supports 7.1 analogue output via four mini jack sockets, with the first doubling as a headphone jack. Sitting next to these you'll find the stereo microphone socket and the optical digital input and output ports. On the circuit board there's also a standard front-panel connector so if you computer's case has front-mounted headphone and mic jacks they can be hooked up to the card.
Creative has become known for its software bloat and this card is no different. On the install disc you'll find lots of unnecessary applications including Creative's iffy MediaSource manager. Bizarrely some of the essential stuff, like PowerDVD, has to be downloaded from the web and you also have to register the card online to unlock one of it's key features, the ability to encode a live surround sound stream into Dolby Digital.