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As with all the other X-Fi cards, the Fatal1ty Pro is switchable between three modes: games, entertainment and content creation. Not really switching modes as such; just controls in software where the card assigns the bulk of its processing power.
Entertainment mode turns on the card's support for Dolby Digital EX and DTS surround sound in movies. It also enables the Crystallizer and CMSS 3D effects. The former aims to pump a bit of life back into tracks that have become a tad flat after being compressed using formats like MP3 and WMA. It does a surprisingly good job and doesn't wear on your ears like some of the other audio exciters we've used on rival cards. The CMSS 3D, on the other hand, is designed to widen and thicken music and movie soundtracks. It works OK with headphones, but the results when its upmixing music to output over surround sound speakers can be a bit hit and miss.
The content creation mode turns on the card's ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) drivers, which allow you to individually address the outputs in programs such as Reason and Cubase. It also tweaks the hardware for low latency performance (so there's little or no lag between pressing play in your music app and hearing the results spew out of the card) with the card capable of an ASIO latency of just 2ms.
However, most people who buy this card will be purchasing it for its gaming prowess, so the gaming mode is where the action really lies. Luckily the Fatal1ty Pro continues Creative's tradition of excellent support for gaming surround sound formats. Naturally there's comprehensive support for the company's own EAX 5.0 HD format alongside OpenAL. The card also has 64MB of speedy X-Ram which can be used by compatible games (such as Quake 4, Battlefield 2 and Unreal Tournament 3) to pre-load sounds so that precious processor cycles aren't wasted shifting audio from your PC's memory to the card during game play.
The Fatal1ty also has another trump card to play when it comes to gaming. As well as being able to feed a set of surround sound speakers via its analogue outputs, it can also encode gaming surround sound on the fly into Dolby Digital Live and shoot it out of its digital audio output to a surround sound decoder. The advantage of this is that you can connect the card to a speaker setup using a single optical cable, rather than having to use lots of analogue ones and ending up with the inevitable bird's nest of wires.