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Software installation under Vista was straight forward and featured the usual Creative software jungle. The audio console is similar to the one used in the other X-Fi cards but this one only has the entertainment mode. It's worth pointing out that there are no ASIO drivers for this card and even Asio4All didn't want to work with the card, although the internal one worked fine). Creative now includes an auto update applet. Normally I dislike these but it's rather more convenient than wading through Creative's site. There's an optional download of Alchemy, which provides EAX effects in games that used to use them in hardware under XP, but which due to Vista's rather ham fisted approach to audio, no longer has these effects. Controversially, Creative is charging for this application for cards not under the X-Fi brand, but if you intend on any game playing, it's definitely worth the download.
CMSS first appeared on the Audigy cards and it works as well as always here (which is not at all for me, but I have weird ears and any psychoacoustic-based surround sound has little or no effect, common for about 20 per cent of people).
For certain types of compressed music, particularly music that has a strong beat, the Crystalizer can be quite effective. As a music producer myself, I am not fond of anything that reports to 'enhance' the sound of music tracks - that's what we spend most of our time doing in the first place. Adding any environmental effects to music, such as the EAX reverbs, is enough to make me go green and require a trip to the nearest sartorial boutique, but MP3 compression can do horrific things to audio, so the Crystallizer function, in moderation, can help bring some life back to a limpid MP3 track. It sounds like a cross between the traditional 'loud' function as found on many tape players and some interesting processing, to make the sounds with a swift attack sound sharper and better defined.
As an alternative to onboard notebook sound, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook is a reasonable solution, but I really don't like having to source and buy the breakout box separately, which does push the price up out of the low budget range.
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