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Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook
Creative's Xtreme Audio Notebook is a reworked version of the audio company's entry-level Xtreme Audio PCI card, only for notebooks, as its name suggests. The card is the first product from Creative to make use of the Express card slot form factor, so only works with newer notebooks; it won't fit into a PC Card slot.
Like the Xtreme Audio, it doesn't actually contain a physical hardware X-Fi processor chip, despite the product name. What you get instead is a basic audio converter based on an improved Audigy 4 model. Creative's website make no bones about that fact that this is not card for gamers, although under ALchemy, it is possible. All the effects and processing is done in software, the assumption being that any laptop with an ExpressCard slot is going to have a CPU capable of soaking up the host-based effects processing.
There's a minijack connection that combines optical in, microphone and line, and also a headphone/optical out. The optional small break-out box offers up to 7.1 via the standard mini-jack connectors. This breakout unit is an essential requirement if you intend to use the card for any home theatre purposes so is a cost that will have to be factored in to the overall purchase, unlike the Audigy notebook, which came with a multi-connector cable. Currently the box only seems available from Creative's website and runs to a total of £30.
The card itself looks identical to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS notebook, except in silver. It's attractive enough, but it's not the most solidly built device. This is the first time I've used an ExpressCard slot and I found the card doesn't feel particularly secure when it's been clicked into place. As it requires a gentle push inwards to unseat it, plugging in an audio cable can very easily unplug the card. This isn't a criticism of Creative but I found myself preferring the feel of the older PCMCIA slots.
One of the main compelling reasons to purchase a card such as this would be the lack of ExpressCard sound cards out there. Obviously, USB is always an option but I find my Audigy Notebook gets used so regularly as it's such as simple and small device to carry round in the bag and requires no extra cables. Recognising this, the Xtreme comes with a rather neat pouch to protect it against all travel travails, along with the customary headphones (in white of course).