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As with Creative's HS-1200 Wireless Gaming Headset, we're not dealing with a physical X-Fi chip here: though of course hardware processing is present, the majority of the effects are offloaded onto your machine's CPU, so there might be some impact on performance if you're running an older processor. Creative's minimum recommendation is a Pentium M 1.66GHz or equivalent.
So wireless connectivity aside, what does the X-Fi actually do for you over and above your laptop's integrated soundcard? The two main enhancements on offer are X-Fi Crystalizer and X-Fi CMSS-3D - the former of which attempts to restore the original impact to highly compressed music by intelligently enhancing some of the highs and lows. How well this works depends on the quality and type of your music, and to an extent on your own ear. We found it did have a positive effect on average, not only on low bit-rate MP3s but also during some videos encoded to a small size.
X-Fi CMSS-3D, meanwhile, is potentially the more interesting of the two, as it gives a virtual surround sound effect through stereo speakers or headphones. Again, this does work quite well, though naturally it won't match true surround setups. Its application is also much broader than X-Fi Crystalizer, lending depth to films and games especially.
Though not aimed specifically at gamers, the SoundBlaster X-Fi Notebook will also enhance your gameplay further with EAX 4.0 in compatible titles. With ALchemy for Vista now gratis, it's an attractive option.
Speaking of value, is the X-Fi Notebook worth its £61 asking price? If you're looking to pair it with one of Creative's wireless products it's an effective and high quality solution, especially if you're unwilling to rely on Bluetooth for your wireless audio needs. However, if you're looking to utilise this option, you could be spending up to £120 or more depending on how many receivers you plan to use. This makes it something of a luxury, but one that lives up to its billing when combined.
While definitely a luxury rather than a necessity, Creative's X-Fi Notebook is well-made, comes with some surprisingly decent headphones (which include an inline microphone) and delivers on what it promises. It's not cheap though, so it's worth checking out alternatives before buying.
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