Gaming wise, this card can’t do the latest version of EAX, which is 5.0 HD. This technology gives a higher level of realism by recreating how an environment would affect the sound produced. For example, if you are fighting in a corridor, your gunshots will echo, as opposed to being outside. The differences are subtle but add the extra level of realism beyond what any graphics card can.
As EAX is a Creative technology, this sound card can’t do the latest version and Creative have only released EAX 2 for ‘general consumption’ for other sound card makers. The HDA X plosion only does version 2 of EAX (by software emulation) and until Creative are more generous with their technology, it’ll stay that way. Another similar technology called OpenAL which is essentially the same but released for anyone to use. There is no clear cut answer to whether or not OpenAL is supported on this card as there is nothing in its feature list but there are reports that it does.
From a gamers point of view, this card offers very little. With outdated EAX support, and possibly no OpenAL, there isn’t anything that’s above and beyond what onboard can do. Unlike the similarly priced X-Fi, there is no X-RAM which is designed to offload sound data to the cards onboard memory in supported applications for greater performance. There is DTS support, but this isn’t a widely touted feature of most games as the likelihood of you having a DTS sound card is low and hence there isn’t much demand for it. DTS is generally focused at DVD/media rather than gaming which is where I feel that this card is better suited. This isn’t going to appeal to the hardcore gamer, but will interest a media mogul or anyone who enjoys using their surround sound speakers at their native output.
In my opinion, the sound that this card sends to your ears isn’t as good as the X-Fi. It’s good, but sounds more like an onboard device rather than a stand-alone card. The main reason for this is X-Fi’s Crystallizer which makes high notes clearer and it makes low bitrate music/sounds clearer and sounds like they are much better quality. The bass of this card isn’t bad, but the Razer Barracuda card is slightly better performing.
The reason for this card is the single cable (be it optical or coaxial) to your home cinema and the upmixing. That’s something the X-Fi can’t do with a single cable, instead you’ll be stuck with several. Again, I would take the hit and go for the additional cables rather than the simplicity of this card as the sound quality is much better.
Gaming wise, I powered up Battlefield 2142 for a quick kill fest. The first thing that I noticed was constant popping and crackling when hardware based sound rendering was enabled. Going software was the only option which of course puts more load on the CPU to do the job the sound card should be.
Other games behaved better, but most don’t have an option to force using hardware instead of software. There was no way to tell the difference as a result.