The Fatal1ty (pronounced ‘Fatal-one-tee’ :P) card was shipped in full retail packaging, and it’s a little over the top, but is eye-catching and it’s something that I can imagine being on the shelves at a PC store. The front of the box flips up revealing a page of information all about the cards capabilities.
It must be good sign that the cards processor has a heatsink. The box contains everything that you would need to get started with the board. It contains:
- The card itself
- The 5 ½” I/O drive
- Quick start leaflet
- Remote control
- 2 x mini MIDI to standard MIDI converters
- 6.35mm to 3.5mm converter
- 2 AA batteries
- Ribbon cable to connect the I/O drive to the sound card
- Power splitter cable (used for the 5 ½” drive)
- Installation CDs
The box tells you everything you could possibly ever need to know about the card. All of its key features are listed on the box somewhere.
Inside, you find the card itself, which is finished in a gold colour. The boards PCB is black, much like all the previous Sound Blaster cards. You have to attach the socket colour bands yourself, which means you can leave them off if you don’t need them.
The front I/O drive is all shiny black plastic with a small black box on the corner, with the Fatal1ty logo on it. It has the following connectors on it:
- 2 x RCA jacks for coaxial SPDIF input and output
- 2 x RCA jacks for Auxiliary input
- 2 x optical connectors for optical SPDIF input and output
- 2 x MIDI female connectors for input and output
- Headphone output with volume control via 6.35mm stereo jack
- Shared line-level analog Line/Mic input via 6.35mm stereo jack
All of this should make this card an attractive buy for a professional audio user.
The remote control that comes with the card is silver, and feels quite cheap compared to the rest of the product. However, it does offer a few features that make it a useful tool. I’ll go into this later in the review.
The X-Fi has several music enhancing features that it can apply to any audio output. My favourite is the 24-bit Crystalizer. This is a filter that improves hard hitting sounds such as cymbals etc. Most compressed music is normalized meaning that all the sounds are of a similar level. The 24-bit Crystalizer changes this and once again brings back the sharp sounds. It really does change the sound for the better. The change is subtle, even on the max setting, but you can tell when its on or off.
Included in the software package is SuperRip which rips your favourite CDs with the 24-bit Crystalizer on, meaning that the end result is a rip that sounds better than the original CD. Also, the song can be played on a PC which doesn’t have an X-Fi sound card with the effect intact. The SuperRip ability can also rip using the CMSS-3D feature too.
Which brings me on to: CMSS-3D. This is a feature that changes the way that audio sounds to make it seem like you have more speakers. This works really well with headphones, due to the way that the technology works. With stereo desktop speakers, the effect is there but definitely doesn’t work as well. I found that the SteelSound 5H v2 headphones were particularly good with the effect. I can’t quite figure out however, how this effect would help whilst gaming. The feature makes it seem like you have more speaker to make the sound envelope you. However, in a game you want sounds coming from different directions (i.e. footsteps coming from behind you). CMSS-3D would make it seem like the footsteps are all around you. Whilst this makes it seem like you are more part of the game, it doesn’t really replace surround sound. With that said it’s still a nice feature. CMSS-3D will work differently depending on the shape of your ears, due to the way that the technology works. In plain terms, this simply means that it’ll work better for some people and worse/not at all for others.
This card supports EAX 5.0 Advanced HD which has many awesome features that really does make gaming more realistic. I’m not going to go into everything that EAX 5 does, but if you want to read more on the topic, click here. EAX is Creative’s own technology that they have been working with for several generations. EAX modifies the sound output in a way that the environment that you in would. For example, if you are in a concert hall, the sound would echo slightly. This is a VERY dumbed down explanation of EAX, and the real effect can’t really be described. Suffice to say, you’ll crap your pants when playing a game like Doom 3 even more :).
Another major feature of the X-Fi card (specifically the Fatal1ty and the Elite Pro versions) is the X-RAM. This is RAM dedicated to sound, and sound alone. This means that system RAM is not wasted on sound data. It also means that the X-Fi card has faster access to the information, which is essential when the cards processor has to do so much. X-RAM means that gaming performance increases while extra effects (e.g. EAX or the 24-bit Crystalizer) can still be applied. The lower end cards in the X-Fi range don’t have the X-RAM installed and hence wouldn’t be able to play games without some sort of performance lose.