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Creative SoundBlaster Live! X-Gamer

A few years ago when shopping for a soundcard the only consideration was whether the card compatible with the original SoundBlaster standard. At the time all soundcards used ISA slots except for the very high-end PCI cards used by professionals. Obviously this is no longer true so when I set off to buy a soundcard recently to replace my old tired ISA card I came home with the Creative SoundBlaster Live! X-Gamer. I was originally shopping for a SoundBlaster Live! Value but decided to go with the newer card as it was the one that replaced the Value.

Features:

  • EMU10K1 audio processor (same as all other SoundBlaster Live! cards)
  • Environmental Audio support (EAX)
  • DirectSound support
  • PCI bus
  • Includes full versions of Descent 3, Need for Speed 4:High Stakes, Thief: The Dark Project
  • Game Demos: Myth 2, Alien vs. Predator (marine and predator demos)
  • Requires Pentium 133 or better, 16 Mb. ram, Windows 9x or NT 4.0

Installation

The card itself is actually quite compact in size considering the number of components packed on it. The connectors on the rear are all clearly labeled and have gold contacts. That is one of the few differences I found between this card and the SoundBlaster Live! Value that it replaced. The only other difference I could find was that the X-Gamer also has a digital out plug for those of you with digital speakers. Creative included a boom mike with the card. I normally use a headset with built in mike for recording but I thought that was a nice feature. I canít tell you how many times Iíve bought something only to have to make a trip to the store for something that should have been included with the product.

I was prepared to experience some conflicts after installing this card bud sadly I was disappointed. Iíve come to expect this as usually some other hardware in the system is utilizing resources required by the newest component. Soundcards and videocards are notorious for being inflexible about the resources they need to have free. That should bring a sigh of relief to anyone who has ever spent time trying to correct resource conflicts within Windows. After installing the basic drivers I installed Live!Ware 3.0 which I downloaded from the Creative site. The included CD came with Live!Ware 2.0 (anyone else noticing a disturbing trend with exclamation marks?).

The Software

While looking at the specs for the other SoundBlaster Live! cards it became quite obvious that the X-Gamer and MP3 are actually the same card with different software bundles. It appears that Creative has finally realized that there are several target markets for the same hardware and has chosen to package the software with these cards to suit different consumers. Since MP3 ripping software can be downloaded for free from several sites or bought inexpensively I donít see the logic of purchasing the MP3 version of this card. The SoundBlaster Live! Platinum is packaged with the software bundle from the X-Gamer and the MP3 if that suits your needs.

The games included with this card are its selling point. Add up the cost of the SoundBlaster Live! Value and the three full game titles included with this card and youíll find yourself spending more than the $99 pricetag of the X-Gamer. This could be the determining factor on purchasing this card. If you already own these titles or arenít drawn to them I donít think the added cost of this board will justify its digital output or gold connectors. The surround sound produced with this card is very impressive but one should consider the competition before making a final decision about this card.

The Competition

The main competitor for this card is the SoundBlaster Live! Value. The Value supports the same surround sound modes and is also software upgradable with Live!Ware. While the value can still be found in stores with the same $99 pricetag I found it online for close to $50 at several vendors. The Value lacks the digital out plug but I think most wonít miss it since there are many analog speaker sets available with excellent sound reproduction.

The other competitors for this card are all based on Aureal chipsets. Iomagic recently released new cards with Aureal A3D 2.0 surround support that begin at $50. Aureal has announced that their latest drivers will support EAX emulation. Early reports on Aureal cards using EAX emulation arenít entirely positive but as these are only beta drivers one can only expect better results with the final release. Most new games will support either A3D or EAX but I have found that A3D is a better surround environment for games. Creativeís EAX sounds great but there is a slight advantage with the sound produced by Aurealís A3D. It wouldnít surprise me to find Creative adding A3D emulation to their cards. The one thing to remember about Aurealís cards are that there are numerous reports of problems with multi-processor based systems. If a dual processor board is in your future you are limited with your choices but there are no reports of problems with Creativeís cards and SMP.

Conclusions:

The SoundBlaster Live! X-Gamer is a great card that would make anyone happy. I believe the main deciding factor for this card will be its game bundle. Three great games bundled with the card for $99 is hard to beat. If you arenít drawn to these games or find the pricetag hard to swallow a bit of searching on the web will yield a SoundBlaster Live! Value for half the price which should fill in quite nicely. Both cards produce great surround sound and will continue to have support in the future. One positive feature is that Creative has released the SoundBlaster Live! drivers to the open source movement for development with Linux. This should lead to more applications using EAX and more options for the consumer.

Victor Oshiro
Victor@targetpc.com
99/11/17
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