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.
- EMU10K1 audio processor
(same as all other SoundBlaster Live! cards)
- Environmental Audio
- 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
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
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 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.
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.