Se afișează postările cu eticheta X-Fi. Afișați toate postările
Se afișează postările cu eticheta X-Fi. Afișați toate postările

sâmbătă, 2 aprilie 2011

Asus Xonar D2X

De voie, de nevoie, placa de sunet pe care o aveam în PC a cedat. Nu a impins-o nimeni pe scări, pur și simplu o componentă SMD s-a defectat subit și din cauză că furnizorul nu a putut să o repare, a venit vremea să o înlocuiesc.
În urma unei analize foarte scurte, am decis ca placa de sunet Asus Xonar D2X e un înlocuitor bun pentru răposata SoundBlaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional, pentru că folosește interfață PCI Express, are ecranare, are intrări și ieșiri digitale (inclusiv codec Dolby Digital / DTS) la fel ca și vechea placă.
De avantajul de performanță dat de procesorul hardware X-Fi (CA20K2) nu cred ca îmi va fi prea dor, ținând cont că Microsoft a ucis accesul direct la hardware și EAX odată cu lansarea Vista. Multe jocuri recente nu mai folosesc EAX, motiv pentru care un procesor hardware pentru procesare hardware a efectelor de poziționare 3D nu mai este atât de necesar cum era pe vremea lui Windows XP.

Și iată noua placă: Asus Xonar D2X

Asus Xonar D2X - în cutie

Xonar D2X - Pentru gameri
Xonar D2X - Pentru HTPC
Xonar D2X - Pentru HiFi/Producție

Principalele caracteristici
  • ieșire analogică pe 8 căi (7.1), cu maxim 24 bit per eșantion, rată maximă de eșantionare 192KHz. DAC-urile care fac conversia sunt Texas Instruments/Burr-Brown PCM1796
  • intrare analogică pe 2 căi, maxim 24 bit per eșantion, max. 192 KHz rată de eșantionare. Conversia ADC este făcută de un circuit Cirrus Logic CS5381
  • Intrări și ieșiri digitale S/PDIF, atât coaxiale cât și optice.
  • Intrări și ieșiri MIDI, prin intermediul unei plăci suplimentare
  • Suport pentru codificare în timp real în formatele DTS și Dolby Digital Live
  • Suport pentru DTS Connect (Codificare DTS Interactive și DTS Neo:PC)
  • Ieșire digitală în format WMA-Pro
  • Suport pentru EAX 2.0, OpenAL, DS3D GX (Emulare EAX în Vista), Aureal A3D
  • Include o suită software impresionantă
Convertoarele DAC si ADC permit obținerea unor performanțe audio de excepție:

  • Raport semnal/zgomot la ieșire: 118 dB
  • Raport semnal/zgomot la intrare: 118 dB
  • Distorsiuni armonice si zgomote de 0,0004% (-108 dB) la 1000Hz
  • Răspuns în frecvență de la 10 Hz până la 46 kHz
  • Spectru dinamic de 145dB în modurile 24 bit

joi, 9 iulie 2009

X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional - Gaming performance

I've been digging the net for some X-Fi gaming performance benchmarks for a while, but I wasn't able to find anything more than Creative's own benchmark done with UT 2004. So... I began my own research.

What is an X-Fi card

Creative is using the X-Fi brand for their most recent product lineup targeted to the non-professional users. Since X-Fi launch, there were two processors capable of hardware acceleration: CA20K1 (a.k.a. EMU20K1), followed few years later by CA20K2 (a.k.a. EMU20K2). CA20K1 processor seems to be 24 times faster than the previous generation's processor (Audigy). A major difference between Audigy and X-Fi is the effects processor sampling rate and number of bits for audio resolution. Audigy was able to apply sound effects only at 48kHz/16 bit, so if the source signal wasn't 48kHz/16 bit, it needed to be resampled, and the resampling operation generates intremodulation distortion. CA20K1 is used in the first generation of X-Fi sound cards, connected through PCI slots, while CA20K2 is used on PCI Express based variants, Titanium family. Being a revised chipset, CA20K2 also fixes the 'Sound crackling and popping' issues.

But... these processors are not included in all X-Fi products. For example, the cheapest sound card from Creative branded X-Fi is 'X-Fi Extreme Audio', a card which looks like the previous generation cheap card, Audigy SE. It has a PCI Express counterpart, but this cannot accelerate in any way audio processing. This does not mean that X-Fi Extreme Audio is using an older processor for hardware acceleration, it means that Audigy SE does not use hardware acceleration at all. Since I wanted a card with hardware accelerated DSP/processing I've decided that a card from the X-Fi Titanium family should be enough for me, and I wanted to have available the 'Crystalyzer'.

After few days using it on a Logitech Z2300 speaker system, I wasn't sure if the sound quality was superior or below onboard ALC889 when listening music and/or watching movies, and googling over the net showed me that it's the DAC the most important chip, that Auzentec X-Fi prelude is better than X-Fi Titanium, that Asus Xonar D2X has superior DAC, that EAX is dying, and many things which made me ask myself if the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty is worth the money. In fact, EAX is not dying, but Creative is implementing EAX on vista through OpenAL extensions.

So i decided to measure gaming performance improvement on Unreal Tournament 3, a game which is using OpenAL, comparing X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty gaming performance with onboard audio provided by an ALC889 chip. Since I didn't have another sound card for comparision, the results are limited, but I found some convincing results. If anyone do think that there are cards not using X-Fi CA20K2 with better performance, I accept him/her sending me such a card for performance comparision.

My test configuration:

- Intel Core2 Duo E8400 @ 3.0 GHz, FSB 1333 (333 QDR)
- Intel Core2 Duo E8400 @ 3.6 GHz, FSB 1600 (400 QDR)
Motherboard: Gigabyte EP45-UD3P
Mem: 4 GB DDR2/800
Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD 3870 from Gigabyte, Catalyst 9.6
Sound cards:
- onboard ALC889
- Creative X-Fi Titanium, using drivers from june 2009

My tests were made with the UT3 Benchmark tool from Guru3D, with DirectX10, max quality, sound on, max display resolution (1440 x 900). I did 5 runs of DM-ShangriLa map, without bots, with each card. After the first set of results, I've overclocked the CPU to 3.6 GHz, and I did a second set of benchmark runs. The average FPS are shown below.

X-Fi Titanium vs. Onboard Realtek 889 benckmark results

So far, I can tell that there is a 15% FPS gain only by using X-Fi Titanium instead ALC-889, and another important thing is that there is a higher performance gained overclocking the CPU when using X-Fi, since the CPU soes not need to handle all the workload needed for rendering audio.

I tought that, these days, the CPU power needed by audio on games is negligible, but I was wrong. Games using UT3 engine and/or OpenAL need a lot of CPU cycles to render audio, and using a hardware accelrated platform does squeeze maximum performance from other subsystems such as CPU and graphics card. In my test configuration, all the time when I ran the benchmarks, the CPU usage was 100%, making a CPU the limiting factor on this case. So, overclocking the CPU or using some hardware acceleration would help increasing gaming performance.

Doing some math, results that I need to overclock a Core2Duo by 0.6 x 4 = 2,4 GHz to release from the CPU the workload needed by audio processing in the same way X-Fi does in hardware with it's CA20K2, only to gain the same 15% FPS improvement. Also, I achived a higher framerate increase by overclocking when I used X-Fi, by 7.42%, which twice the gain achieved by overclocking the CPU and using onboard ALC889. Combining using an X-Fi Titanium instead onboard audio with some light overclock yelds a total framerate increase by 23,99%, which I consider 'high performance improvement' and 'worthy'.

That degree of performance increase may not be noticed by someone using a high clocked quad core CPU, but it does a big difference when the CPU has some limits, and such improvements cannot be achieved by overclocking. I can say that X-Fi titanium Fatal1ty does worth the money, and probably any CA20K2 X-Fi based sound card does, especially for gamers wanting to squeeze the maximum FPS from their platform, including those using the latest CPUs. But keep in mind another important thing: Unreal Tournament 3 engine is using OpenAL for audio rendering, and games using software for rendering cannot benefit from the acceleration provided by X-Fi, using only the CPU for this task.

duminică, 3 mai 2009

What is X-Fi MB

What is X-Fi MB
Is a software driver, which adds to your sound processing chain (only on selected chips) some capabilities. Here is the web page detailing Creative X-Fi MB. This is the second generation of software-only EAX implementation from Creative available to other manufacturers, following the first generation called Audigy MB. It seems that X-Fi MB is available only for some models from specific vendors (Dell, Gigabyte, Asus, etc). When it is installed, the driver will disable the current Dolby software, and installs the following applications: Alchemy (to provide EAX to OpenAL library call translation for older games on Vista), MediaSource (some media player/organizer), Audio Console (an application which provides access to Creative audio features), Console launcher (same thing as Audio console, but with a user-friendly interface), WaveStudio and VolumePanel (a system tray control application). After installation on Vista, these Creative features are available:
- EAX environment Effects (echo/reverb for standard applications)
- CMSS 3D (surround sound on headphones, 2 channel to n speakers, etc)
- Crystalizer (improves mp3/movie sound quality)
- OpenAL, supporting EAX up to level 4
- Another dolby encoder, replacing the one bundled by Gigabyte
On Vista, all hardware-accelerated operations are no longer handled by EAX and creative drivers directly, but through OpenAL library, which offers EAX4 compatibility.
The user has nothing to tune at the application level after installation, the software simply installs itself as a driver, all the sound post-processing is done at the driver level (no need to tune each application, and an equalizer is not the same as a DSP)

Why did I installed it
Because before my current motherboard, a Gigabyte EP45-UD3P, i've used a Intel Motherboard DG965OT built with Sigmatel sound chip, bundled with 'Intel Audio Studio' which includes some ddigital sound processing software from Sonic Focus. That piece of software totally changes the way the sound gets to the speakers. Since i've used to this kind of audition, it was difficult to me to 'adapt' to the flat sound coming from ALC889A, especially MP3 audio, and I started searching for methods to improve the sound quality. If you listen music/radio to a low-end speaker set, probably you won't notice any improvement, but Logitech Z2300 or z5500, Genius 6000 or better will do a difference.

It's good to know some other things...
1. Creative entry-level boards are not built with hardware processors like EMU20Kx and not even the older EMU10Kx, and probably nobody will notice any difference from the sound coming from ALC889A + X-Fi MB compared to X-Fi Xtreme Audio / Audigy SE. Even more, X-Fi Xtreme Audio which is very little different from Audigy SE and all the DSP / EAX is done in software on these boards too. So, X-FI MB or Audigy SE or X-Fi Xtreme Audio will offer comparable CPU usage and sound post-processing. I think i'm absolutely right when I say 'X-Fi Extreme Audio and Audigy SE are hardware licenses to use EAX drivers and applications'.

2. There are other implementations for sound post-processing, which offers remarcable sound improvement, I refer to Sonic Focus, which is bundled with the Intel motherboards, at least 9xx series. I've used this software DSP on Intel DP965LT and DG965OT, and the difference is like from moving from classic TV (PAL/NTSC) to HDTV, but translated into music improvement, and it seems to me comparable to Creative's 'Crystalizer'. Anyway, Crystalizer, the way it's implemented on X-Fi MB downloaded from Gigabyte (version is inferior to Sonic Focus / Intel Audio Studio, Creative only offers a slider where you can select the 'Crystalizing' level, while Intel offers 3 or more, thus providing more flexibility.

3. By default, the 'Crystalizer' feature is enabled at level 50% on X-Fi MB, and I presume that it's the same on X-Fi Xtreme Audio. That's the main reason why Xtreme Audio owners are happy and they 'wont ever use onboard audio again!'.

The bad
- I don't like that Gigabyte is not bundling the licenses with their boards, or at least with performance/extreme series, it's a useful piece of software...
- On Gigabyte download page it is not listed Vista64, but the software for Vista32 is working absolutely fine on Vista64, and even including parts specifically for Vista64.

What other options are available
If you don't like to pay $29 to Creative for this software-only solution AND you want dynamics improvement AND EAX4 or higher, you can choose from
- A software (95%) + hardware (5%) solution for some extra $$$: X-Fi Xtreme Audio (these parts are fully licensed for EAX/Crystalizer,CMSS,etc) or Audigy SE, which is almost identical to X-Fi Xtreme Audio
- A software (5%) + hardware (95%) solution from Creative for much more $$$: X-Fi series with EMU20K1/2 chip, see X-Fi lineup.

If you don't care about EAX, you can use a Intel motherboard, but you may be missing some other useful features like overclocking or better CPU support (yes, better official CPU support!).
Don't blame me for not mentioning other boards, I did not use other boards and I don't want to talk about things I don't know about.

Super ofertă la eMag!

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