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Auzentech X-Fi Prelude sound card review
Isn't it funny how things turn out sometimes? As recently as Mid-March, I wrote an editorial about Creative Labs' future and how I saw their role in the burgeoning sound card market post-Windows Vista's release. One of the major ideas I postulated in that article was the concept of Creative moving away from simply creating and shipping their own sound cards, and instead selling their designs to third-parties to include on their own board designs, a-la C-Media. Here's what I had to say at the time:
"Finally, onto possibly our most contentious point. At present, Creative Labs follow what could be construed as a rather archaic way of doing business in the hardware market - Designing, creating and manufacturing their own parts from start to finish. This is in stark contrast with the likes of C-Media, who design and manufacture simply the audio processor itself; leaving companies who wish to create boards around those chips free reign with regard to PCB design and the components used. This both takes the financial burden over creating and marketing boards from start to finish away from the chip maker, while also giving partners the opportunity to differentiate their product however they see fit, be it from a price or feature standpoint. We've seen this happen to great effect with C-Media's Oxygen HD audio processor - Simply check out our review pages and you'll find three very different boards using this chip. In short, it's the same way ATI and NVIDIA have been working for many years to great effect - They create the cores and provide reference designs, and leave the rest up to their AIB partners.
Perhaps now is the time for Creative to go down this same route, either ditching the Creative Labs brand with regard to selling and packaging their own boards, or giving it a back seat while making their audio processors available for third party vendors to implement in their own designs. This would allow Creative to concentrate on designing and selling chips, leaving the rest up to partners and hopefully creating a wide variety of, say, X-Fi-based parts, each with their own unique features, audio quality and price points. This kind of competition would doubtless help to drive the market, and I'm sure there are several of the big Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers who wouldn't say no to releasing a Creative Labs-based range of sound products. Everyone's a winner from where I'm sitting."
Having written all that, you can imagine my surprise just a month later when a press release dropped into my mailbox from Auzentech, stating that they'd be creating their own sound card based around Creative Labs' X-Fi chip. After almost choking on my cup of tea, I couldn't help but grin at this turn of events. Of course, it would be foolish to imagine that Elite Bastards had anything to do with Creative Labs' turn-around or this decision, but beyond that the thought of Auzentech, developers of the fantastic C-Media-based X-Plosion and X-Meridian sound cards, getting their hands on the undoubtedly powerful X-Fi and using it to their own ends was beyond drool-worthy. Sound cards may not receive quite the level of hype seen by CPUs and graphics boards, but this particular offering was in the Premier League of things to anticipate in my mind.
So, here we are, close to five months later, and with a final, shipping Auzentech X-Fi Prelude card ready and waiting in the Elite Bastards review dungeon. Sadly, this article is going to be more of a preview in many ways, with the much touted Dolby Digital Live and DTS Interactive functionality unavailable until future driver updates in the fourth quarter of 2007 and first quarter of 2008 respectively, but despite all that there is still plenty we can sink our teeth into upon this boards release. So what are we waiting for, let's dive straight in!