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The X-Fi Factor
We tend to take them for granted but our five senses are solely responsible for how we interpret the world we live in. Rarely do they work alone, often our experiences and our memories are formed from subtle combinations of memorable stimulations. Imagine the smell of freshly cut grass and you tend see bright sunlight not overcast skies and torrential rain.

Fooling your brain into a false sense of realism is harder than you might think. Should one part of the environment not match reality then the façade is ruined. Many initiatives have been employed to make the total environment your computer provides as realistic as possible. Cinematic features like High Dynamic Range (HDR) allows a grater range of contrast in any given scene. 3D Models, textures, lighting, shadows and reflections along with physics have all improved. However audio development has stagnated for some time now. Creative Labs has tried to change all that.

Creative Labs is singularly the biggest name in PC audio. From the ubiquitous SoundBlaster to the more recent Audigy, Creative has dominated the sound market with its powerful branding and capable products. It hasn’t all been a raging success though. Their acquisition of Aureal’s assets in 2000 and the purchase of Sensaura in 2003 alienated a lot of potential users, and the tendency for their needlessly sprawling drivers to paste themselves all over your PC left some users vowing to never again buy Creative.
1989 - *Sound Blaster (8-bit mono, 100K transistor/1MIPS)
1990 - Sound Blaster Pro (8-bit stereo)
1992 - *Sound Blaster 16 (16-bit stereo)
1994 - *Sound Blaster AWE32 (EMU8K APU, 32-voice wave-table)
1996 - Sound Blaster AWE64 (64-voice wave-table, 90+ dB)
1998 - *Sound Blaster Live! (EMU10K1 APU, 2M transistors)
EAX® (new audio standard for Windows®)
1999 - 100 millionth Sound Blaster shipped
2000 - Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 (5.1 Surround output)
2001 - *Sound Blaster Audigy (24-bit, 5.1 output, 100+ dB)
EAX ADVANCED HD (24-bit / 2nd generation EAX)
2002 - Sound Blaster Audigy 2 (6.1 output, EAX ADVANCED HD 3.0)
2003 - Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS (7.1 output)
2004 - Sound Blaster Audigy 4 (7.1, EAX ADVANCED HD 4.0)
2005 - *Sound Blaster X-Fi (51M transistor APU/10,000MIPS)
EAX ADVANCED HD 5.0 (128 3D voices)
For the past four years there has been a lull in PC audio development which could be attributed to the lack of competition Creative have been enjoying. Creative say however, that they haven't been resting on their Laurels. I’m sure the four year development cycle for their latest audio technology could have been fast-tracked in the presence of the looming threat from a serious competitor, but the fact is Creative claim that their new baby, known as X-Fi, has been in development for all of those four years.

I recently had the chance to attend a press briefing on X-Fi and wanted to share some of its features. It's fair to say the development has been revolutionary rather than evolutionary. X-Fi is like nothing that has gone before it for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sheer complexity of the chip itself.

X-Fi (Xtreme Fidelity) boasts some 51 million transistors and is claimed to possess roughly the same processing power as a Pentium 4 processor running at 3.4GHz, or 24 Audigy cards sat side-by-side in your PC all processing sound simultaneously.

For Creative the problem is that there's no new "must-have" audio technology. Things like DVD-Audio have almost passed us by with barely an eyelid being twitched. This means Creative has to think of another initiative to bolster sales. It seems they chose quality.

It's not surprising then that the X-Fi has little to offer externally. The tweaks come to clean, broaden, change and boost your sound. The difference from a listener’s perspective seems to be that X-Fi does it all properly and without compromise.

So let's have a look at what the X-Fi brings to the party.