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Our testing methods
Before diving into our test results, I should take the time to introduce the Realtek ALC892 codec chip that will be representing integrated motherboard audio. An apparent successor to the wildly popular ALC889, the ALC892 has yet to appear on Realtek's website. However, it's already started popping up on motherboards, including the Asus Sabertooth X58 model that will serve as the basis for our test system.

The Sabertooth is a high-end board, and it fared pretty well in the basic tests we use to probe analog audio signal quality in motherboard reviews. Today, it faces a much more demanding suite of tests against a pair of Xonars. I considered adding a few more sound cards to the mix but held back for a couple of reasons. First, there aren't a lot of sound cards on the market, and most of the ones available are other Xonar models that have much in common with these two. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we typically see the biggest differences in our listening tests, which become increasingly difficult (and time-consuming) to conduct the more sound cards are added to the mix.

Our gaming and latency tests were run five times, and we reported the median of the scores produced. We used the following system configuration for testing:

Processor Core i7-920 2.66GHz ES
Motherboard Asus Sabertooth X58
Bios revision 0402
Platform hub Intel X58 Express
South bridge Intel ICH10R
Chipset drivers Chipset: 9.1.1.1025
AHCI: 9.6.0.1014
Memory size 6GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type OCZ OCZ3G1600LV6GK DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
Memory timings 7-7-7-20-1T
Audio Realtek ALC889 with 2.53 drivers
Asus Xonar DG with 7.12.8.1792 drivers
Asus Xonar Xense with 7.12.8.1788 drivers
Graphics Asus EAH5870 1GB with Catalyst 10.10 drivers
Hard drive Western Raptor X 150GB
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750W
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems' Windows desktop was set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.