To support X-RAM, the X-Fi Fatal1ty is endowed with a 64MB memory chip that you won't find on the XtremeMusic. The Fatal1ty card also adorns the X-Fi audio chip with a small heat sink, although we haven't run into overheating problems with our heat sink-less XtremeMusic. Oh, and there's a bit of plastic at the top right corner of the card that houses the back-lit Fatal1ty logo. Red LEDs will make you frag like Fatal1ty, or so we've been told.
Apart from its extra memory, heat sink, and LED housing, the X-Fi Fatal1ty audio card appears to be identical to the XtremeMusic. Given the XtremeMusic's credentials, that's a good thing. Both cards share an impressive 109dB signal-to-noise ratio, and both can handle audio streams up to 24 bits at 192kHz. The X-Fi's support for 24-bit/192kHz audio isn't universal, though. Cards in the X-Fi family can only handle 192kHz for stereo output; input and multichannel output are limited to 96kHz.
Creative says the X-Fi audio chip can actually handle 24-bit/192kHz recording, but the Fatal1ty's Wolfson WM8775 analog-to-digital converter (ADC) only supports 24-bit input up to 96kHz. The card's Cirrus Logic CS4382 digital-to-audio converter (DAC) supports 24-bit/192kHz output across the board; however, Creative limits 192kHz to stereo output because commercial multichannel 24-bit/192kHz content simply doesn't exist. Multichannel DVD-Audio only goes up to 96kHz, with 192kHz reserved for stereo recordings, making it hard to fault Creative's compromise.
We do take issue with the X-Fi Fatal1ty's port cluster compromises, though. The card only offers three analog output ports, and while that's just enough for six-channel audio, it's less than ideal for eight-channel speaker configurations. To support eight-channel output, the X-Fi Fatal1ty's left and right surround channels hitch a ride on the card's rear and center/sub outputs. This requires special cables that Creative doesn't bundle with the card.
What's especially puzzling about the X-Fi's port cluster is the fact that there's a fourth jack just sitting there. That port can be switched between an analog mic/line in port and a digital output port, but for some reason, it's impossible to configure it as an analog surround output.
The X-Fi Fatal1ty makes up for these limitations with a 5.25" drive bay insert that serves up a wide variety of extra ports. The Fatal1ty I/O drive offers digital Coaxial and TOS-Link S/PDIF input and output ports, analog RCA inputs, and 1/4" headphone and microphone jacks. Individual volume knobs are available for the headphone and mic jacks, as well, although the knobs protrude about half an inch from the front of the drive bay so they may interfere with the drive bay doors on some cases.
For the musically inclined, the Fatal1ty I/O drive offers MIDI input and output ports, complete with a couple of MIDI adapter plugs. Creative also throws a 3.5mm-to-1/4" headphone/mic adapter into the box, along with a little something extra for the home theater PC crowd.
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