Realtek resolves EAX issues, sort of

Realtek’s series of ALC codec chips are by far the most popular solutions for integrated motherboard audio. Unfortunately, we discovered last year that the company’s drivers didn’t correctly implement a couple of key EAX positional audio features—occlusions and obstructions—rendering some games unplayable. We contacted Realtek about the issue, but they didn’t respond. Six months later, we revisited Realtek’s drivers and found that little had changed. With the then-current 1.66 driver release, EAX occlusions and obstructions still weren’t being implemented properly, if at all. Again, we contacted Realtek, but the crab remained silent.

I didn’t expect to cover the issue again, particularly because Windows Vista has dropped support for hardware-accelerated DirectSound 3D, requiring special software that thus far only Creative provides for its own audio products. However, last week a reader emailed me suggesting that Realtek had fixed occlusion and obstruction support in its latest 1.71 drivers, so I decided to take them for a spin.

With its 1.71 drivers, Realtek appears to have correctly implemented EAX occlusions and obstructions, at least in RightMark 3D Sound‘s positioning accuracy test. There, sounds are properly muffled behind obstruction and occlusions planes that had no effect with Realtek’s previous drivers. And there was much rejoicing—until I fired up Battlefield 2. This game had been unplayable with older Realtek drivers and EAX effects enabled, where the lack of proper occlusion and obstruction support resulted in the player being bombarded by sounds from all over the battlefield. Unfortunately, little has changed with the 1.71 drivers; you’re still assaulted by sounds that should be muffled by buildings, walls, and other in-game elements.

So while Realtek’s latest drivers may correctly implement EAX occlusion and obstruction effects in RightMark 3D Sound’s positioning accuracy test, that implementation doesn’t appear to translate to games. Interestingly, though, the new drivers do consume more CPU cycles in RightMark 3D Sound’s EAX benchmark.

The difference in CPU utilization between the older 1.66 drivers and the 1.71s is only a couple of percentage points at 16 buffers, but it grows as the number of buffers increases. Realtek’s latest 1.72 drivers also exhibit this higher CPU utilization. Although they correctly implement occlusion and obstruction effects in RightMark’s positional accuracy test, Battlefield 2 remains a mess.

The world of integrated motherboard audio is entirely too mundane for conspiracy theories, but it’s odd that Realtek’s latest drivers support EAX occlusion and obstruction in a benchmark—and with a hit to CPU utilization—but not in a game. Competing solutions from Analog Devices have no problems with either.

Comments closed
    • crabjokeman
    • 12 years ago

    You know what would be nice? If Realtek had a decent version history/changelog accompanying their drivers. Instead, all it ever says under the “Added/Fixed” section is “Customization”. Could we get a little more vague?

    s[<6. Add/Fix
    1.) Customization.
    For New architecture:
    1.) Customization .
    CPL :
    1.) Customization.<]s

      • The Jedi
      • 12 years ago

      I think Chinese speakers have apathy towards non Chinese speakers, or English speakers. That may explain poor support for PC hardware these days.

      That, or you have to be a PC OEM to log a complaint. End users / hobbyists I guess are kind of ignored.

    • Golgamesh
    • 12 years ago

    [QUOTE]
    I fired up Battlefield 2. This game had been unplayable with older Realtek drivers and EAX effects enabled, where the lack of proper occlusion and obstruction support resulted in the player being bombarded by sounds from all over the battlefield. Unfortunately, little has changed with the 1.71 drivers; you’re still assaulted by sounds that should be muffled by buildings, walls, and other in-game elements.
    [/QUOTE]

    I’m playing Bioshock and it sounds like I’m having the exact same problem while using the 1.73 drivers in Vista 64. I’m considering buying a different sound card, but with the different sound standard supported in Vista I think any thing I buy will be obsolete with the next generation of sound cards that are arriving.

    Can anyone confirm that this problem exists with the Realtek HD audio card and Bioshock in Vista?

    • axeman
    • 12 years ago

    Unfortunately, I have had bad experiences with AD chipsets. Poor sound quality and buggy software, so I don’t much care if they implement EAX properly or not. To top it all off, they don’t offer generic drivers, so if the audio control panel (for eq, speaker configuration, etc), keeps crashing, and ASUS doesn’t offer any other drivers, you’re stuck. OTOH, the newer Realtek drivers have some strange issues on my ALC888 equipped mobo, so I’m using some older version. Still wouldn’t give Creative one red cent.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    Um, what if it’s EA/DICE’s fault? Anyone ever ask that question?

      • Dissonance
      • 12 years ago

      Seems unlikely given that the game works just fine with other audio implementations, including Oxygen HD-based cards and Analog Devices codecs.

    • gratuitous
    • 12 years ago
    • FireGryphon
    • 12 years ago

    This sounds screwed up. Pardon the pun, but really… is it even worth it to rig a benchmark score in this sector?

    My guess is that Realtek has idiots writing its drivers. They cut corners to make a profit, and don’t care about quality so long as they have a stable product. For most computer users, that’s a passable philosophy, but not here!

    • IntelMole
    • 12 years ago

    I wonder if it would still work if you used a hex editor to change the name of the application.

    Quack3, meet RealMack

    • format_C
    • 12 years ago

    Did they “fix” EAX for the older AC’97 codecs like ALC650/850?

      • format_C
      • 12 years ago

      Just tested it with the latest 4.00 AC’97 driver: Occlusion and obstruction are still not working.

    • Bensam123
    • 12 years ago

    It’s all a ploy to gobble up the people that want properly implemented EAX, but don’t want to spent the extra cash on a dedicated solution!

    Seriously rigging benchmarks for a integrated solution is beyond me. I guess everyone wants to look good, even when it doesn’t matter.

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