Creative unveils Sound Blaster X-Fi

The folks at Creative sit alone in the PC market as the sole provider of sound cards with real 3D audio acceleration capabilities in hardware. Now, they're moving forward with the introduction of a range of sound cards based on a brand-new audio processing chip. The Sound Blaster X-Fi will come in multiple versions, like current Audigy cards do, but all will be based on the new X-Fi processor. The press release describes the chip like so:
To achieve the Xtreme Fidelity audio standard, Sound Blaster X-Fi cards draw immense power from the Creative X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity processor, which includes more than 51 million transistors, and is capable of more than 10,000 MIPS. With 24 times more power than the previous Sound Blaster Audigy® audio processor, the Creative X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity audio processor utilizes multiple engines to dynamically direct resources through a unique Ring Architecture to completely change the way audio is managed for any application.
That's a substantial piece of silicon dedicated to audio processing, certainly much more than other PC audio solutions we've seen to date.

The X-Fi cards will offer three specialized modes intended to take advantage of the X-Fi processor's power. Entertainment Mode purports to enhance the listening experience for compressed audio by lessening the impact of MP3 and WMA compression and converting non-surround audio sources into surround sound. Game Mode can handle up to 128 hardware voices, with acceleration for an array of technologies under the EAX banner. Creative claims a "performance boost of up to 40 percent in some cases during game play while simultaneously delivering full audio enhancement effects." Audio Creation Mode is targeted at musicians and audio pros, and it can use the X-Fi's ability to do high-quality sample rate conversions in hardware with very low latencies.

Of the three flavors of X-Fi cards, the gaming card may be of the most interest. Like some Abit motherboards of late, the gaming card is named for Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel of pro-gaming fame. The Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS will come with 64MB of onboard RAM (or X-RAM, as Creative cutely calls it) to give the X-Fi processor some fast local storage. Obviously, this is something much more than your average sound card.

The X-Fi cards aren't priced like your average sound card, either. Creative is proud of these puppies:

The Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro, priced at US$399.99, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS, priced at US$279.99, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum, priced at US$199.99 and the Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic, priced at US$129.99, will be available this month at Best Buy.
I guess we'll see whether or not a true premium audio solution on the PC can command a higher price, eh?

We will, of course, be attempting to snag one of these things for review ASAP. Stay tuned.

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