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Lowering the DG's profile
You won't find much in the way of extras included with the Xonar DG. In fact, apart from the driver CD and manual, the only other item in the box is a shorter back plate for use with low-profile enclosures. The DG's circuit board is just 2.5" tall, allowing the card to squeeze into the sort of slim cases one might want to wrap around a low-power home-theater PC.

With fewer chips and associated electrical components, the DG doesn't need as much board area as the larger Xense. One of the chips that's missing is a PCI Express bridge, which isn't necessary because the DG has an old-school PCI interface. I'd prefer PCIe connectivity, but that would surely add to the cost of the card, and it's not like there's a shortage of empty PCI slots out there. Even the latest and greatest motherboards tend to feature at least one PCI slot, and so do the microATX models you might be mulling for that low-profile build.

Given the DG's smaller footprint and component payload, we're not surprised to see that the card lacks an auxiliary power connector. The card does, however, have plenty of room for the same set of internal headers available on the Xense. The front-panel connector on both cards is HD-compliant, by the way.

Of course, the DG does give up some ground when it comes to external ports. 1/8" audio jacks are provided for the six-channel outputs and the card's microphone input. There's also a TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output, but that's it. Adding more ports would've compromised the card's low-profile design, and this is a pretty good mix for a budget offering.

Incidentally, Asus covers its Xonar line with a three-year limited warranty for both parts and labor. Three-year warranties are pretty standard for PC components, and you won't have to jump through any limited-time registration hoops to get full coverage.

Little difference in drivers
Perhaps in response to the massive excess of extraneous applications and other bloat that Creative bundles with its sound cards, the drivers that accompany Asus' Xonars are pretty compact. A single control panel gives the user access to just about everything.

The latest drivers available for the Xonar DG, version 7.12.8.1792, are a little newer than the 1788 release users can download for the Xense. That may explain some slight differences in options between the two drivers, which are otherwise quite similar in terms of the functionality offered.

Users have access to more DSP modes with the Xense, although I tend to keep such things disabled. Do we really need separate modes for first-person shooters and driving games? Probably not.

If you're playing older games, you should hit the GX button, which enables Asus' EAX emulation mode. Over to the left, the main interface allows the user to configure Dolby Headphone and Digital Live output. When headphones are selected, it's also possible to switch the headphone amp between a number of preset impedance ranges. True to form, the Xense's drivers have an additional headphone setting that's specifically optimized for the PC 350s. The DG's drivers have no such setting, but you can still select from a few impedance ranges.

Asus adds one more bit of goodness to the Xense's drivers: the ability to adjust the ASIO latency between 1 and 80 milliseconds. ASIO is a protocol designed to offer applications unfettered access to audio hardware, and it's most commonly used by musicians and those involved with audio production. Desktop users won't need to fiddle with ASIO settings, so the DG's lack of such an option doesn't really put it at a disadvantage for most folks. However, we will probe each card's general input latency in a moment.