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Our testing methods
If you're already familiar with our testing methods, feel free to skip ahead to the performance results on the next page. The information below is mostly nerdy details about system and test configurations. We present this information for reference, and we won't be offended if you skip it.

As we said in the intro, the Xonar DGX and DSX will face off against our favorite mid-range sound card, the $88 Xonar DX. The DX has been featured in countless iterations of our System Guide, and it will be interesting to see how the cheaper cards fare against their older brother. (The Xonar DX is a PCI Express card, just like the DGX and DSX.) We've also included our motherboard's "free" integrated audio, which is powered by a Realtek ALC898 codec.

Admittedly, the Sandy Bridge-E platform we used for testing is a little high-end for the budget Xonars. We wanted to make sure we were using a solid implementation of Realtek's latest codec, though. Also, the testing associated with Cyril's recent look at hardware-accelerated video transcoding monopolized a couple of the less expensive CPUs we have at TR's northern outpost.

As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least five times, and we've reported the median result.

Our test system was configured like so:

Processor Core i7-3890X
Motherboard Asus P9X79 PRO
Chipset Intel X79 Express
Memory size 16GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 1T
Chipset drivers INF update
Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise
Graphics Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP with Catalyst 12.6 drivers
Audio Asus Xonar DGX with drivers
Asus Xonar DSX with drivers
Asus Xonar DX with drivers
Integrated Realtek ALC898 with 2.70 drivers
Hard drive Intel 520 Series 240GB SATA
Power supply Corsair AX850
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Service Pack 1
DirectX 11 June 2010 Update

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, and Asus for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Asus supplied the sound cards for testing, as well.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

We used the following test applications:

Some further notes on our methods:

  • We used the Fraps utility to record frame rates while playing a 90-second sequence from each game. Although capturing frame rates while playing isn't precisely repeatable, we tried to make each run as similar as possible to all of the others. We tested each Fraps sequence five times per configuration in order to counteract any variability.

  • We measured total system power consumption at the wall socket using a Watts Up Pro digital power meter. The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet, so its power draw was not part of our measurement. The cards were plugged into a motherboard on an open test bench.

    The idle measurements were taken at the Windows desktop with the Aero theme enabled. The cards were tested under load running Battlefield 3 with the Ultra detail setting at 1920x1200.

  • For our blind listening tests, the output levels of each audio solution were equalized using RightMark Audio Analyzer and then tweaked by hand. With a couple different test signals, the levels RMAA told us were normalized sounded slightly off, so we had to resort to manual tuning.

    Each track in our listening tests was ripped from the original audio CD and saved as an uncompressed WAV file. Tracks were played using Windows Media Player 12 and a pair of Sennheiser HD 555 headphones.

    Our test subjects listened to 30-second clips of various songs back-to-back on different audio solutions. The listeners had no idea which solution was being played for them at any given time. To mix things up, the matchups were randomized for each song and test subject. There were six matchups per song, allowing each solution to be tested head-to-head with the others.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.