Finally! We are beginning to see Creative’s chipset offerings being used in other manufacturers sound cards. The first such product is Auzentech’s X-Fi Prelude, which we have on the test bench today. Though it excels in some regards, we find out that it has a lot of room for improvement.
I really hope that the X-Fi Prelude incorporates hardware DTS decoding so that it’ll output the decoded DTS in DVD movies to the analog speaker outputs. I know my old school Audigy Platinum did. The C-Media cards didn’t feature it (although I had been told that the Oxygen chipset would decode DTS, it didn’t do it) due to not having a hardware decoder, rather it used software to encode DTS and Dolby 5.1 to the digital output. This means that if you don’t have a home theater setup or speakers with onboard decoding (via digital input) you were out of luck for DTS. Personally I like DTS as it has more dynamic range than Dolby Digital.
Let’s have a closer look at this baby. We can see that there’s only one user replaceable OPAMP on the Prelude. If you can’t see it I’ll fire up the close up for you.
Yep, that’s it just to the left of the red arrow. Don’t flame me for the green letters, as I am aware it’s not Christmas yet! Green was the only color that was not going to blend into some aspect of the background. We can also see that the D/A converters are the marginally cheaper (and lower spec ‘ed) AKM units versus the TI Burr Brown units. We can also see the X-RAM (as it’s called) but we’ll look at that a bit more in depth in a minute.
Here is the closer look at the X-RAM. The X-RAM on the X-Fi Prelude is Micron Technologies (MT) MT48LC32M8A2 which is CL3 SDR 8 Meg x 8 ram that can be either PC100 or PC133 but running it at PC133 would make the most sense as it would increase the throughput. This really emphasizes how much of a difference there is in rendering a soundfield versus rendering visuals. I haven’t seen ram this slow on a GPU since 2000. Although, games didn’t have complicated enough sound rendering to leverage dedicated audio ram until very recently.
Bear in mind, the X-RAM isn’t something that needs be implemented to insure audio quality, it’s something used to help boost frame rates by keeping the audio off the mobo as much as possible and is only supported by a few games.
What’s nice about the back of the card is that it labels the connectors. I think the labels should be flipped 180 degrees so that they’re easily legible from the case door side rather than from the mobo side but that’s just me.
Here’s a look at the X-Fi Prelude and the X-Meridian. I thought I’d never see a sound card capable of eclipsing the size of the X-Meridian but the Prelude nearly equals it. The X-Meridian is wider than the Prelude but the Prelude equals it in length.
A look at the back of both cards reveals that they both share the labeling of the ports from the top of the card where it can be seen in a non-crowded mobo load out. The only difference is that the X-Meridian labels are oriented in such a way that they’re right side up when you peer in at them from the case door side.
Finally here’s a look at the naked chip. Stop drooling, I didn’t say naked chick. When I was attempting to install the Prelude I ran into a bit of trouble in that the heat sink was interfered with by the rear of the GPU under it. No real problem really, I’ve used the X-Fi Elite Pro and it didn’t have a heat sink on it and so far I’ve run into no heat induced issues with the Prelude.