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Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer 5.1 Sound Card Review

Former staff writer    -   November 12, 2001
Category: Sound Cards
Price: $97.00




Introduction
The Sound Blaster Live! has always been an excellent sound card, but it wasn't necessarily the best choice for gamers. The "Value" version comes in at a reasonable $40 and has all the features a gamer could want, but it doesn't include a bundle of games or digital output for those with digital connectors for their speakers.

The 5.1 series of SB Live is Creative Lab's newest line of soundcards. What sets the X-Gamer apart from it's MP3 brother is the bundle. The X-Gamer comes with full versions of the EAX enabled games: Thief II, MDK2, Deus Ex and Unreal Tournament. For those that don't already own these titles, they more than make up for the price of the soundcard by themselves.

Specs


Feature Description
MIDI Features
Synthesizer Chip EMU 10K1
Synthesizer Type Wavetable (Scalable PCI)
Polyphony 64 (with 8-point interpolation)
RAM size Based on system RAM, up to 32MB
Sample Sets 2, 4 and 8MB
Synthesizer Effects Reverb, Chorus, Flanger, Pitch Shifter, Distortion, etc
MIDI Channels 48
Digital Audio Features
Duplex Type Full Duplex
Max. Recording Depth 16-bit
Max. Recording Rate 48 KHz
Max. Playback Depth 16-bit
Max. Playback Rate 48 KHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio >96 dB
Soundfont Support Yes
Built-in Amplifier No
Compatibility
Windows ME Yes
Windows 2000 Yes
Windows 98 Yes
Windows 95 Yes
Windows NT 4.0 Yes
General MIDI Yes
MPC3 Yes
Plug & Play Yes
Sound Blaster PCI Yes
EAX Support Yes
Microsoft DirectSound Yes
Microsoft DirectSound 3D & Derivatives Yes
PCI 2.1 Yes
AC97 Yes
MPU-401 UART Yes
Dolby® Digital 5.1 decoding Yes
Connectors
Microphone In Yes
Line In Yes
Line Out (Front)/Speaker Out Yes
Line Out (Rear) Yes
MIDI/Joystick Port Yes
MPC3 CD Audio In Yes
Auxiliary In Yes
S/PDIF In Yes
Telephone Answering Device (TAD) In Yes
Others
Live!Drive Optional
4 Speaker Support Yes
Live!Ware Upgrades Yes
Creative MultiSpeaker Surround Yes
Creative Environments Yes
AudigyDrive


Bundle and features



Creative Labs has an interesting way of bundling their soundcards. There are currently 3 different versions of the SoundBlaster Live 5.1 series: the Platinum, the X-Gamer and the MP3. The Platinum has all of the features and bundle of the MP3 and X-Gamer and Live Drive II , but it also is the most expensive of the 3. The MP3 comes with music software including: Mizman studio, Cakewalk 8.0 Gold, Creative Keytar, Creative Rhythmania , Creative WaveStudio and Kool Karaoke. Here's a list of what the SB Live X-Gamer 5.1 comes with:

  • SB Live X-Gamer 5.1 soundcard (basically a SB Live Value with 5.1 and digital out )
  • Thief II
  • Unreal Tournament
  • MDK2
  • Deus Ex
  • Windows 95/98/ME/2k/XP? drivers
  • Audio HQ
  • MiniDisc Center
  • Keytar
  • Creative's Playcenter 2 (audio CD and digital audio (such as MP3 or WMA) player
  • Creative MediaRing Talk (allows you to make phone calls over the Internet from one PC to another PC with MediaRing Talk installed)
  • Pixmaker (Creative edition) (kind of like Hypersnap)
  • Creative Rhythmania (lets you create a MIDI file choosing from a professional set of backup rhythm and instruments)
  • Creative WaveStudio (to play .wav files)
  • Kool Karaoke (yes you can play Karaoke songs and use your microphone to sing along!)

    First , just as with all other cards in the Live product line you will find the Creative Launcher, Creative Surround Mixer, PlayCenter (currently 2.1) in the bundle of both cards.  For details on these programs as well as details on all the other applications that are included in the downloadable version of LiveWare 3.0 you should check the Live reference review.   You will also find an analog cd cable, a digital CD cable and a microphone in each box.  In terms of software the common elements not on the downloadable version of LiveWare 3.0 are:

    Creative Keytar 
    An intuitive and highly interactive edutainment software for music beginners, with a virtual rhythm guitar console that enables you to pluck and strum any tune via the computer keyboard.

    Creative Rhythmania 
    An interactive auto-accompaniment application that allows you to create music along with music sequencing presets.

    PixMaker  and PixScreen (Creative Edition)
    PixMaker lets you create 360° interactive PixAround scenes and web pages in 3 simple steps - Snap, Stitch and Publish.

    MediaRing Talk™  
    MediaRing Talk™ enables you to make free international and long distance calls from your PC to any other PC running the same program. You can also call from your PC to any regular phone worldwide, at a fraction of normal international and long distance call charges. With this free software, you can talk to a friend on the phone while surfing the Internet -- no need to disconnect from the Internet just to make phone calls. Most importantly, you no longer need to worry about costly phone bills.

    Kool Karaoke
    Eatsleepmusic's Kool Karaoke turns the Live equipped PC into a full-featured karaoke machine. The built in Song Searcher enables users to find their favourite songs and singers in seconds on the Internet. The volume, pitch and tempo of the performance can all be controlled with a click of the mouse for simple to use karaoke fun and Kool Karaoke's Fade-out feature gives smoother, more professional transitions between songs. Two free karaoke songs are included. You can buy more songs from the official site where you can also for free download Kool Karaoke including the 2 free songs. The Live bundle includes 70 songs and a mention of 10 more free songs for download. 

     

    Included Games:

    Interplay's MDK2
    In MDK2, you have the opportunity to play three main characters - Kurt Hectic, Dr. Hawkins, and Max, the six-legged robotic dog. These characters travel through various levels and encounter more than 20 enemy Streamriders. It’s one of the most popular game released last year and offers support for DS3D with EAX 2.0. The use of 3D sound is pretty poor with many objects not placed at all. On the positive side EAX is used quite well. For some odd reason the EAX and 3D sound doesn’t seem properly in Windows2000 with any card we have tried. 

    Eidos Interactive‘s Deus Ex
    Travel the globe as you develop your skills and build a network of allies. Employ stealth, strategy or action where appropriate. But remember, trust no one. Question everything. Even your allies may be more than they seem.  Unfortunately my version of the CD won't load so I have not had a chance to check out the EAX support but the game has consistently received glowing reviews overall and on sound and music. Based on the Unreal Tournament engine we know that it will for sure have great 3D sound but EAX and A3D 2.0 support in UT was significantly reduced in effectiveness with patches to the game and Deus Ex likely uses those later builds.  Once we get a working version of Deus Ex we will update this section but regardless, it's a game many consider to be one of the top of 2000.

    Eidos Interactive's Thief II: The Metal Age
    Thief II: the Metal Age expands on the mega hit “first person sneaker”, Thief: the Dark Project, demanding a whole new level of stealth, strategy and skill to survive. It takes someone with a soft touch and even softer step to stay ahead of the law.  This game makes great use of 3D sound and EAX and just like with the original game, it's a shining example of how sound can be a huge part of the game world.

    Epic Games' Unreal Tournament
    Play against brilliant artificial intelligence in the single player mode or play online against thousands of people. DeathMatch, Capture the Flag, Assault, Domination, and many more game types in a game that has won several 1999 Game of the Year awards! As noted above, with the patched version (which ships on the bundled UT CD EAX is not nearly as effective as when the game shipped and even then it was not as prominent on Live cards for some reason.  Despite the reduced EAX effectiveness the game still sported excellent 3D sound with high quality audio. Now, thanks to Creative's January 2001 release of new EAX enhancements the EAX support in UT is even better than the original out of the box experience.  





    Installation

    Hardware-



    The new SB Live! series of boards are slightly larger than the older series, and unlike the Live! Value, the X-Gamer 5.1 has digital out for those of you that have digital speakers. The digital out mini-jack was added to the back plate of the Live! series, so now there are 5 mini-jack connectors that can be used (digital, line-in, microphone, front speakers, and back speakers). At the center of the card rests the EMU 10K1 processor. Again, all of the new SB Live! series of cards are physically the same, the only difference is the software pack and the Live! Drive which only comes with the SB Live! Platinum. Although you can upgrade to the Live! Drive with the X-Gamer, and cannot with the Value card.



    Before installing the SB Live! X-Gamer 5.1, I had to first uninstall my old SB Live! Value card. Before installing your card you need to go into Windows Control Panel and click on Add/Remove Hardware. You then need to Remove your old sound card, I removed my SB Live! Value. Next you need to shutdown your computer and unplug all of the cables. Then open your computer case up, and take out your old sound card, and install your new one, where your old card was. Lasty, close your case, hook all the cables up, and boot up your computer.

    Software-

    Upon windows loading, windows will ask you for the drivers for the SB Live! X-Gamer 5.1 sound card. Just click cancel or no, when/if you are asked this. Now, you must put your SB Live! installation CD in your CD-ROM. After a few secs, the SB Live! installation should appear, if it does not, simply click on "My Computer" on your desktop, and then right click on your CDROM drive and click on "Auto Play". Once you see the SB Live! installation screen, just follow the instructions to install the software and drivers.

    One of the most complained about features in the Live! series is the top pull-down bar. This bar resides at the top of your screen and when you place your mouse on this line, down drops an obnoxious menu that spans the entire top of your screen, and goes down about an inch. When you are in a hurry and try to close a program by using the X in the top right corner and accidentally hit the line, you are greeted by the unwanted imposition of the top menu bar. You then have to wait until the bar disappears and then carefully hit the X so you don’t get the menu again. Most users I know uninstall this feature automatically as it is for the most part unneeded and unwanted. The top pull-down bar that is automatically installed with the Live! series showed up again, but in a much less annoying form. Again, most users uninstall this feature since it is a pain to work around in most applications, and Creative has actually fixed this annoying feature by reducing the visible size of the bar. Instead of this line that goes across the top of your screen and sometimes impedes your work if you accidentally hit it with your mouse, it now stretches about 3/4 of the way across the screen, and is centered (so neither corner has the line there that you could accidentally hit and become frustrated by. The CPU and memory overhead that this feature uses has also been dramatically cut down. Now that Creative has addressed the many issues brought up by this feature, more people are now more likely to keep it running.


    Here is a picture of the annoying little drop-down bar



    Benchmark/Tests
    There isn't really a good way of benchmarking sound cards, too bad you can't actually "hear" what it sounds like :) However, I did run a benchmark program called "Audio WinBench 99". Below is the results from the test:





    Conclusion
    To get full use of this sound card, you need some quality speakers to go with it. Like the SoundWorks Digital 3-piece speaker system (This is what I have), or preferably the SoundWorks DeskTop Theater Dobly 5.1 system (DTT2200). The X-Gamer seems to have cured a problem that existed with the original Sound Blaster Live!: noise. I still have that first SB Live! installed, and if you pump up the mixer volume, there's noticeable hiss apparent. That's not true with the X-Gamer. This sound card was super easy to install, hardware and software wise.

    I would have liked to have seen some headphones included with this sound card, rather than the microphone. The bottom line is that the X-Gamer 5.1 is a solid update of the original SB Live!. It now offers a great software and game bundle, expandability, and great-quality sound at an affordable price. Surf on over to ArenaComputers.com and pick up one of these sound cards today!

    *You will be seeing this product in our upcoming project, "The Ultimate Gamers Machine".

    Pros:
    • Superb analog and digital sound
    • Great software and game bundle!
    • Easy to install hardware and software
    • Well worth the bucks

    Cons:
    • No headphones included







    1. Sound Blaster Live! X-Gamer 5.1 Sound Card Review
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