I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that sound cards have started getting interesting again after years of a boring one horse race. It wasn’t too long ago when we looked at the Asus Xonar D2X – the PCI-Express x1 version of the original D2. Both of which were great cards with tons of features, but they were pretty expensive and excessively so for many. They were also lacking the key gaming feature—Environmental Audio Extensions (EAX)—which prevented some of our readers from swapping their Creative X-Fi out for a Xonar. It became a case that it was X-Fi for gaming, Xonar for music and movies.
Since then the tables have not only been turned, they’ve been picked up and viciously shaken by the legs. This follows on from recent events where Creative managed to annoy just about everyone in the enthusiast community because of the way it treated Daniel K, which many users felt was unacceptable considering Creative’s attitude to its own driver development and feature support.
In an almost perfectly timed kick when the competition was down, Asus announced that it had reverse engineered EAX Advanced HD by releasing a free update to its XP and Vista drivers for DS3D (Direct Sound 3D) GX engine; this upgraded it to “version 2.0”. Overnight this effectively seemed to remove any reason to buy a Creative soundcard.
Naturally Creative didn’t see it this way, and said that you only get the true experience from a proper X-Fi card. While this may be true, we bet the combination of both events has compounded a movement from Creative to Asus.
Even then, we still begged Asus for something a bit cheaper than the £100 Xonar D2 and D2X – at the time of review, the Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer was a solid card at a great price, but it was effectively unchallenged in the market. We weren’t asking for something completely “no frills” from Asus, just a product that produced great sound without the weight of a million Dolby and DTS extensions.
Finally, it seems our mad hollering has been answered as Asus has launched its Xonar DX – a half height card that comes in at about half the price of the original D2 and D2X, but still retains the high quality hardware, a few Dolby features and the new PCI-Express x1 interface. It's a year later than the XtremeGamer, but is it just that much better? We find out.
Audio Processor: ASUS AV100
Max Channels Supported: 7.1
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/192kHz
EAX level: "5"
Dolby Home Theatre Technologies
ALT (Analogue Loopback Transformation) Technology
Front Panel audio header
SNR: 116dB front, 112dB side, centre and rear
Analogue 3.5mm audio jacks and optical S/PDIF
Unlike the full fat Xonar, the DX has a fairly minimal package, although there’s still more in the box than what came with the XtremeGamer when we looked at that. With the Xonar DX, Asus includes a manual, a driver CD, an S/PDIF optical out adapter and a half height PCI bracket. That’s pretty funky – it’s never a guarantee to get a half height bracket with a half height card, so this should be useful if you’re planning a low profile system for a home theatre PC for example.