Tomer Gabel's annoying spot on the 'net RSS 2.0
# Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I didn't really believe there were any genuinely crapy onboard sound card this day and age. Being a gamer and audio enthusiast I've always considered sound cards to be one of the most important aspects of my PC (along with the monitor, keyboard and mouse). My PC soundcard timeline goes something like:

1993 Sound Blaster Pro
1996 Sound Blaster AWE32
1998 Aureal Vortex 2-equipped Xitel Storm Platinum
2001 Sound Blaster Live! Value (after Aureal went bankrupt)

Gravis Ultrasound and Roland MT-32 for my retromachine
(and a GUS ACE in storage for rainy days)

When I bought my latest desktop at the end of 2003 I had a newly found faith in onboard solutions; onboard network adapters were finally up to snuff and the latest SoundStorm (the onboard sound solution found in nForce2-class boards) was being heralded by the online hardware press as the next best thing. Seeing as I was serving my stint in the army at the time and was relatively low on cash I opted to save money on a dedicated sound card and went with the onboard solution. This turned out to be a mistake; the audio quality of SoundStorm was not on par with the five year-old Live! and has pretty major bugs in the hardware acceleration layer; mixing would sometimes clip - particularly when very low rumbles were mixed in the general sound, as in System Shock 2's elevator shaft - and the EAX implementation was so poor it was next to unplayable. There were also major compatibility issues, such as the sound cutoff problem prevalent in a lot of Ubisoft titles and the extreme sound stuttering with Half Life 2. This was probably the game developers' fault for not ensuring compatibility, but nVidia did not seem overly inclined to work with developers to resolve these issues; conversely I would seriously doubt Creative would stake its reputation on this sort of bug.

At work I have an Athlon 64-based machine with the ubiquitous onboard Realtek AC97 codec (Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 mainboard). I constantly listen to my music collection, streaming audio etc.; I don't game, I don't edit audio, I don't do anything that requires more than a passable audio solution. The onboard audio should have been perfectly acceptable, and so it was. Until a few days ago when I started noticing crosstalk from the I/O subsystem to the audio lines; in other words, there was a weak sort of static hiss which would change pattern and frequency depending on how hard my hard drive was churning. I probably wouldn't have noticed that with lesser headphones, but that's no excuse! Why is it that in the year 2006, 18 years after the first commercial sound card for the PC was developed, I can't even get reasonable, 2D stereo audio from onboard solutions?

The only reasonably-priced sound card in the market at the moment is the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Value (around $70 in Israel - the price of a new Audigy 4 in eBay!). Guess I better start hammering at those auctions.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 9:33:52 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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