Originally Posted by FlakMagnet
So all sound is 'software' sound through the OS at the moment on Win 7? Wow I hadn't realised! I guess that means that onboard sound is as good as any X-Fi at the moment? No need for a separate soundcard?
I do remember something about DirectSound being removed, but hadn't really realised what that meant :P
DirectSound did for sound what Direct3d does for video; it offloads some of the processing work from the main CPU to a dedicated processor thereby freeing up the main CPU for more/other things. Additionally, the task is done faster/better/efficiently since it is being done on a dedicated piece of equipment designed specifically for the task (sound processing in this case).
It's not totally worthless to own a Xfi card. A lot of older games still use it thanks to Alchemy. Some newer games still use it but they are fewer and far in between. Dirt 2 used hardware as an example. However, Dirt 3 currently has it disabled, at least in the menus. There is a way to enable it but some sounds, most notably car engine noise, are not reproduced. Codemasters has dropped some hints they may bring it back in a new patch/service pack since they basically only disabled what is still present. However, as games come out and time goes by, hardware enabled games will be fewer and fewer.
Xfi provide features that go well beyond processing abilities. The big thing about Xfi cards is sound quality; some motherboards and their sound chips are better than others but Xfi sound cards will beat out motherboards in analog sound quality probably 99% of the time. The reason being is motherboards put out a lot of interference which can be sent to speakers. Xfi has quality compenents which won't pick up the intereference giving you better sound. The second thing about Xfi cards is their drivers are typically better than motherboard sound drivers. It's well known that motherboard sound don't always play all sounds when playing games. Xfi cards/drivers are a LOT better in this regard; if a sound is meant to be heard then you will hear it and it will come from the direction it is supposed to come from. There have been several reviews comparing an Xfi card to motherboard sound solutions. It's quite common for them to mention how Xfi plays sounds motherboard solutions don't.
A lot of people don't mind going cheap and using motherboards built-in sound. However, if you are willing to pay for it, it has been shown getting an XFi is a big deal. I own an Xfi Fatality PCI Express card; I love it and have no intention of ever wasting my time going to a motherboard sound solution.
It is my hope, despite Creative's well known crappy drivers, MS adds the ability to offload sound to a dedicated processor in the next version of Windows or even in a future SP to Windows 7 (yeah, right!!). 384 distinct sound sources, each comming at you from any direction, at a high sample/bit rate with all sorts of effects applied (volume, echo, reverb, etc.) would be awesome. Keep in mind Creative isn't the only game in town when it comes to sound cards. In particular, I bet Asus would kill at a chance to come out with a dedicated sound card.
We can dream...