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Soundblaster X-Fi Titanium = Major Bucket of FAIL

Posted: Fri Jul 29, 2011 11:13 pm
by FlyingPenguin
I can't believe this is still unresolved by Creative Labs.

You may remember a couple of years ago, that Creative had major issues with driver support on Win Vista. Even when they released drivers, half the time they didn't work. They were so slow to solve the problem that someone took it upon himself to hack Creative's drivers and fix it himself, and then released the drivers to the public. As a reward for this, Creative threatened to sue him and proceeded to try to remove all posted copies of the hacked driver off the internet using DMCA takedown notices. This resulted in Creative suffering a major backlash from gaming enthusiasts who were the only people who still bought Creative cards (most of the rest of us realizing that by then, onboard audio was just as good - if not better).

Fast forward to today. I have a friend who has a killer high-end Gateway gaming rig. Core2 Quad Core, AMD HD 5850. All he plays is Microsoft Flight Sim X. He is a DIE HARD FSX gamer. He flies multiplayer with friends and they go whole hog flying airliners into an airport with air traffic control plugins.

Last year when I installed the HD 5850, I also installed a used Sound Blaster Audigy2 card I had lying around because the onboard sound card (which worked fine) automatically disabled itself when it detected the HDMI sound device on the video card (which he can't use because his monitors don't support HDMI sound). This is really stupid on Gateway's part - the onboard sound automatically disables itself whenever it detects another sound card is installed - this despite the fact that Windows fully supports multiple sound cards. And no, there is no way to override this in BIOS - believe me I tried. I spent a whole day trying to make it work before I gave up and gave him the Audigy2 I had lying around.

Trouble is last week we had a bad storm and his house took a near-hit lightning strike which fried his onboard NIC. His mobo only has one PCI slot, and PCI-E NICs are impossible to find locally (they're even rare mail order). So he bought a PCI NIC and had to pull the Audigy2 to use it. For sound, he bought a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium PCI-E card.

Nice card EXCEPT, apparently, Creative still has issues with Vista, and unfortunately this PC is running Vista. The driver will flat out not install. Instead, Vista does install a generic Microsoft driver. Now that would have been okay except that this card uses Creative's goofy Flex-Jack which combines the line input and the microphone input on one jack (you can only use one or the other). Windows does not understand this because it's not a standard spec and it only sees a line input jack activated when you plug a mic into it. After much research the only way to make it work is to install the Creative drivers and then use the Creative mixer console to switch the jack into Microphone mode. That would be fine, except that the driver on the CD that came with the card won't install on Vista.

So I downloaded the latest driver off the website, which explicitly said it supported XP, Vista & Win7 and.... same problem: driver would not install, "no supported hardware found".

Did some Googling and sure enough lots of people bitching about this and the solution that everyone recommended? Install the two year old hacked Vista driver that Creative tried to ban from the Internet.

It took a while to find it because most of the links pointing to the driver were dead - Creative had taken them down. But I finally found one here on GameFront. It's called the "SB X-Fi Support Pack 2.0":

Worked like a charm. It installed the driver and then installed all the support apps including the mixer app that allowed me to switch the Flex-Jack into microphone mode.

This driver is dated 5/15/2009 and yet it worked when Creative's latest driver did not. I cannot believe that Creative has never fixed this problem. Idiots...

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 12:26 am
by Executioner
Wow...poor customer support.

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 3:44 am
by normalicy
Oh believe me, I know. I have that card on Win7. It works, but is limited. So, I only use it for my headphones now. Total waste.

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 8:36 am
by Err
Creative has a good chipset but poor drivers and card design. I really hated the flex jack and when I bough a new card a few years back, I got an Auzen X-fi Prelude. This is one of the best sound cards I've ever owned. I've also read good things about the Asus Xonar cards.

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 8:49 am
by FlyingPenguin
Unfortunately it was the only PCI-E sound card we could lay our hands on, on short notice without resorting to mail order. Even with the generic Windows driver it did the job just fine - it fully supported his 5.1 speakers. If the card had just had a standard mic jack on it instead of the flex jack he would have been perfectly happy with the generic drivers.

He doesn't use any of the environmental audio or EAX. Like I said, all he plays is FSX.

Speaking of which, it's amazing the level of community support that exists for FSX. This is a FIVE year old game! It was the last and best of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series. Microsoft abandoned it, and got out of the flight sim business, and I'm not even sure it's supported anymore.

The graphics are still stunning even 5 years later. As was typical of all of MS Flight Sims, the graphics were way ahead of what the hardware was capable of at the time. Even on a modern PC with a high end vid card, the game puts a hurting on the hardware with max eye candy.

The FSX gaming community has kept the game alive by writing mods and patches for it long after MS abandoned it, thanks to the fact that the game is so modularized. There are literally hundreds of thousands of mods and add-ons you can buy or download for free including new planes complete with photo realistic cockpits, sound mods, air traffic control mods, etc.

My friend flies commercial planes in the game like the 747 and he flies with other people who all fly in and out of a busy airport in multiplayer. He has an add-on mod that adds cabin distractions he has to deal with like flight attendants calling on the intercom and making announcements, and he can hear his co-pilot calling out information like landing speeds. It's incredibly realistic.

Because the game is no longer supported, most of these mods have to be installed in a hacked sort of way, usually unzipping the files into the proper directories and then editing a config file. I got a taste for this when his hard drive crashed a couple of years ago and I had to help him re-install the game and all the hundreds of mods he uses.

Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 4:25 pm
by normalicy
Same here on the sound card. At the time, the titanium was the only PCI-E card I could get a hold of. Wish I had waited.

Any good game has an audience well beyond it's expected life span. Free Space 2 is another that has held up to the test of time.