Creative has just released the USB 2.0-based Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 audio adapter, making it now much simpler to get surround sound on laptops and cramped small-form-factor PCs (LAN party anyone?)--or allaying the fears of those who are hesitant to crack open their systems and start mucking around inside. While Creative calls it a "sound card," it is really a small external adapter, powered by the USB port.
"Why settle for basic, built-in sound? Your music and movies deserve Xtreme Fidelity. Simply connect the Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 sound card to your PC or notebook and turn your downloaded music into your own personal concert. Watch DVDs or downloaded videos with full cinematic surround sound. Plus experience 3D audio and EAX effects in your games."
Based on the modest, minimum system requirements, Creative had older systems in mind: The device requires only a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP 2000+, 256MB RAM for XP, 512MB for Vista, 600MB of available hard disk space, and (of course) a USB port. The device will even work on a USB 1.1 connection, but will lack full functionality. Audio can be output to amplified/powered speakers, headphones, or any TOSLINK-capable device through the optical out port.
This is not the first USB-based, 5.1-channel audio adapter to come to market. Similar solutions have been available from Turtle Beach and GWC. With a direct price of $59.99, the sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 audio adapter is also one of the more expensive solutions. But, it's always good to have options.