The Hot Hardware Test System
How We Get It Done
AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1 Audio Card
Terratec Aureon 7.1 Space Audio Card
ASUS A7N8X Deluxe
Motherboard Rev. 1.3
512MB Kingston HyperX
2 IBM ATA100 7200RPM
80GB HD (RAID-0)
ATi Radeon 9800 Pro
Standard Floppy Drive
ATi Catalyst 3.6
nVidia 2.45 Chipset
Logitech Z640 5.1
Surround Sound Speakers
Audio Quality With Right Mark 5.1
RightMark Audio Analyzer is an independent
open-source project developed by the iXBT.com /
Digit-Life team. The tool takes a variety of
audio measurements and displays them for comparison.
To complete this test, we used a loop back wire
running from the speaker out to the line in. We
then set the program to run the tests at both 44kHz
and 192kHz. Below are the results.
cards running at 44kHz, the Aureon 7.1 had the edge
over the Prodigy 7.1 across the board. While
both cards were good, the Aureon's quality was better
overall, with the Aureon turning in lower crosstalk
and noise levels. While the Aureon did put out
the best overall results, the Prodigy was quite good
in its own right. But what about 192kHz?
Unfortunately, we had no success getting any version
of RightMark, either 5.1 or 4.3, to run properly at
192kHz. When we first launched the loop back
test, a screen appeared for adjusting the levels to
approximately -1db. While this worked fine on
the 44kHz test, when we selected 192kHz, we only got
audio out of the left channel while the right remained
anywhere from -50db to -70db. On our test
machine we experienced this with the Terratec Aureon
7.1, yet the AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1 had equal levels.
Consequently, the reverse was true when we installed
the two cards on a separate test system, where this
time the Prodigy levels were off balance.
RightMark does state that the higher the audio quality
the more instability may be encountered, but in this
case we're simply not sure. A post on the Right
Mark forum has resulted in no leads, leaving us to
draw our own conclusions.
General Audio Performance
Can You Hear Me Now? Good.
To get a good idea of how well the sound cards
performed during game play, we loaded a couple of
familiar titles. For starters, we loaded one of
our all time favorites, Medal of Honor - Allied
Assault. MOH was one of those games that got its
teeth into virtually everyone here at HH. There
is a good reason for that, it's a phenomenal game.
With all of the audio qualities set to their highest,
we loaded the scene where you storm the beaches of
Normandy. This is one of the most disturbingly
realistic scenes in the game. As we worked our
way up the beach, the sound quality with each card was
excellent. The explosion of mortars hitting all
around us was positioned quite well and the head on
machine gun fire had us ducking for cover as if our
monitor was firing at us. Overall, the playback
was very good and believable. Another title I
chose was Combat Flight Simulator 3. For this
test we set all of the audio settings to maximum and
jumped right into a dog fight. As we approached
the battle zone, explosions from antiaircraft guns
appeared all around us. As they exploded, a deep
distant thud was heard and felt in front of us and
when we flew through the explosion, the audio traveled
along either side as it should. As an enemy
pilot shot at us from behind, we had a little
difficulty trying to discern which direction he was
coming from, but the flak sounded very real, as was
the sound of the bullets ripping through the plane as
we spiraled to the ground in a ball of fire.
all, each card performed well in both games and since
their basic design is virtually identical, so was the
playback. However, from a purely subjective
standpoint, the Prodigy 7.1 seemed to have a slight
edge over the Aureon. For example, when shooting
in CFS3, we could hear effects simulating the
mechanics of the planes gun after firing a burst of
rounds. This was not heard with the Aureon.
With Music playback, we used both Windows Media Player
9 and MusicMatch 8.0. Being used to a Hercules
Game Theater XP for the last year and a half, I
thought the difference would be obvious, but it
wasn't. The bottom line is that CDs are recorded
at 44kHz and that is the best you are going to get,
regardless whether we are talking about CDs or MP3s
ripped from CDs. We loaded a broad spectrum of
artists from Static-X, Radiohead and Stabbing Westward
in both CD and MP3 format. In the end, the
quality was good, but it was really hard to tell the
older Hercules card from the new ones. Where you
should really hear the difference is with Audio DVDs
which are recorded at 96kHz. Unfortunately we
did not have one on hand to test, but from what we've
heard, the quality is amazing. The bottom line
is that if you are planning to collect Audio DVDs,
these cards will be able to play the audio at its
PowerDVD XP, we loaded the Revolutionary War epic, The
Patriot, and advanced to several battle scenes.
The first scene has Mel Gibson's character and his two
sons sneaking up on some redcoats in the woods.
As Mel runs around the perimeter of the redcoats
position, the audio realism was true to form. It
seems as though what ever we were witnessing was
happening around us. Later on we forwarded to
one of the grander battles where Cornwallis was having
his way with the revolutionaries and again, the
realism was terrific. Regardless of which card
we had installed, the quality was great all around.
Efficiency is the name of this game
While the jury is still out on whether
synthetic benchmarks are all that useful with today's
video cards, we were surprised to find they are very
useful for other applications. For example,
3DMark03 offers a Sound test that can be run
independent of the graphics test to demonstrate the
effects of DirectSound processing on frame rates.
This benchmark runs three rounds of the test, first
with no audio and then with 24 and 60 sounds to
demonstrate impact on game play.
audio both cards returned frames in excess of 35FPS.
Naturally as the sounds increased the performance was
affected accordingly. With 24 sounds the FPS
dropped roughly 7FPS while we saw an additional drop
of 5FPS with 60 sounds.
More Benchmarks and