Creative Sound Blaster ZxR Versus Onboard Audio

Gaming Performance

Wondering if a sound card can still improve frame rates when gaming like it used to several years ago? To find out, we benchmarked the Sound Blaster ZxR in a handful of titles and compared it to our onboard audio solution. Our testbed for this evaluation consisted of an Intel Core i5 3570K processor, and Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 motherboard, 16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 RAM, 2 x Intel SSD 730 Series 480GB SSDs in RAID 0, EVGA GeForce GTX 780Ti Dual Classified w/ ACX Cooler, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise 64-bit. The onboard audio is a Realtek ALC889 7.1 channel HD audio solution.

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion, and high-quality shadow features available with DirectX 11. Since we're looking to isolate the performance impact of different audio solutions, we ran this benchmark on its lowest settings with all the visual quality settings turned down or off.

Sound Blaster ZxR AvP

Our first benchmark didn't offer up any surprises -- the test system spit out the exact same framerates for both the onboard audio solution and Sound Blaster ZxR. In terms of performance impact, this one's a draw.

Metro 2033
DX11 Gaming Performance

   Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment; rather, you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof, more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators.

Sound Blaster ZxR Metro 2033

In round 2, we get our first surprise, which is an ever-so-slight edge by the onboard audio. The Sound Blaster ZxR trailed the onboard by a single framerate -- 127.33fps versus 128.33fps. A statistical anomaly? Change in the wind? Perhaps the ZxR configuration was weighed down by the additional software that was installed. Whatever the reason for the 1fps difference, it's nothing to be concerned about.

Futuremark 3DMark FireStrike and Cloud Diver
Simulated Gaming Performance

3DMark Fire Strike has two benchmark modes: Normal mode runs at 1920x1080, while Extreme mode targets 2560x1440. GPU target frame buffer utilization for normal mode is 1GB and the benchmark uses tessellation, ambient occlusion, volume illumination, and a medium-quality depth of field filter. We ran this in Normal Mode and then followed that up by running Futuremark's recently added Sky Diver benchmark that's intended for gaming laptops and mid-rang PCs. Both of these are DirectX 11 tests.

Sound Blaster ZxR 3DMark

Just like that, all is right in the world again. In both 3DMark's Fire Strike and Sky Diver tests, the Sound Blaster ZxR configuration yielded a better overall benchmark score, which perhaps indicates there's a teeny-tiny bit of a performance advantage to offloading audio to a discrete solution. Still, they're both nominal victories.

We also ran comparison benchmarks in a couple of other titles, but rather than beat a dead horse by posting a bunch of benchmark charts that show exactly the same thing, we'll simply say that there was no difference between the two. For example, in Hitman Absolution, both solutions posted 92fps at 1920x1080 with the settings turned all the way down.

The bottom line is this -- for strictly chasing higher framerates, a discrete audio solution isn't the way to go. You won't see anywhere near your return on investment in that regard. However, as you'll see on the next page, there are still strong reasons to consider a card like the Sound Blaster ZxR.

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