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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [07.18.05]
Manufactured by: ECS


Audio Quality

You'll remember that ECS only decided to include Realtek's ALC655 6 chanel CODEC. Either they are truly budget minded, or they realize most people know better than to use onboard sound. As you're about to see, upgrading to even a decent soundcard can make a huge difference in audio quality and performance.

To serve as a baseline to compare against these onboard sound controllers, we included an Audigy 2 in the tests. This card can be had for as low as $50 at stores like Shop around, and you can find it for as low as $40.

To test Audio Quality, we used Rightmark Audio Analyzer 5.5 on an Audigy 2 ZS connected to a second PC. We tested in both 16 bit/44.1 kHz mode (to replicate listening to CDs and MP3s) and 24 bit 96 kHz (to replicate high quality DVD Audio and DTS soundtracks)

RMAA uses a word-based scale to describe performance. We translated these words to a scale of 1-6; 1 being "Very Poor" and 6 being "Excellent".

The Abit AN8 SLI and Soltek SL-K890 Pro both use the ALC850 Codec, which is essentially the same as the ALC655, but supports up to 8 channels.

In 16 bit mode, most soundcards are limited to this level of quality. Still, the KN1 actually performed quite well in this test.

24 bit is where the Audigy 2 really shows a benefit. What will be really apparent though, is the improvement in gaming performance.

Audio Performance

Rightmark 3DSound was used to test peak CPU utilization under several scenarios. All of the onboard sound controllers peak at 25 buffers, so we only tested up to 24. The Audigy 2 supports up to 64 buffers.

The Audigy 2 takes a huge load off the CPU, and this should definitely relate to improved gaming performance:

Real World Audio Performance

To see how each sound controller affects real world gaming performance, we ran several tests using UT2K4's various audio settings. First a control was run with no sound, then each test was run, using 640x480 and the lowest detail settings. Consider any performance loss to be 'worst case scenario' because nobody would ever play with these settings.

As you can see, you suffer a huge performance penalty when using onboard sound with either NF4 board or VIA board. Adding a $40-50 Audigy 2 gives you an immediate and noticable benefit in framerate. That is why I always recommend NOT to use onboard sound.

But until other boards start using decent onboard sound controllers, we can't hold it against ECS.

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