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Reviewed By: Mike Goyette [04.12.01]
Manufactured by: Hercules
Suggested Price: $149.95

Tower of Techno Babel

The GTXP uses Cirrus Logics latest consumer audio chip, the Crystal CS4630. The CS4630 is a pretty impressive DSP, providing the compatibility for DirectSound 3d, EAX 2.0, A3D 1.0, and Sensaura's MacroFX, MultiDrive, ZoomFX, and EnvironmentFX. It also handles all of the audio tasks you can throw at it, when testing using ZiffDavis' Audio WinBench CPU utilization was next to nothing, so you can rest assured that while playing mp3s or fragging someone in quake3 it won't be the audio that is slowing you down. The 4630 also has a dual codec interface. What does that mean? Well each codec can handle 4 channels for a total of 8; most 6 channel sound cards have one 4-channel codec and one 2-channel codec. The GTXP currently uses the 2 extra channels for the independent headphone and microphone jacks on the front but it could be adapted to the new 7.1 AC-3 standard that is being tested. I could bore you with the details some more, but I won't. If you have the need for more information, visit Hercules.com, CirrusLogic.com or Sensaura.com.

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The notable lack of an S/PDIF could be a loss for some people.

The Tests

The testing that I did was far more involved than I had planned, as it took well over a week to configure and test the system. This was due to several factors. 

1. At the last minute I borrowed a friends MidiLand S4 8200 5.1 ProLogic speakers to test the 5.1 output.
2. I spent an entire night trying to install a USB SmartMedia reader using the USB ports on the GTXP breakout box. (more on this later)
3. I spent my entire Saturday configuring the MidiLand speakers. (more later!)
4. As this was my first review I spent a few nights trying to figure out what the guys over at Hardcoreware.net needed.
5. A friend recently purchased American McGee's Alice which supports most of the 3D sound APIs so I also borrowed that.
6. The fact that I was testing DVD's and games did not help to speed my progress!

Ok now that everybody knows what my excuses are lets get on with it!

I figured doing this review be a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong. My original list of test included Ziff Davis' Audio Winbench 99' to test cpu utilization; The Matrix to test the surround decoding; Baldurs Gate II to test EAX support and the normal slew of MP3's and audio cd's to test music playback. All of these were performed using Cambridge Soundworks 4 point surround speakers.

In the new tests I included Thief II: Metal Age, American McGee's Alice, and Unreal Tournament for game testing; The Fifth Element and Terminator 2: The Ultimate Edition DVD for DVD decoding and several THX & Dolby MP3 test sounds. All of these test were done on the 4-point surround speakers and the newly borrowed S4 Prologic System along with the old tests. 

Above and beyond the audio test, I also tested the USB ports and all of the audio inputs on the box as well as on the card itself. 

The Results

I am going to start with the mundane tests first and work my from the USB right down the line to where this card really shines, the 5.1 test.

The hub itself is rated at 500mA has 4 ports, so 125mA per port. I started off by testing all four ports using my MS Strategic Commander (tested here).  All found the MSS Commander fine, so I went to my next test. I purchased USB SmartMedia Reader by Simple Technologies so that I could quickly upload my digital photos to my computer. I tried 3 out of 4 ports, with the MSSC plugged into the first port and I could not get this thing working. I originally thought it was the reader, but after plugging it into the root port on my computer it was recognized instantly. Windows shows both the reader and the MSSC as drawing 100mA so they should both be able to be plugged in. If get this card, and have a lot of USB devices, keep your powered hub or waste an entire night trying to figure out why your devices don't work.

CPU Utilization
I was originally going to make a nice chart to show the results but thought it would be easier to just say this: The GTXP performs 99% of all audio tasks all by itself. You guys with slower machines will be happy to know, you can play your MP3's without worrying about hitting your CPU.

Analog Inputs
I think that this is a very important factor, which has been overlooked by all of the reviews I have seen. If you are using the digital outputs, whether it is the optical or coaxial, to go to your speakers you will NOT get any analog sounds. This includes EVERY input on the card or breakout box except the digital ones. This is where not having a S/PDIF input on the card itself comes into play. By not having that digital input you cannot listen to cd's unless your speaker system has analog inputs as well as digital. The MidiLand S4 are quite limiting in this manner, while it has both optical and coaxial digital inputs it only has a dual (left and right) analog input (the S4's controller box will only read either the digital or the analog inputs at one time). This eliminates your ability to hear the digital side. The person who let me borrow the S4 speakers owns an SBLive! Platinum and he told me he does not have this problem. I would hazard to guess the SbLive! has an analog to digital converter and the GTXP does not. When my 4-point system is hooked up I get full surround and all inputs work properly. If you are planning on getting a GTXP you may want to make sure that your speaker system will support analog inputs. 

Game Testing

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