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by Aureal Semiconductor

cup.gif (5516 bytes)Ups: easy install, great sound, positional audio

Downs: What downs?

System Reqs: PCI slot with 3.3V power, Pentium 90MHz or better, 16MB RAM, CD-ROM drive, 30MB of hard disk space, powered speakers or headphones

Aureal Semiconductor is making big waves in the PC gaming world with its impressive line of sound cards. PC manufacturers such as Sony and Alienware are putting together stock systems with Vortex series cards. Aureal's card is hardwired into the motherboard of the new VAIO systems, and they have bumped the former old man of sound, Creative Labs' Sound Blaster, out of Alienware's custom gaming systems. We snagged a Vortex2 SuperQuad Digital PCI card at E3, and we are still impressed with the ease of the install, the quality, and the compatability of the hardware.

The Vortex2 SuperQuad Digital is powered by Aureal's AU8830 chip, an audio accelerator that gives the device some serious muscle. The hardware acceleration allows for positional audio effects in games, and adds incredible realism to the play experience. The card has 320-voice wavetable synthesis, and outputs for up to four speakers and an optical digital output. There are the standard line in/out connections, and an accelerated game/MIDI port. Internal connections on the card include CD input, auxiliary input, TAD (modem) input/output, and a connector for a wavetable upgrade. All in all, the SuperQuad has just about everything, and it is upgradeable enough to satisfy any hardcore sound enthusiast.

Installation of the card was a snap. Usually the old "Plug n' Pray" system causes some kind of difficulty, but Aureal documented where Windows 95 would screw up and how to fix the problem. With the aid of their singularly helpful manual, the installation was done in no time, and we were listening to demonstrations of the incredible A3D technology. A3D allows games to use positional audio, so environmental sounds change as your character moves around. Many games already support A3D, such as Recoil and Half-Life, and, with the major growth that Aureal has experienced over the last year in the marketplace, it looks like most of the new titles will incorporate the technology.

Game play is enhanced by the use of A3D. For example, when someone is creeping up behind you, you can use not only the visual information displayed on the screen, but also the audio information – the sound of your enemy's motion – to detect and react. Echos are also made extra cool by A3D. Guns reverberate differently according to where you shoot them, and footsteps and voices echo in many ways.

There is also a noticeable improvement in non-gaming sound apps. Just playing CDs is enhanced by the graphic equalizer included with the card's software package. There is a sound recorder and a media player also included. The software customizes the card's output for the type of speaker setup you have: headphone, satellite speakers, monitor speakers, or quad speakers.

Overall, the Aureal Semiconductor Vortex2 SuperQuad Digital PCI sound card is a great piece of hardware. Installation is easy, and performance is unbeatable. Aureal is bound to set the new standard for gaming sound.

-- Shawn Rider and Thomas Hoff