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Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX Review

Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX Review - PCSTATS
Price Check: $/£/€
Abstract: While it's pretty easy to purchase a cheap PCI sound card these days (boards like the Sound Blaster PCI128, Aureal Vortex series, Yamaha YMF based cards, etc), do keep in mind that the problems with such hardware is that they offer a limited feature set, mediocre 3D audio acceleration and generally don't sound as good as more expensive sound cards on the market.
 65% Rating:   
Filed under: Audio / Sound Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: Analog Devices Jun 26 2001   P. Masrani  
Home > Reviews > Audio / Sound > Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX

Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX Review


While it's pretty easy to purchase a cheap PCI sound card these days (boards like the Sound Blaster PCI128, Aureal Vortex series, Yamaha YMF based cards, etc), do keep in mind that the problems with such hardware is that they offer a limited feature set, mediocre 3D audio acceleration and generally don't sound as good as more expensive sound cards on the market.

Integrated audio seems to be the buzzword with motherboard manufacturers lately. Coming in the form of an AC97 CODEC, this option of audio is usually made as a simple value addition rather than a full fledged audio expansion. Many AC97 CODEC's share the same drawbacks: poor audio reproduction, limited features, etc. Perhaps the biggest gripe of them all is the fact that the majority of these CODEC's are not hardware based. That is, they do not utilize a hardware controller or a DSP. Instead, these CODEC's are strictly driven by your processor's power which more often than not results in overall system performance degradation. If you're a hardcore gamer using such a CODEC, kiss your high FPS goodbye. Fortunately, there is an alternative...

The most expensive parts of a sound card are the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) and the ADC/DACs (Analog to Digital Converter/Digital to Analog Converter). AC97 CODEC's feature at least a 2 channel ADC (Analog to Digital Converter), a 2 channel DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), a mixer and an I/O controller. In order to reduce costs, the DSP chip has been taken out. The digital processing is done by the host processor with special code to provide sophisticated software DSP. The basic idea behind the AC97 integration is exactly the same as with software modems where part of the workload of the modem is done by the host processor. All modern PCI sound cards have AC97 CODEC(s) and a DSP, while motherboards have a standalone AC97 CODEC.

SoundMAX 3.0 (officially dubbed "SoundMAX with SPX technology") is an AC97 driven solution which will be available only on Intel motherboards for the following 6 months. The fundamental difference between SoundMAX with SPX and other AC97 solutions is the driver set and sound quality. Since all of the "smart" work of a soundcard is done in the DSP, the driver of an AC97 codec is the most essential part. As we shall find out, the SoundMAX 3.0 driver set offers enhanced features found only in expensive sound cards and comprehensive support for all known operating systems.

One new feature introduced with the newest iteration of SoundMAX is the SPX technology. SPX technologies generate responsive, interactive and dynamic game sounds in real time in response to game physics, environmental variables, and player input. You can think of SPX as a new audio rendering standard similar to EAX. The efficiency of this new audio rendering engine has not been tested yet since there are not any PC titles currently supporting this new standard. According to Analog Devices the first PC Game title with SPX support will be Moto1's "NHRA ProStock Cars and Trucks". SoundMAX with SPX is also supported by Sony's Playstation 2: Infogrames/The Pitbull Syndicate's "Test Drive" will be the first PS2 title supporting SoundMAX with SPX. Both of these titles will be available in fall 2001.


While SoundMAX with SPX is officially supported under Windows 98, Windows ME and Windows 2000. There is SoundMAX support (without SPX) for other operating systems such as Windows NT, OS2/Warp and Linux.

The Testing Methodology

For our tests we used the following equipment:

¡¤ Intel Celeron 566 MHz
¡¤ Intel D810EPFV U motherboard
¡¤ 128 MB SDRAM 133 MHz
¡¤ Elsa Erazor X2
¡¤ Integrated Analog Devices AD1885 AC97 CODEC
¡¤ Other PCI sound cards: Labtec Xwave 6000 (Yamaha YMF744b) 4 channel sound card, Orchid Nusound 3D PNP (Aureal Vortrex 1) 2 channel sound card
¡¤ Western Digital WD400BB 40GB hard drive
¡¤ NEC 5500A 8x/40x DVD ROM
¡¤ Windows 98SE, latest drivers for all devices
¡¤ Ziff Davis Audio Winbench 99 1.0 and Quake III v1.11

Our reference audio equipment consisted of:

¡¤ Pioneer A 405R Direct Energy MOS amplifier
¡¤ Pioneer CS 5030 floor speaker set
¡¤ Phillips SBC HP 600 studio reference headphones

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Contents of Article: Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX
 Pg 1.  — Analog Devices SoundMAX-SPX Review
 Pg 2.  Driver screenshots
 Pg 3.  More Benchmarks and Conclusions

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