Sound Blaster X-Fi Revisited


There’s still some confusion around the Sound Blaster X-Fi card. Looking at comments on the blog and e-mails that I’m getting, the confusion tends to be centered around the distinction between what’s handled via hardware or software. Before explaining that, want to call out three core points:

  • Comparing the physical card itself, there is no difference between the Dell version of the Sound Blaster X-Fi and the retail version.
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS playback is done through software codecs—this applies to both the retail and Dell versions of the card.
  • We do support Dolby Digital 5.1 playback; we do not support for DTS. More on this below.

The purpose of point #1 is to clarify that we’re not delivering limited functionality at the hardware level. This means like the retail version, through hardware, we support features like EAX (enhanced game audio for games written to support it); the 24-bit crystalizer (a processor that delivers improved audio quality from a variety of sources) and CMSS 3-D (which is a processor that emulates surround sound, for 2-channel environments or headphones).

Regarding points #2 and 3: Dolby Digital and DTS are sound decoders for movies. Even on the retail version of the card, both of these are done through a software codec ultimately licensed through Dolby or DTS. The Dolby Digital 5.1 software codec we use on all XPS 700 systems is licensed through Sonic, whereas the retail X-Fi solution is licensed through Creative. From a customer standpoint, if you have a 5.1 speaker set and a DVD movie that supports Dolby Digital (very common these days), you simply insert the DVD into the drive and play the movie. We don’t support DTS (which is supported through software on the retail card with Creative’s software codecs), not because of any hardware limitation, but only because we don’t install a software codec for DTS. Does this mean that your system won’t support DTS at all? No. If you have DTS-encoded movies and want to hear them that way, you can purchase a DVD player utility that features DTS capability.

I wasn’t able to finalize some specifics on the NVIDIA 7950 graphics card update. My apologies for making you wait. More details to follow next week.

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43 thoughts on “Sound Blaster X-Fi Revisited

  1. D.L. Your comments are right on the mark, and thanks for the feedback. On the multi-channel audio side, Dell supports DVD-Audio playback. Also, as you mention, more of today’s games are also incorporating multi-channel  technology.  

    My apologies for the oversight.

  2. Lionel,

    You stated that " Dolby Digital and DTS are sound decoders for movies" as if movies are the only application these surround sound/multichannel/environmental effects technologies are used for.  

    Multichannel audio playback through Dolby Digital and DTS is now used for a wide array of purposes. For example: multichannel music listening, video games, and immersive audio book sound effects. Also multichannel audio is used for, aural (music) compositions, spacial awareness (medical) applications, business presentations/idea communication, educational/training skills enhancement, and more.

    While some of these applications of Dolby Digital and DTS technology are not yet as common as DVD movies with surround sound, they shouldn’t be discounted or go unmentioned. The video game industry which is incorporating surround sound in more games than ever, was a $10 billion dollar per year industry back in 2004. It has only grown larger since.

    Customers purchasing computers, either PC’s or notebooks, find many creative and entertainment uses for the hardware, as quickly as those new uses are developed.

    All this does is reflect a lack of understanding of the technology you sell to customers, when you stick with traditional (read outdated) and  incomplete definitions.

    So please, be more forward looking, and less limited in your definitions of the technologies Dell presents to its customers. You’ll benefit from it by not excluding creative users, and everyone will benefit from systems integrators that better understand their product mix.


  3. I’m confused: I keep seeing that there is going to be an update on the 7950.  What is being updated??? Am I going to need the update to get my computer (that is being shipped without the processor upgrade or a gift card, with two 7950’s, and is on a UPS truck right this moment) to work? Or am I spending loads of money for something that still has bugs?


  4. Lionel stated "Even on the retail version of the card, both of these are done through a software codec ultimately licensed through Dolby or DTS. The Dolby Digital 5.1 software codec we use on all XPS 700 systems is licensed through Sonic, whereas the retail X-Fi solution is licensed through Creative."

    Why is it necessary for Dell to not have the full functionality of the sw codecs which are in the retail version of the SB X-Fi XtremeMusic audio control panel?  There are many configuration options in the XtremeMusic DD5.1 menu which are not available with the Sonic DVD player – this means the solution you are providing has less features than the retail version.

    Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context:  "XtremeMusic (D)"?

    Lionel states "If you have DTS-encoded movies and want to hear them that way, you can purchase a DVD player utility that features DTS capability."  

    Isn’t this a straight out statement that an XPS 700 buyer has to purchase an additional item in order to get the functionality that is in a retail SB X-Fi card?

    Finally, it is this approach that indicates that Dell doesn’t understand what it means to market a HIGH END system to enthusiasts.  Enthusiasts don’t want features removed or replaced by other programs with significantly less functionality (i.e. configuration options).  

    The customers buying the XPS 700 are willing to pay for a high end system with ALL the features and there is no reason why Dell can’t leave those features in the system (even if it means charging a little more for the system – although, when you get a $4-5k system…it should have all the bells and whistles – like Dell’s competition does in the enthusiast marketplace).

    Understand your customer and the enthusiast you are marketing to with the XPS 700.

  5. Lionel,

    Why did Dell launch a gaming system that does not support Dolby Digital 5.1 for video games?  You have the hardware installed.  Dell simply chose to not install the broader functionality codec, if I am reading you correctly.

    Quite candidly, who really cares about DVD-Audio playback.  That’s what I have a wide screen High Definition TV downstairs for.  I buy desktop computers to play applications.  If this were a laptop, that would be fine as I do watch movies when travelling on my laptop; however, for a desktop, if Dell assumed that it’s market was consumers who want to watch a DVD in Dolbly Digital 5.1, Dell missed the entire reason to market a gaming system.  

    All in all I love the machine.  It’s quite impressive, all around.  I am just disappointed to hear Dell characterize it’s OEM components as idendtical to the retail specs when they are barely comparable.  

    Just my thoughts.  It’s still a great machine, but for a nominal investment more, you could have put it over the top.  We would have paid for it.

  6. Lionel,

    Can you please go into detail around some of the develoment related decisions behind the XPS 700 chipset.  I am most interested in understanding whether is wast cost-based decision making or if there was a consumer focused rationale.

    I cannot think that it was cost-centric on the actual system side; however, I can see Dell being concerned about having to train its support teams on the new technology, which has a cost to it.

    I am not expecting to miss not hacing dual ethernet or fast packet, etc.; however, it seems like Dell "chose not to support" some very key value added components to the chip set.  

    Thanks for any response, although can you deeper into the actuall internal discussions at Dell?  I know these issues must have been debated in a real world fashion.  


  7. I pulled this from the Creative site.  Can Dell’s card do all of this:

    If you are looking for a sound card that enhances your listening enjoyment – at a price that fits your pocket – Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic is it. The latest in Creative Technology’s offerings of cutting-edge sound cards, Sound Blaster X-Fi harnesses the power of the Sound Blaster Audigy series and betters its features! Never before has audio fidelity been so crystal clear. Be immersed in breath-taking surround sound, be it during music listening, movie watching or PC gaming. Upgrade your existing library of MP3s and other music files to DVD-Audio quality with 24-bit Crystalizer. Or turn your stereo music into amazing multi-channel surround sound with CMSS-3D. With Creative MediaSource, you can easily Super-Rip CDs into Xtreme Fidelity quality audio permanently! Sound Blaster X-Fi’s THX certification, Dolby® Digital EX and DTS-ES™ support means your PC hub can be transformed into a virtual home theater.

    If it cannot do all this can you please address the "why" rather than the fact that Dell "chose" not support, etc…  Thanks

  8. Lionel,

    Given many of us have begun receiving and setting up our XPS 700s, what assurances can you make us that we will receive the $200 gift certificates we were "promised"? Dell was adamant about not providing an email confirmation that we would get the GC and rather said that we will definitely get it after the PC is delivered.

    Can you please confirm when these GCs will be sent out? What if for some reason we don’t receive one when we were indeed promised one?

  9. Brian: Thanks for your comment.  Gift cards will be mailed out to customers.  Lead time is 4 – 6 weeks since you initially talked to a salesperson to make that choice.

  10. Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context: “XtremeMusic (D)”?

  11. Lionel,

    Is Dell mailing the $200 (or equivelant) gift cards to all its XPS 700 customers, including those in the UK? I’ve spent over £2,000 ($3,000) on my system, and I’ll feel miffed, if I’m left out in the cold. Thanks.

  12. Chairman Mao: if you ordered your system up until July 18, 2006, the gift card is an option.  Please re-issue a comment with your order details and be sure to fill in the e-mail address field so that I can have someone contact you.  Thanks.

  13. Seems rather obvious that you have refused to answer this question twice in this blog – while answering the other questions.

    Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context: “XtremeMusic (D)”?

  14. explain2me: My apologies for not responding the first time around.  The short answer is I don’t know for sure.  I’ll see what I can find out and will let you know.

  15. Lionel:  if YOU don’t know, how do you expect the customer to know what it means?  There are no footnotes to explain it.

    Since it applies to the Sound Blaster SW audio control panel (which is called “XtremeMusic” – I know what it means – DEFEATURED – that’s why it doens’t have the reatil functionality of DD5.1 and DTS included.

    Question is, will you admit it?  I don’t think so.  How about that Dell Code of Conduct that is posted on the corporate website?  C’mon, you can be honest with us customers, it won’t hurt you to do it.

  16. explain2me: Just confirmed this with a few folks.  The (D) by the X-Fi card in the XPS 700 configuration page stands for “Dell.” I tried to be clear in this post that we don’t support DTS because we don’t include the software codec necessary for DTS playback.  We do include Dolby Digital 5.1 playback, however.

    Hardware-wise, there’s no difference between the Sound Blaster X-Fi we sell and the retail version of the card.

  17. Ok, then why isn’t there a footnote or something that clearly explains that?

    In addition, something like that would seem applicable what Liem said – “Dell’s implementation of the 590 chipset” – so why doesn’t the XPS 700 show 590 chipset (D)?  Or how about the video cards which don’t have video in like some retail cards?  Or TV Tuners which don’t have all the features of the retail card? 

    Shouldn’t everything that isn’t identical to retail carry the (D) to show customers that it’s the “Dell version or implementation”?  I seriously suggest consistency.

    Again, I didn’t say the card (hardware wise) was missing anything – I clearly stated that the (D) applied to the XtremeMusic (which is the SW application) and it is MISSING the DD5.1 and DTS codecs which come with the retail version … i.e. that’s what makes it “Dell’s version”.

  18. Hour after hour Technical Rep. after Technical rep. and Dell Techs have me format my harddrive destroy alot of work and then just “forgot” to tell me that  a disk Labled;  “To return your computer to the mannner inwhich it left the factory”!  Did not even come close and DVD problems etc…… Go Figure!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Alan,

    Sorry for the frustration. If you still have problems
    with your DVD drive, please send me another comment with your email
    address filled in. I can have someone contact you directly to get it
    straightened out.

  20. Nick: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Not sure what’s going on with your system. I verified the DD 5.1 decoder being installed with a couple of folks on the audio engineering team.

    I’ll ask for someone in Tech Support to follow up with you.

  21. I have an XPS 600 with the Sonic Cineplayer and the X-Fi XtremeMusic card.  I also have the Dell 5.1 speakers.  You say that 5.1 playback is still available through the Sonic Cineplayer, but this is not true.  I have played numerous DVDs with 5.1 tracks, but I do not receive any sound to the rear speakers unless I fake it up by using the 3D effect of the X-Fi card.  In fact, what the Cineplayer has is a Pro Logic decoder, not a 5.1 decoder.  It says so right in the Audio options of the player.  Pro Logic, as any audiophile knows, is a decoder that takes 5 speaker sound and outputs it to two speakers, if that’s all you have.  Now, what’s funny is that the Cineplayer has the Dolby Digital logo on the welcome screen, but if you use the Dolby Surround Pro Logic option with no 3D effect from the X-Fi card, you get no sound from the rear speakers.  If there is anything you think I might be missing here, I’d really like to know.  I really don’t feel like going through the hassle of customer service and tech people just to get a new card when a better one will probably be on the way in the next year or so anyway.

  22. As Nick, mentioned above, I also cannot play my DVD’s on cineplayer with Dolby digital 5.1  (not spdif) .  I am sure it is something I am doing wrong.  I have posted a request for similar information in the Dell Community forum on this topic, but Lionel, if you would be so kind as to explain exactly what software/drivers/updates/etc. are required to support this or point us to a faq that contains this information, I would greatly appreciate it.


  23. Chris, did you not read my post?  You can’t hear proper 5.1 through the Dell systems.  It doesn’t work, period.

  24. Well, well, well.  A little birdie told me that he even has the retail version of the X-Fi card and still prefers the following free AC3Filter codec for playback of 5.1 audio.  It can be found here: .  I installed it myself and the codec immediately takes over control from the inadequate Cineplayer codec.  Just download and install the latest version, set the speaker settings to 5.1 and play a DVD.  You can use either Cineplayer or WMP, however I think the Cineplayer Pro Logic codec still messes with the AC3Filter codec and blends the rear channels too much.  I prefer WMP as it created a more crisper sound from each channel.  WMP, however, does have a lowered center channel.  But with AC3Filter, you can raise the center speaker’s volume all by itself, convenient equalizer settings the Cineplayer codec does not offer.  Just make sure the EAX and CMSS-3D settings on the X-Fi card are turned off so that they don’t manipulate the pure analog signal of the channel sound.  I haven’t tested it with all my different DVDs, and I can’t promise it will work for all Dell systems, but it definitely works with mine on the few movies I tried with it.  Goodbye Cineplayer.  Goodbye Dell.

  25. Followup:  After some more tests, the Cineplayer codec definitely messes with the AC3Filter, so playback with the Cineplayer will still be faulty.  I uninstalled the Cineplayer and so I just play DVDs through WMP with the AC3Filter as my DVD sound codec.  Pure 5.1 channel sound. 

  26. Just bought a new Dimension 9200 with Vista and a 5.1 speaker set

    The speakers all give a sound in the hardware test


    I cannot get any surround sound out of this machine !!

     Looking for help on this one and find the above tips too technical



  27. Hello: Can someone please help me out. Is the Sound blaster the standard audio card in all dell laptop models? If not, can you please list the dell models that do. Thanks Mike. 

  28. Michael Smith: Unfortunately, none of our notebooks come with Creative Labs sound cards installed. All of the integrated sound in notebooks is Sigmatel hardware.

     The Sound Blaster Audigy MB is software that enables some functionality that’s available in Creative Labs sound cards.

    I explained it in a bit more detail in this post.

  29. Just like everyone else… my previous dell was able to do this, but with this sound card,  i can’t get sound out of my rear speakers!  this is really rediculous and don’t undrestand it… If i put on the 3d settings it works but who really uses them? they sound rediculous too

  30. I am wondering the same thing as Michael Smith, did my new Dell come with the Soundblaster card upgrade I ordered? I cannot tell from the hardware profile. I have written Dell twice about this in the past two weeks and heard nothing… Wondering if I should return my machine…

     Does the Soundblaster card come on the machine or did I just get ripped off by Dell?

  31. The only sound i getfrom my rear speakers (5.1)) is in the control pannel >Sound>test all other application and creative software does knot produce sound from rear speakers.. any know issues? thx

  32. Lionel,  I purchased an XPS with an X-FI in April.  What I would like to know is what version of the card it is.  Although Creative does not seem to be issuing driver updates frequently (to say the least), there seem to be different versions for the various X-FI Xtreme drivers, so I would like to know which one to download when a new version becomes available.

  33. I also just like Wilfried Maas, bought a Dell Dimension 9200 with windoes vista. Later I bought a 5.1 speaker set from creative (t6100) but only the front and the bass works, the rear speakers and the center one just do not work. I even changed the cables and then sound did come out of the center speaker, so it is not broken. Does anyone have advise on how I can get this to work??

  34. Can anyone help? I’ve just purchased a Dell Dimension 9200 with a Soundblaster X-FI Extreme soundcard and using the Vista operating system – whenever I try to play audio, the sound is clicking and popping. Has anyone got any idea why this is happening and has anyone else had the same problem?

  35. I just purchased a 710 with Vista, and no sound card options were compatible save for integrated audio. I was very disappointed at this. Currently, Alienware lists system supporting both Vista and the X-Fi cards.

    In another case, my father purchased an XPS system not two months ago with XP and the Vista upgrade. He was able to get a true sound card, upgrade to Vista and have both. I spoke with Customer Service, Sales, and even Tech support of which no one could offer a solution.

    That’s another reason I’m looking forward to the 720 harware kit to change the motherboard as I don’t want integrated audio on it. I don’t want to risk any compatibility issue when I do install a sound card and have a conflict with the system seeing two options.

    In the end, I will have had to pay for the integrated audio, the new sound card, and ultimatly the 720 hardware upgrade kit… Is that the only option available?

  36. Just a quick question. . . I have refromated my computer and installed the Creative cd with its drivers and updated from their site many times trying to get my X FI sound to not come out distroted and screwed up. No mattter how many factory installs i do or quick fixes I recieve no results, any help would be appreciated ty  I use a XPS 400

  37. I see here o lot of questions from people that do the sound test and it works from all 5 speakers but there is no sound from the computer is anyone willing to the tell us how to fix this problem i am also having the saem problem. Please help.

  38. Where on Dell’s website is a full driver for Xtreme Music for XP and Vista? i see only driver for work, without any panels for control sound card.


  39. there is no difference between the Dell version of the Sound Blaster X-Fi and the retail version ?

     Are u guys kiding of course theres a diffrent , why cant i use the what u hear feature ?

    Whats the deal with that all other retail X-fi does have this feature under Vista/xp

  40. I have a Dell Inspiron 531 with a 'Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme- Vista Only' Card too. I would like to remove Vista and install XP. How can I keep my sound card working? Does 'Vista Only' mean the card is only compatible with Vista or is it just the driver?

  41.  I too have had the same problem as mentioned by Peter O'Leary. My system has the SB X-Fi Xtreme Audio card and I want to be able to record streaming audio from free international online radio stations. I used to be able to do this with my old system and the older version soundcard I owned. How do I do that? And why can I not currently do it? At first I thought my soundcard was not working properly, then I thought it was some default I had not changed, then I thought perhaps it was Vista (which seems to find compatibility issues with lots of software — and maybe hardware too.) — but now I'm just confused as to what the deal is with this soundcard. I feel ripped off also. I spent over $1,400 (not including the two flat screens) to have a top of the line system — only to find out that my old system — with old soundcard, XP Pro worked better. Does anyone know how to record streaming audio via the X-Fi card?

  42. The same as Peter O'Leary and David Smith, I have been completely unable to use the "What you Hear"  option on my soundcard. Given the expense, this is ridiculous. I bought a SoundBlaster PCI128 card about ten years ago for £30 and it was more fully-featured than this thing. I want to be able to record audio direct from the card because I'm trying to actually write music on this computer, and if you've sequenced up any MIDI at all, by far the easiest way to do this is capture the playback from your computer. I've been forced to take a line from my output back into the mic port — totally unacceptable.


    I've also found it incredibly hard to find out precisely which X-Fi card Dell decided to put in this machine.  I'd like to be able to upgrade drivers and software directly from Dell and I can't do that without knowing if I've got a proper X-Fi card or one that's basically a rebadged Audigy. I'd like to know if the card in my machine is an Xtreme Audio or a proper X-Fi card. Very hard to find out.

  43. Well, I'm glad I'm not the only person annoyed by this. If I had known before hand about the removal of the 'What U Hear' feature and the clicking and popping the card appears to be prone to I would have just stuck with the on board soundcard and installed my perfectly useable Soundblaster Audigy2… that was far more useful than the rubbish I paid extra for in my PC. I doubt I'll purchase my next PC from Dell.

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