Using a laptop gives you a level of freedom and convenience you simply can't get from a huge desktop PC. But in many respects notebooks lag far behind their desktop counterparts - processors are slower, graphics chips are older and sound cards are frequently dire. Well, when it comes to the sound card, Creative can help you out with its SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook.

The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook theoretically takes the technology that powered Creative's esteemed X-Fi series to fame in the desktop world and adds it to your laptop. In fact, the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook shares few core components with the X-Fi PCI cards, but it's a simple upgrade that adds sparkling sound to your notebook.

The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook comes in the form of an ExpressCard/54 slot - slip this into your laptop, load up the drivers and you're away. Unless you want to connect 5.1 or 7.1 speakers (rather than 2.0/2.1 speakers or headphones), in which case you'll have to spend another £27 on Creative's Speaker Docking Module.

The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook adds spice to games and music with its 24bit audio. The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook supports a 96KHz SPDIF out, but only if you use Windows XP - Vista users, annoyingly, will be forced to make do with 48KHz for the time being.

The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook doesn't provide the low-latency ASIO drivers that are offered with the desktop X-Fi cards, so this isn't a great product for musicians, but gamers will lap it up. EAX 4.0 support is impressive for a laptop, while CMSS 3D adds audio depth and texture. Extra bass is provided by the X-Fi Crystalizer, while PowerDVD users will find strong support for Dolby DTS and Digital-EX in the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook.

You will notice a difference when moving to the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook from an X-Fi desktop PC, but the gap isn't as wide as it used to be - particularly if you're using proper speakers. Gamers will also get a few extra framerates, but performance will be less impressive than with the desktop versions. The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook relies on the laptop's processor rather more.

Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook: Specs

  • ExpressCard/54 slot
  • 24bit/96KHz SPDIF (Windows XP)
  • 24bit/48KHz SPDIF (Windows Vista)
  • Xtreme Fidelity
  • X-Fi Crystalizer
  • X-Fi CMSS-3D
  • DTS and Dolby Digital-EX support for PowerDVD
  • headphones
  • 5.1/7.1 speakers optional
  • ExpressCard/54 slot
  • 24bit/96KHz SPDIF (Windows XP)
  • 24bit/48KHz SPDIF (Windows Vista)
  • Xtreme Fidelity
  • X-Fi Crystalizer
  • X-Fi CMSS-3D
  • DTS and Dolby Digital-EX support for PowerDVD
  • headphones
  • 5.1/7.1 speakers optional

OUR VERDICT

The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook does do a lot of what it says on the box. Admittedly, the technology isn't as sparkling as that found on the desktop versions of the X-Fi cards, while the need to buy an extra Speaker Docking Module for full surround-sound is an annoyance. Nonetheless, if your laptop's onboard audio isn't doing it for you, the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook is worth a shot.

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