Sunday, November 25, 2007

Creative XFI Fata1ity.

Is this card a dead duck under a Linux Operating System? As of this time I have to say a resounding yes. However, read on. You may be surprised.

I will hold my hand up and say up front I am no audiophile. My partner in crime on this blog seVen however is. He has often winced at sounds I have found reasonable to my ears. Anyway, what is said here in this blog post is not about sound itself but about the state of Creative's drivers for the Linux Operating System.

The last time I had a Creative sound card in my main system they had just released what turned out to be probably one of their longest life card range. The Sound Blaster Live! I had two variants of these excellent cards within a 6 month time frame. My first one was a 4.1 one. My second one about 6 months later was a SB Platinum which of course was a 5.1 card.

So called on-board audio is audio that sits on your motherboard rather than being an external PCI/ISA/PCIe etc card. Not all motherboards have on-board sound but more and more do these days and the quality, for a desktop system with an OpSys that has everyday ears for sound receptacle's, the sound is really rather good. Of course there are some on-board audio chips that suck more than a suckything at a suck fest but by and large on-board audio has come on leaps and bounds in the desktop space.

As on-board audio became more ubiquitous and became better and better with 5.1 and 7.1 being the norm the good old SB Live! was consigned to the desk drawer where all good cards go and which I call my "Use again Someday" drawer and while the sound emanating through my 5.1 speakers via the SB Live! Platinum still punched out some excellent bass from the sub woofer I had no choice but to free up a PCI slot and reluctantly move to onboard audio.

My first on-board experience came via a VIA AC`97 chip which frankly was utter rubbish. I went through motherboard after motherboard all of which had some form of on-board audio chip. I will say that the best of these is probably my current one which is a VIA High Definition Audio used via the intel driver under Linux.

This brings me to something else. Driver support. It is a rare sound chip that has no support at all, though there are some. Under a Linux Operating System many chipsets are collected into one driver. So, if you check your kernel sources you may not see your audio chip, on-board or not but via the ALSA sound sub system more often than not there is support for most sound chips. In some cases you may need third party drivers. Nvidia's nForce series is one such example as is Creative's latest and greatest the XFI range.

Not being totally enamored with my current on-board audio I decided to purchase a PCI external sound card. Plenty of choices out there but I wanted something good. My attention immediately switched to Creative's range. In particular the XFI range. I settled in the end for a Creative XFI Fata1ity. Now, usually I check Linux compatibility before purchasing any hardware but this time around I simply bought the card and thought I'll worry about support later.

Oh dear. What a mistake that was! First time in years I have not checked compatibility first and sure enough that decision came back to bite me in the arse. There was no support for the Creative XFI range whatsoever when I bought it. None. I had a card sat in my machine that registered itself but the kernel said "Unknown device". For approximately 6 months this card was useless under a Linux Operating System. I was absolutely gutted.

Then just last September Creative released some closed source driver for the XFI range. And they released it for 64bit Operating Systems only. The rights and wrongs of that decision will play out in time but for what it is worth I think it was the wrong decision. There are plenty of x86_64 or AMD64/EMT64 systems out there but by and large the majority are x86 or 32bit. I will not get into the closed versus open source argument as honestly I couldn't care less either way. As long as the driver gets my hardware working then the fact the driver is open or closed makes no odds to me at all.

Having downloaded the driver I proceeded to use their 'installer' script. This failed miserably. After some editing of the 'installer' script to fix obvious mistakes I tried again. This time it failed on some kernel header file. By now I was slightly pissed off but decided my best course of action would be to Google it. I did exactly that and found many other people around the globe had hit the same issues as I had hit. As is usual for closed source drivers, Linux users set about fixing all the issues. Notably, Gentoo users fixed the issues. Some Gentoo users are a world apart from other Gentoo and other Distribution users. I tip my hat to these people. This web site documents everything so I won't go through it here. If you have a Creative XFI range audio card then go take a look. It will save you some hair loss.

So, finally, what is the actual sound like? Hmm, it is listenable but certainly no great shakes. There are serious issues with this driver like 'scratching' as the file or video plays, the driver sometimes locking up the system on boot etc etc. I am sure that given time Creative will sort all these issues. Let us be fair here this Creative released closed source driver is ALPHA status so given that status there is plenty of room for improvement. I think Creative's best bet would be to release the driver as true Open Source with a relevant, possibly restrictive, license. By doing this they are guaranteed to have hundreds, possibly thousands, of eyes on the code which with Creative's help with 'hidden' details should yield a driver that matches or possibly beats its MS Windows driver.

As of the time of writing I am not overly happy with this card. I will sit quietly, patiently and wait for the next few releases of the driver which should see both stability and usability improve. I hope so. The card itself can and does produce excellent sound under MS Windows and apart from Creative blocking coders by withholding vital information regarding this card there is no reason why this Linux based driver cannot improve.

If you, the reader, are a Bluewhite64 or Slamd64 or any other copycat 64bit Slackware based Operating system would like a fully patched Slackpak of the Creative XFI driver then tell me and I will see what I can do about creating one for you. Do not ask me for a 32bit Slackpak of this driver as as of the time of writing the closed source portion of this driver has no 32bit support.

1 comment:

Fati1ity Sucks Donkey Wang said...

Fata1ity is some nooblet who just thinks he is "da 1337 pwn3r" for using lame 1337 terms, and lives in his parents basement and not getting laid.

He claims he plays professionally, but I seriously doubt he pays TAX on what he claims he wins, (I've beat this socipathic loser several times myself), the companies who produce branded products for him are just sellouts, and the stuff is rubbish anyhow, and I use much better equipment, (they really shouldn't get some spotty 25 year old to brand hardware they know nothing about).

Hey Fata1ity, why don't you stop using lame online names, go out, get a real job, perhaps at McDonalds or something, since I'm betting you dropped out of pre-school and it's all you're qualified for, and convince a long-term female friend to have awkward pity sex with you, whilst I do your Mom.