Mad Dog Entertainer 7.1 DSP

Author
Aron Schatz
Posted
August 14, 2004
Views
58157
Mad Dog Entertainer 7.1 DSP
Sound cards are a commonly overlooked component when building a computer. As more and more software and games use better, three-dimensional audio engines, the importance of a good card becomes obvious. Let's see what VIA's mid-range chipset, the Envy24HT-S, can do...

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Page 1
<B>Intro</B>:

Even I overlook the importance of a good sound card. When I was <a href="http://www.asegames.com/articles.php?id=135">reviewing Doom 3</a>, I was amazed by the great audio the game possessed. I couldn't have been immersed as much if I didn't have a good sound card (Turtle Beach Santa Cruz) and a 5.1 setup (Logitech Z-640). They are by no means high end, but it gets the job done nicely. Today, we'll be looking at a Envy24HT-S type sound card. Don't let the Mad Dog brand fool you, I'm reviewing the chipset from <a href="http://www.via.com.tw">VIA</a>, which is the sponsor of this review. Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

<B>Box</B>:

<center>Box</center>

Here is the box in all its boxy glory. Since I don't care about the brand, no need for comment. I do want to mention the support for EAX and A3D, though. As for the 24-bit DSP, yeah, it sure is. You'll need to fudge with the drivers to get that kind of output, however. More on that in a bit...

<B>Specs</B>:

I took these from Mad Dog's website:

Quote

24-bit Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
Sampling Rates up to 192 kHz
PCI 2.2 Interface with Bus Mastering and Burst Modes
3 Synchronous I2S/AC-link Output Data Stream Pairs
2 Synchronous I2S/AC-link Input Data Stream Pairs
Multi-channel AC-link Supported
Integrated S/PDIF Transmitter with IEC958 Line Driver
Digital Loop-back and Stream Routing Mechanism
ACPI and PCI PMI Support
I2C Subset Interface Peripherals Control
Windows WDM drivers
3.3V Operating Supply (5V tolerant I/O)


What you need to know that it is basically a 7.1, 24-bit sound card. What the specs don't mention is that there is no hardware DirectSound support at all. Most (if not all, nowadays) Windows games use DirectSound, and most use some type of hardware buffer. You will suffer a performance hit because the CPU needs to do more work than if the card had DirectSound acceleration in the hardware itself. How much of a hit depends on a bunch of different factors. You have to consider YOUR needs and what software you'll be using with it: I cannot gauge how much of a gain/loss this card will give over the current one you are using in one broad stroke.

<B>Parts</B>:

<center>Parts</center>

Here is whatis contained in the box. Pretty minimalist. The paperwork is....wait, I'm not reviewing the retail product! All I'm concerned with is the sound card chipset! Let's inspect the actual card...oops.

<center>Top Bottom</center>

This is the card. The Envy24HT-S is paired with the VIA VT1616 (http://www.via.com.tw/en/multimedia/vt1616.jsp) which is a 6 channel, 18-bit DAC DSP. The box said it was 7.1 right? Where does the card get the other to channels from? There is a Wolfson WM8728 DAC (http://www.wolfsonmicro.com/products/digital_audio/dacs/WM8728/) onboard to get the last two channels. This DAC can produce the 24-bit sound that the box touts. It only does it for the rear two channels. You'll have to do some driver fiddling to get it to work the way you want, of course.

<center>Envy24HT-S</center>

Hidden by a Mad Dog sticker is the thing that I'm trying to review here. The Envy24HT-S chipset is the mainstream sound chipset from VIA. Anything that brings more competition to the market is a good thing for consumers.

<center>Ports</center>

There are a load of ports on this monster. A 7.1 card sure has tons of outputs. You can see them all neatly placed in succession. They are colored and labeled.

<B>Drivers</B>:

<center>Screenshot</center>

The drivers on the CD that came with the card are totally outdated. Since this card uses the <a href="http://www.viaarena.com/?PageID=69">reference drivers</a> from VIA, you'll be happy to know that you can head over to VIA's site and download the latest drivers (as I did). It enabled more features for me, and I was happy that I didn't need any driver wrapper that the manufacturer adds (read: bloat).
Page 2
<B>Testing</B>:

I tested the card against an onboard sound system and the Santa Cruz PCI card that I mentioned earlier. I did this on two different systems. First of all, the CPU utilization was much better when compared to any onboard sound I was using. The boards I tested it with were the Abit IS7-E, and the Gigabyte 8IPE1000 Pro2. The Envy24HT-S was an improvement in these situations. If you are coming up from integrated audio, you'll be happy with this.

What it failed to win against was against the Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz may not be able to give 7.1, 24-bit sound, but it does have a bunch of hardware buffers. This gives the card an edge, speed-wise, over the Envy24HT-S. The CPU had less work to do in comparison to the VIA-chipped card, but I was still interested in the sound quality as well....

I turned on Doom 3, remembering how immersive the game was with the Santa Cruz. Now, as you know, there aren't any mid-range 7.1 speaker systems yet, so I improvised: I had my Logitech headset plugged in and used them for the center left and center right. Let me say that Doom 3 was better than ever. The positional audio was perfect in every regard. I didn't experience any noticeable slow down in frame-rate by using this sound card. Rest assured, you will get a great audio experience in the latest games using this sound card.

Another aspect of my testing consisted of listen to my favorite stations on Shoutcast. In fact, I'm listening to some ambient trance as I write this...ahh, good stuff! Anyway, Windows plays that audio through a 2.1 type setup. I set the drivers to fake the sound through all the speakers and it was great. I can hear the sound all around me and it was better than the 2.1 setup. The DSP does a good job of positioning the audio over the speakers with only a little bit of data. Pretty impressive in my book.

I also watched some crappy movie that I had around, it sounded fine of course. Doom 3 was better Wink.

<B>Conclusion</B>:

<a href="http://ase.dealtime.com/dt-app/SE/KW-mad dog entertainer 7.1/FD-0/linkin_id-3002062/NS-1/GS.html">You can pick this card up for $40</a>! The 7.1 24-bit audio, coupled with the very low price of the card (considering all of the features) is too good not to recommend. If you are upgrading from onboard audio, this is one to consider. It's just the ticket for people not willing to spend $200.00 on a sound card, but still want killer 3D audio.

<center><img src="http://images.aselabs.com/awards/recommended.jpg" alt="Recommended"></center>

I'd like to thank <a href="http://www.mdmm.com">Mad Dog</a> and <a href="http://www.via.com.tw">VIA</a> for making this review possible.

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