VOGONS


First post, by EdmondDantes

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So my recent mucking around with Sound Blaster Audigy got me to wondering.

Okay, its easy to find out what Sound Blaster's competition was during the MS-DOS era... just boot up the install command to any DOS game and get to the part where it asks what your card is and bam, there's a list.

But for Windows 98 and XP, there's nothing. The only competitor I was able to discover via Google was Aureal (who got bought out by Creative).

I'll admit this isn't entirely just curiosity--since I've had a lot of headaches with Audigy (and on my current comp, I'm not the least bit worried about DOS compatibility) I'm kinda wondering what else was out there that would be of similar quality. But there is a great deal of just wanting to know the history too, because right now it seems like after DOS, the only cards that really existed were Sound Blaster.

Thanks in advance.

Reply 2 of 12, by PTherapist

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Personally I was mostly using either Aureal or Creative cards during that era. My 2 main 98/XP PCs at the time - 1 had an Aureal Vortex 2 and the other a Sound Blaster Live! 5.1.

This was the era where onboard sound got much more commonplace though, with many AC'97 compliant chips from a variety of different companies taking over and I'd guess that most people probably didn't bother to seek out dedicated sound cards anymore and stuck with whatever was included on the motherboard. You had a few recognisable companies of the past offering onboard solutions such as ESS, C-Media, Realtek, VIA etc. Some of those still supported sound ok in DOS games via SB emulation, others not so much.

There were also some cheaper sound cards available at the time, which were often worse than the onboard offerings. I remember looking for a cheap upgrade for a Socket 7 system in either 2000/2001 and found a Diamond Technology DT0398 PCI card. Talk about snap, crackle & pop! 🤣 It didn't last long before I replaced it with a Sound Blaster Live! for much improved performance.

Reply 3 of 12, by dionb

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It probably depends on which market you are looking at. Here in EU, Terratec was a big player, with their massive EWS-cards in the high-end and a divers low-end offerings with all kinds of chips (see the Aureon range).

Reply 4 of 12, by EdmondDantes

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For what its worth, I've got my issues with the Audigy 2 figured out, but still these are interesting reading.

Random googling only got me old forum discussions (not from here) where apparently for awhile people hated Creative and some were suggesting the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz as an alternative. If I see one for cheap I might pick it up.

It's amazing I don't see sound cards discussed more on like Youtube... I've looked and whenever I look up old sound cards and seems like most vids (like Phil's Computer Lab) seem to only ever discuss Sound Blasters. Unless my search-fu is failing me.

Reply 5 of 12, by dionb

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Tbh I think that last point is a generation thing. Massive respect to Phil, but I for one hate having to focus all my attention with two senses (vision and hearing) on something for a fixed and generally too long stretch of time, when you could get the same information content out of a simple written article with one or two short audio samples for illustration, and get it at the speed I read, not the speed Phil or anyone else speaks. Let alone being forced to *make* such a film when I could simply write an article - and not have to worry about how things look and whether I am wearing any underwear and stuff.

Most of the people I know from back in the days when sound cards were a thing feel similarly. It's my daughter's generation who can't understand why you don't 'just' knock out a film instead of spending hours poring over a keyboard over some turn of phrase.

(old fart rant: today's youth must be so boring to always be confident they are wearing (presentable) clothes instead of bumming around (half) naked like we used to and still do - disclaimer: this was written shirtless. You wouldn't want to see the video 😜)

Reply 6 of 12, by firage

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Well, EAX was kind of a significant deal in Win9x, and even more so in the XP era. If reproduction of the high end gaming experience is the goal, Creative is the only range that does it right. At their best, Aureal's A3D 2.0 titles were even more impressive (a couple dozen titles in 1998-2001), and similarly the Vortex 2 cards are the only ones that really do that. Nothing else qualified as a full featured sound card for games.

The rest of the consumer market was really competing for the best audiophile or home theater solution with improved analog quality (Turtle Beach, Terratec, Diamond, Guillemot, etc), and prosumer/home studio folks had their own stuff (M-Audio, ESI, E-MU, etc) that could be altogether lacking in compatibility with games.

My big-red-switch 486

Reply 7 of 12, by dionb

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EAX was a thing alright, but pretty much everyone supported it, from C-Media to Realtek and Trident (of all people...). The big issue with Creative cards in those days was compatibility, as they used non-standard Intel-only PCI extensions at a time when a very large portion of the market (these were SoA and early Athlon64 days) had non-Intel chipsets and consequently frequent problems with Creative EMU10k cards. By the time that got sorted out, EAX features were being done in software anyway (even with Creative's cards) so was no longer relevant. Also, Creative's drivers were a bloated nightmare.It was almost worth taking a feature hit to avoid that, particularly as the actual sound quality on many clones that also offered EAX was better anyway.

Reply 8 of 12, by firage

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Those things didn't change anything, though. The rest of the market, and Creative's own lower end offerings, had limited EAX implementations that didn't sound right. EAX 3.0 was huge for several years and a complete Creative proprietary hardware party. Things moved on around the time Vista was released, gutting pre-OpenAL sound.

My big-red-switch 486

Reply 9 of 12, by oeuvre

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Plasma wrote:

Some Turtle Beach cards in the late 90s used Aureal AU88*0 chips, like the Montego and Montego II.

HP Z420 Workstation Intel Xeon E5-1620, 32GB, RADEON HD7850 2GB, SSD + HD, XP/7
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Reply 10 of 12, by CkRtech

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Heh. When Creative Labs started making PCI-based sound cards, I checked out. I remember reading reviews at the time Vortex 2 cards were released, and it was a no-brainer to pickup a Vortex2-based Diamond Monster MX300 vs a Sound Blaster Live.

After that, it was a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz.

I can only go on my own memory, but I seem to recall people buying Creative cards and tearing their monitor in half due to driver/software problems during the early 00s.

I think this was eventually ironed out, but a lot of people kissed Creative goodbye during that era.

In regard to the retro community today, you have the benefit of EOL drivers when it comes to running these old cards. You don't have to live through the agony of the Windows 9X/NT/2000 spit-and-stick driver programming.

Displaced Gamers (YouTube) - DOS Gaming Aspect Ratio - 320x200 || The History of 240p || Dithering on the Sega Genesis with Composite Video

Reply 11 of 12, by Ozzuneoj

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I remember sound cards in general being a mess back in those days. Here is everything I remember about the subject...

The first PC that was actually mine was a Gateway G6-400 (440BX, PII 400, Riva 128, ES137x) and I remember wanting a "real" sound card due to driver woes. Honestly, I was a total newbie at that point, and the (24.4kbps dialup) internet of 1999 didn't provide answers the way it does now. I ended up with some non-Creative card that totally killed Windows every time the drivers were installed... I don't even remember what it was now. Probably something I wish I'd kept with the original box. Eventually I got myself a second hand Aureal Vortex 2 SQ2500 ($50 on ebay!), which I thought would be the only soundcard I'd ever need. Sadly, Aureal was basically already dead at this point, so driver support died off almost immediately. On top of that, I found the A3D implementation in a my favorite games to be really glitchy. In others (and especially the tech demos) it was completely amazing.

Eventually I ended up with a Sound Blaster Live! which was an absolute MESS with drivers at the time. I'm sure it had some redeeming qualities, but I remember having issues even getting it installed most of the time after reinstalling Windows 98 (which I did a lot back then). I remember trying to get downloaded drivers to work and nothing would work for it... only the drivers that came on the CD.

At some point in here I attempted to use the onboard audio on an ECS K7S5A, which was absolutely horrid. It "worked" fine but the sound quality was so bad. I honestly still can't believe it was so audibly muffled and crummy sounding.

After that, I was reading these wonderful stories of Turtle Beach sort of carrying A3D torch via Sensaura on the Santa Cruz, so I bought one of those. It was a great card, but the 3D audio also sounded pretty messed up to me in a lot of games then too. Poor implementation again most likely, and at this point A3D problems weren't being fixed. It was a great card though. Definitely one of my favorite cards that probably could have stayed relevant for many many years if only they had made 64bit drivers for later operating systems. It's great for 98 and XP though.

Then in late 2003 I got my Abit NF7-S 2.0 Nforce 2 Ultra 400 motherboard with the MCP-T and Soundstorm... which surprisingly worked much better in the games of that time than all of my previous cards. It could even do real time matrix encoding of analog audio signals for my ancient (early 1990s) Kenwood Dolby Pro Logic surround receiver. This completely blew my mind and is an almost undocumented feature because it was such an uncommon setup. But it got me surround sound with real speakers (using only a standard 3.5mm jack), even if the rear channel sounded funny and was just there to make noise.

Eventually I got an X-Fi because EAX5 HD or whatever was supposed to be great... then Vista removed DirectSound3D, basically every game after that dropped hardware based audio features (even though OpenAL was still around) and the rest is history. The last new sound card I bought was a Xonar DX, and I still use it almost 10 years later. Now its just outputting 2 channel audio via toslink to an SMSL SD-793II external DAC+headphone amp. Emulated hardware 3D effects are still wonky in older games, but 3D positional audio is incredible. One of the best audio experiences I've ever heard would be setting my system to 8 channel mode with dolby headphone enabled and using the "Sound Physics" mod in Minecraft. Reminds me a lot of what A3D could have been if it had stuck around. 😀

Anyway, that was my experience with sound cards. It was a complete mess. I enjoyed having all the different features to play with in the 98-XP era, but drivers were so bad back then and Creative stomped out the competition shortly after this period, so none of the alternatives really stuck around long enough to be as good as they could have been.

Now for some blitting from the back buffer.

Reply 12 of 12, by chinny22

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Once 3D became big graphics cards is where 95% of gamers disposable income went. Ever since then Sound has been an afterthought IMHO.
So makes sense companies not really investing in a small market with only Creative (EAX) and Aureal (A3D) making any real effort.
Remember this was the time when graphics cards were advancing in leaps and bounds and were almost obsolete in a year.