Video cards and new sound card!

Graphics cards

Asus has been known for motherboards its entire life, but recently it has gained momentum in the graphics field as well by being one of the companies to offer something other than the standard reference designs from NVIDIA and AMD.

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First up on the list of items they had at the show on display is the new AMD HD 2900 XT card coupled with a water cooler called the Aquatank.  This card is still running at stock speeds though, which really confuses me; perhaps AMD was not as open to allow partners to overclock these cards as we originally thought.  That doesn’t mean that YOU can’t overclock it though…

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Next up was this: the Asus EN8600GT OC GEAR.  You might say to me, “Hey, Ryan, that’s just a front panel display.”  You’d be right; but the unique feature here lies in the dial on that display.  With it you can dynamically adjust the clock speed on the graphics card depending on your needs at the time, thus allowing you draw less power and run a quieter system when you aren’t doing any gaming.  The system monitor can also control the main sound volume and it will display temperatures on the cards and even gaming frame rates. 

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You might have seen this in our CES coverage in January, but the XG station hasn’t gone away: it still has the goal of allowing you to use an external graphics card with your notebook in order to enhance performance.  It’s not the most mobile of devices as it’s pretty big and requires external power, but for gamers that want to have a notebook to game on SOMETIMES but a smaller one with an on-board GPU for travel, this could make some sense. 

This device communicates with your notebook via an Express Card interface and basically takes over the video processing completely.  It is currently selling with the NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT on it and the dial acts just like the dial on the 8600GT mentioned above: overclocking, volume and more. 

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Asus had an upcoming AMD Radeon HD 2600XT graphics card featuring 256MB of GDDR4 memory on display.  I find it funny that on the label the 3DMark06 score is labeled: “NDA”.  That hasn’t bothered to stop them before!

The new Asus Xonar 2 Sound Card

One of the most exciting products that Asus unveiled at Computex was their first foray into the world of sound cards.  Any enthusiast will tell you that with only game in town being Creative and their recent X-Fi products, we need competition! 

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The Asus Xonar D2 7.1 channel audio card that features full duplex HD processing at 192KHz/24-bit for ALL output and inputs; not just the primary left and right channels.  It uses an audio chip called the AV200; something I am unfamiliar with at the time of this writing but will definitely learning about as the samples arrive.

The card features a slew of Dolby features including Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and my personal favorite: Dolby Digital Live.  If you’ve read any of my articles on home theater setups you’ll know my one major pet peeve with them was the requirement to use 6-channel analog audio output from the system to a receiver if you wanted to not only watch DVDs on it but play games.  Since games’ surround sound is not Dolby encoded (it usually uses EAX or some other proprietary technology), running an optical cable from the sound card to the audio receiver resulted in 2.1 channel audio only. 

Dolby Digital Live will encode the audio from your PC, including games, in to a Dolby Digital signal that any receiver can understand.  That will allow the games surround sound to work as it should and using a single digital output.  Thank the maker!!  The last time we had this was with the NVIDIA nForce2 SoundStorm audio; glad to see someone is giving us what we want again.

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Also, this will be one of the first products to offer support for both a PCI interface and PCI Express — finally something useful to plug into those slots!  There will be two models of the Xonar: the D2 with legacy PCI support and the D2X which uses PCIe.

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I have already put in my request for one of these cards and Asus said it will be on the way soon, so keep checking back here for the full story on it when it arrives.  The labs are already buzzing about it!

Final Thoughts

It’s great to see that there are still some companies that are working hard for the gamer and enthusiast to produce top of the line products that not only meet the criteria we require of them but really stretch the limits to develop new and interesting products.  Asus has done just that with several new items this year, and I have seen them do this for several years at Computex proving to everyone why they are the Tier 1 motherboard company to beat.

Not all of the products sound like pure gold to me; having the memory embedded onto the motherboard like the P5K3 Premium seems to be a short sighted solution to a problem of memory costs and availability to the consumer.  If there were some more expansion slots for users to additional memory (after all, 2GB in the world of Windows Vista isn’t even close to overkill) would really alleviate some of these concerns.  Having a liquid cooled graphics card that isn’t overclocked out of the box also seems like a slightly concerning decision as well.

But looking at new products like the Republic of Gamers Blitz motherboard based on the P35 chipset, the new DIY notebook solution and the Xonar sound card, it’s hard to argue against Asus’ track record in the world of PC components.  They are the leader in PC innovation and we can clearly see why after leaving Computex 2007.

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