X-Fi Defiance


I’ve talked about the various problems I’ve had with my X-Fi Fatal1ty sound card from Creative Labs. I’ve gone through several cards that had difficulty and finally thought I’d found one that was trouble-free.

I went away to E3 two weeks ago and when I returned I’d found that my computer was acting as if it had no sound card installed what-so-ever. “No Sound Device” was all that greeted me when I’d bring up the sound properties in Control Panel.

My machine had been left on in my absence so that I could access it remotely from my hotel room so my first thought was that my 11 year-old son had been somehow responsible. He’s at an age where he thinks nothing of tinkering with anything and everything with little regard for the consequences since, being perfect, nothing can possibly go wrong. When I questioned him he mentioned that he’d actually “done me a favor”. My eyebrows raised on that comment. He said he came home one day to find the PC mysteriously turned off so he turned it back on. Hmm, okay. Perhaps there was a power outage and somehow that managed to screw up the drivers. Anything was possible regardless of how improbable it might sound.

I filed that little comment away and then proceeded to attempt to re-install everything. First I tried just re-installing the latest drivers. For some unknown reason Creative labs, long ago, stopped supplying complete driver sets. That means you’ve got to keep your old drivers and CD handy for when you need to do a complete re-install. The patch attempt, not surprisingly, failed.

I then tried a full re-install from the CD. That too failed. I then resorted to the process of a complete wiping of all things Creative and then a clean re-install. Roughly 10-12 reboots after I started, things were back where they began and it only took two hours. That’s sarcasm, by the way. Creative has made this entire process ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated. Why is it that I can install comprehensive ATI drivers in minutes but it takes me no less than an hour to turn around Sound Blaster driver issues? I also notice that no matter who I tell their installer to limit what it installs, it still goes ahead and installs at least a handful of things I have zero interest in. Worse, the X-Fi card just won’t be fully functional with just a driver install. You have to have the Audio Console, at a minimum. Creative wonders why the sound card market collapsed? Yes, most of it has to do with onboard sound being perceived as “good enough” for the masses but they’re also partly to blame for making sound cards far too complicated to bother with. It’s a sound card. I should be able to plug the thing in, install a set of basic drivers and enjoy the benefits. What they have today is a bloated bunch of garbage getting in the way of an otherwise decent piece of hardware.

Anyway, back to my current situation. In the last year I’ve finally become one of those people who never turn off the PC. Prior to that I’d turn it off each night and then back on again in the morning. Now my PC can go weeks without being turned off. Friday after work I decided to turn it off as I knew I had no use for it for at least 24 hours. I shut it down without any trouble. Then, a few hours later, I realized I needed something on it and turned it back on. It booted without incident but then brought up the “Found New Hardware” prompt and mentioned “Multimedia Audio Device” as the hardware it found. Uh oh. A quick check of the Sound properties presented me, once again, with the “No Sound Device” message. What the hell is going on? Now the card has found a way to magically uninstall itself between boots? This morning I finally repeated the whole recovery process and, after only 90 minutes or so, I’m back up with sound again, but for how long?

It’s time for the baton to change hands or for Creative Labs to wake up. They tell me that the X-Fi cards are having few, if any, reports of problems. Meanwhile I’m getting e-mail from all over from people telling me they’ve been having trouble. Some haven’t, but others have. I’ve yet to hear anyone else mention my specific problem with vanishing driver installs but I’m also sure that, given time, I will hear about it from others. Creative has long since run out of ideas in the sound industry. EAX is a hack. Where’s Dolby and THX in games? It’s time for someone else to take the industry in a new direction. Onboard sound chips generally stink but little is being done, as usual, with audio to take it forward.

Meanwhile I’m afraid to reboot.

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