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Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1

Fortissimo III 7.1 And Digifire 7.1: Technical Data

Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 architecture is built round the Cirrus Logic CS4624 chipset, the same as the Fortissimo II Digital Edition. Its technical specs are as follows:

  • AC `97 2.1 Link CODEC, PC `99 and PCI 2.1 interface
  • DSP 255 MIPS SLIMD architecture
  • Supports DirectSound 3D, EAX, A3D 1.x and echo cancellation
  • Wavetable synthesis with unlimited number of channels, DLS and 10-band graphic equalizer
  • Supports 4 output channels
  • SRC hardware and SNR 90 dB
  • 96 hardware-managed 3D sound channels
  • Secondary AC `97 1.0/2.1 Link CODEC for multi-channel sound and digital connection
  • Asynchronous digital serial interface
  • Optical S/PDIF input/output interface (PCM, AC3 5.1)
  • MPU-401 MIDI Interface
  • 3.3V power supply

The first thing that these specifications show is that CS4624 is supposed to be a chipset for managing 4.1, and not 7.1. To cope with two extra analog outputs and Dolby Digital EX decoding, Hercules has had to bring two parameters into play. The two cards each use two CS4294 AC97 codecs - a main and a secondary. In the first place the secondary AC97 codec is put in action. For this Hercules has opted for a "crossover" function, given that each codec manages 4 channels, so there are two stereo outputs: the main one manages outputs 1 (front speakers) and 3 (center channel + subwoofer) and the secondary one manages outputs 2 (surround) and 4 (center surrounds). In the second place, decoding is done by software not hardware, as is usual for 5.1 sound cards. So it is the main processor and not the sound card which provides the CPU time for decoding. The optical digital input found on the Fortissimo II Digital Edition has gone. This is due to lack of space on the card itself and the cost of moving it to the bracket with the MIDI/game port.

So by pushing the CS4624 to the hilt, Hercules can claim to offer cards with high performance in 3D sound for games and which can also decode Dolby Digital EX sound tracks on DVD. The full technical data for this card is as follows:

  • PCI 2.1 interface
  • Cirrus Logic CS4624 chipset
  • 16 bit 44.1 kHz sound quality
  • 4.1, 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 sound for games and DVD
  • 96 hardware-managed DirectSound channels
  • CD in and Aux in internal inputs
  • Mike, Stereo Line in external inputs and MIDI/Game port on internal bracket
  • 4 stereo analog outputs for 7.1 sound
  • Optical S/PDIF output
  • Sensaura 3D sound engine
  • Supports DS3D, EAX 1.0, 2.0, A3D 1.x, Sensaura Virtual Ear/Macro FX/Multidrive
  • 52 hardware-managed DS3D channels
  • General Midi and Yamaha XG compatibility
  • 8 MB Wavetable software
  • 64 hardware-managed polyphony channels
  • Dolby Digital and DTS pass-through compatibility
  • DLS and DOS real-mode compatibility

Fortissimo III 7.1 costs $49.99. It is delivered with Power DVD Pro EX, Hercules Media Station and Acid eXpress.

Digifire 7.1 is more powerful than Fortissimo III 7.1 in, that it has two IEEE1394 (FireWire) ports and its software includes PowerDirector Pro 2.5 PM. So it is designed for video but any IEEE1394 device can be connected to it. If you look at both cards, you'll see that apart from the odd capacitor they are identical except for the two extra chipsets dedicated to management of the IEEE1394 ports. The first is the Agere FW323-05 which is an IEEE1394 controller compatible with outputs of 400, 200 and 100 Mb/s. Note that this controller can be used to create an IEEE1394 network between two PCs, like the Creative Labs Audigy. The second is the HINT HB1-SE33, a PCI-PCI bridge for integrating and managing a PCI element (the FW323-05 chipset here) on the sound card. The PCI bus created by the card works at 33 MHz like a standard PCI bus. We tested the output performance of one of the IEEE1394 ports on the Digifire 7.1 using a LaCie external disk and the result was more than convincing because it reached a rate of 10 MB/s. Compatibility should be no problem since the FW323-05 is one of the most commonly used components for dedicated IEEE1394 cards. The card also has an internal IEEE1394 connector.

Another difference is that Digifire 7.1 has a combined line-in/ mike input which are separate on the Fortissimo III 7.1. You select which one you want via the General tab in the control panel. It also has a 20-pin port called "Feature" where all the card inputs and outputs are connected. In future, this port should allow you to connect an internal or external rack (via bracket), a bit like the Game Theater XP. There is as yet no definite information on when this rack will be released.

So the difference between Digifire 7.1 and Fortissimo III 7.1 boils down to the software, combined inputs and two IEEE1394 ports. The Digifire does not have an IEEE1394 cable. It costs $79.99.