Sound Card: Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS
Asus went to a lot of work to make its Striker Extreme's integrated sound quality appropriate to its high-end market, but this riser card solution still relies heavily on CPU power for sound processing. A few FPS might not matter when games are playing faster than the refresh rate of the monitor, but a few percent is all that separates high-end and far cheaper upper-midrange systems. The Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS uses the full version DSP for offloading audio workload from the processor, while 64 MB cache is unique to this X-Fi model.
A 109 dB signal-to-noise ratio is certainly worthy of a $3500+ system, and the audio bay adds enough connectivity to justify a large portion of the product's relatively-high price. The only quibble we have about Creative's X-Fi card series is its lack of live multi-channel digital encoding (Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect), but we certainly wouldn't buy a lesser card to gain this feature.
A new marketing partner of Creative Labs, Auzentech surpasses the X-Fi reference design by offering advanced live digital encoding in its X-Fi Prelude. Unfortunately, this alternative product is still not available, in spite of many weeks of hype. That leaves us with Creative Lab's own highest-performance card, the X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS, priced at around $180.