The world of sound cards took a big hit last year when Aureal Semiconductor, Inc. went into Bankruptcy Court in April. Aureal, who had been in litigation with Creative Labs over alleged patent infringement, obtained a favorable ruling in December 1999, which vindicated Aureal from patent infringement claims. However, even this favorable ruling did not save Aureal from assimilation by what they could only consider at the time to be "The Borg."
Aureal was Creative Lab's main competitor in the sound card market. After Creative Labs purchased Aureal's assets from the Bankruptcy Trustee, one of the main sources for OEM sound card chipsets dried up. Subsequent to its purchase of Aureal, Creative has said that it does not plan any additional drivers or support for Aureal owners. Aureal produced several great chipsets, but they always seemed to have problems with drivers that were never quite resolved. Many people still feel that Aureal's 3D positional audio A3D technology was far ahead of anything else that has been developed so far. Microsoft has developed new Aureal drivers that will be included with Windows XP. However, Microsoft only included basic functionality at best, which will not compare to the drivers and control panels that have been developed for the majority of sound cards today.
With Aureal gone, several sound card manufacturers have had to look elsewhere for chipsets. With the introduction of new products from Creative Labs that build upon their success in the sound card market, anyone considering products other than a Sound Blaster sound card will not have many options. Most dealers devote the vast majority of their shelf space to the Creative Labs products.
Many people have asked me, "Why would I use anything other than a Sound Blaster?" People continue to tell me, "The Creative Lab's Sound Blaster is the standard in sound cards, and if all you need is basic audio functions, just save a few bucks by buying a motherboard that has integrated audio." It is true that most new motherboards do offer basic integrated audio (as an option in many cases), and that for many users this is more than enough. Another solution that is becoming more prevalent due to the inclusion of CNR and AMR slots in current motherboard technology is to use one of these slots to host a sound card, but this opens an entirely new can of worms. However, if you still want audio performance and features, then you must look beyond integrated audio or CNR/AMR technology.