In the Lab: Gordon Mah Ung Re-Examines RealTek Audo

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In the Lab: Gordon Mah Ung Re-Examines RealTek Audo

In December 2006, I took RealTek to the woodshed for its cheating drivers, which made many EAX-enabled games sound simply awful.

For months, we’ve been rattling motherboard makers, including Nvidia (which uses RealTek parts on many of its reference motherboards), about the issue, but RealTek seemed not to get the message, as nothing changed—until recently, that is. Indeed, I was pretty surprised when testing XFX’s nForce 780i-based motherboard to find that RealTek had finally fixed the problem with EAX support.

The problem was that RealTek HD Audio drivers would tell games that EAX support was enabled, which would cause games to pass off the audio mixing to the soundcard drivers. In RealTek’s case, that often (though not always) produced terrible sound. A tank that was supposed to sound as though it was 200 meters away sounded like it was 10 meters away. And instead of a grenade sounding muffled by the presence of a wall, it sounded like it was next to you.

With older RealTek drivers, a simple position test would show that EAX filtering wasn’t working correctly.

 

Why would RealTek do this? Falsely claiming to have EAX support is akin to a videocard driver claiming to run16x AA filtering when, in reality, no filtering is occurring.

But RealTek’s R 1.86 drivers dated February 1, 2008 seem to finally enable EAX. Using RightMark’s 3D Sound positioning utility, I found that the occlusion effect finally worked as it does on all other EAX-enabled cards. The obstruction effect almost works but is a bit heavy-handed, blocking all sound when you should still hear some audio.

In real-world gaming tests, however, EAX support seemed sporadic. Battlefield 2 audio was as poor as it was previously when EAX was enabled and the game let the RealTek part do the mixing. But when we fired up the EAX-enabled BioShock and ran the new drivers through their paces, with EAX and reverb enabled, the experience wasn’t bad. Compared to an X-Fi XtremeGamer soundcard, the onboard RealTek component’s audio was still clearly inferior but at least not intolerable, as it was with Battlefield 2.

I’ll continue to follow this issue, but at least it appears that RealTek is finally addressing the problem.

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