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Oh, Creative. This has not been the week for you.
About a week or so ago, I came upon the startling realization that no sound was coming from my computer. It's a great feeling, especially when you haven't touched a single bit of the case for God-knows-how-long. Rudimentary physics tells us that in the absence of meddling, external stimuli, or cats, an object in a particular state should stay in that state forever. Seriously, it's science.
In theory, the same should hold true with geeky pursuits. If I haven't messed with my computer's internals, and have tread nowhere near the special cords that attach to its butt, then why -- oh why -- would sound stop coming out of my computer speakers?
I never did figure out what the problem was. I'd unplug and replug the front speaker cord, which fixed the issue a little bit and let me go back to enjoying my massive iTunes library. It was but a brief comfort. A few days later, no amount of unplugging or jiggling would give me a sustained bit of sound from the speakers. Not unless I sat behind my case and physically held the wires at a few particular angles. Alas, my cat could not be trained to do the same, so this idea was scrapped in favor of replacing the semi-functioning card.
I decided to swap my Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Awesomeness WooHah (I didn't think the name was long enough) for its fatter brother, a Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro Series (just right) sound card. The installation was as easy as a sound card installation could be, and I now get fully functioning sound from my speakers one-hundred percent of the time. Mission accomplished.
For while I have fully functioning audio coming from the rear of my case, I now have front panel audio jacks that are utterly worthless. Creative, in its infinite wisdom, decided not to include any connection mechanism for front-panel case audio with the Fatal1ty series of cards. The little jack is right there on the XtremeGamer -- I almost wish I could solder it right off one card and onto the other. But alas, I will never be able to plug my headphones into the handy front part of my case. I'll now have to go behind the case each time, unplug all the speakers, plug in the headphones, then reverse the process when I'm done fragging Will and Friends in Team Fortress 2.
I'm not sure why Creative wouldn't slap such a useful and important feature onto a sound card. Perhaps they want to encourage more support for their proprietary 5.25"-bay i/o drives. Maybe they just hate freedom. Either way, buyer beware -- be sure to check the exact technical configuration of your sound card prior to purchase, else you might end up with a bunch of wires that now have nowhere to go. Frown.