iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Creative Audigy2 ZS Sound Card

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Testing in RightMark 3DSound

What's interesting, the card is finally correctly enumerated in the Device manager.

Driver Version: 10.07.2003

DirectSound diagnostics

Device: SB Audigy 2 ZS Audio [8400] (ctaud2k.sys)

  DirectSound 3D Hardware present
  DirectSound 2D Hardware present
  EAX 1 present
  EAX 2 present
  EAX 3 present
  Device has no EAX4 Advanced HD support

  dwMinSecondarySampleRate 4000
  dwMaxSecondarySampleRate 192000

Free buffers stats:
  dwFreeHw3DAllBuffers 62
  dwFreeHw3DStaticBuffers 62
  dwFreeHw3DStreamingBuffers 62
  dwFreeHwMixingAllBuffers 62
  dwFreeHwMixingStaticBuffers 62
  dwFreeHwMixingStreamingBuffers 62

Max buffers stats:
  dwMaxHwMixingAllBuffers 64
  dwMaxHwMixingStaticBuffers 64
  dwMaxHwMixingStreamingBuffers 64
  dwMaxHw3DAllBuffers 64
  dwMaxHw3DStaticBuffers 64
  dwMaxHw3DStreamingBuffers 64

CPU load tests

Tests were conducted on P4 2.53GHz with 512 DDR333.

  DirectSound 2D DirectSound 3D DirectSound 3D+EAX
0 buffers 0.3/0.1 0.3/0.0 0.3/0.0
8 buffers 0.5/0.1 0.7/0.1 0.6/0.1
16 buffers 0.6/0.2 1.1/0.2 1.0/0.2
32 buffers 1.1/0.4 2.0/0.4 1.9/0.4
48 buffers 1.4/0.6 2.7/0.6 2.6/0.6
64 buffers 1.7/0.8 3.5/0.8 5.6/0.9

Above is the table of CPU load (%) depending on work mode and amount of DirectSound buffers. Under "/" you can see the average values and dispersion (average of distribution and mean-square deviation) for 2-minute test and accidental peaks cutoff (caused by swap, etc.).

As usual Creative's solution shows excellent results of minimal CPU load even at the large number of buffers. Slightly lower load in the DS3D+EAX mode is, perhaps, caused by test order, when the data from the previous DS3D test have been partially cached in either buffer. We'll continue developing of this test to provide the most adequate results.


As we found out, EAX4.0 support is expected in the next drivers release. As for the EAX4.0 games, Creative's officials can't say anything in public, but assure that there are several hits in development. For more details on EAX3.0 and EAX4.0 see the Modern Audio Technologies in Games.

According to the information that we have, the EAX4.0 will be supported in Jedi Knight II with a special patch. However the existing developers' beta drivers supporting EAX 4.0 can't be correctly installed on Audigy2 ZS, but also on Audigy2. There's also no final EAX4.0 SDK available as well, only the beta. The EAX Unified 4.0 isn't included in beta SDK 4.0 (Unified drivers are required to emulate EAX4 effects on older cards like Live!). From the developer's side EAX4.0 is initialized with new IDs, but all EAX1/2/3 are also present in the SDK.

The bundled TR:AoD supports EAX of some unknown version, as the game couldn't detect it without the Unified driver. Then the game recognized and enabled EAX 3.0. I must say that the EAX support isn't indicative in this game. Besides, the sound doesn't play any important role in it at all.

In the game with the best EAX3.0 support via OpenAL (and that's naturally UT2003), Audigy2 ZS sounded the same, as Audigy2 — excellent, outrunning all rivals by an exponent from the angle of sound clarity and 3D positioning quality.

Final thoughts

The new 7.1-channel family of Audigy2 ZS soundcards offers ideal solutions for gamers and nice choices for common users. Pity, but considering the existing drivers we can't recommend it to audiophiles before the bugfixes are implemented.

For Audigy2 users there's little sense in buying this novelty. It would be much more effective to update drivers and utilities. All users of Live, Live! 5.1, and Audigy1 should upgrade only if they have higher-quality speaker systems.


  • 7.1 support;
  • Excellent software bundle (interactive presentations, DVD-Audio disc, high-quality 24/192 demo sample);
  • EAX3.0 support, with EAX4.0 to be supported in the future;
  • The best gaming sound today (related to the entire Audigy2/ZS family);
  • Software DVD-Audio player;
  • Graphics equalizer;
  • DTS ES support (still absent in WinDVD and PowerDVD);
  • Karaoke support;
  • ASIO 2.0 24/96.


  • Unclear 24-bit support by the existing drivers;
  • Questionable SNR improvement;
  • Not fully embodied DAC potential (related to the entire Audigy2/ZS family);
  • Bitwise transfer via digital output not supported;
  • Software DVD-Video player not bundled;
  • DVD-Audio graphics data playback not supported.

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