A Closer Look
First, as always, we will take a look at the packaging and the physical shell of the product.
The front eschews fancy graphics in favor of showcasing the product front and center, with the name splashed across the front in big bold lettering.
On the side, we have a list of all those dreary but essential details: minimum system requirements, package contents, &c.
Over on the other side, Creative has provided a diagram to help decipher the mildly confused tangle of ports on the back panel.
On the back, more specs, and some ad copy.
With the outer shell removed, we see the card itself. Rather than continue with the metal shield used in previous models, Creative has opted for a smoked plastic shell. Since sound cards do not get hot or even very warm, the obvious purpose is to protect the capacitors and chips from any incidental damage during handling. This is a practice we could stand to see more add-in card manufacturers adopt, if only to cut down on the number of installation problems.
Opening up that big orange box behind the card, we see the other bits and bobs Creative has included. Aside from the expected driver disc and quick-start guide (I swear, most manufacturers are positively allergic to printing genuinely helpful print documentation) we get a pair of optical cables and a RCA stereo to 3.5mm miniplug cable. The contacts are gold-plated, and the cable itself gives signs of being shielded; definitely a cut above the average “el cheapo” patch cable. The optical cables are set up to work with the X-FI HD’s unusual plug layout; one end of each cable is fitted with a slender probe connector that reaches down into the RCA plugs on the back panel.
Looking at the back panel itself, we see something radically different from the usual layout. Normal microphone and headphone miniplug jacks are provided, and are conveniently positioned to plug a voice chat headset in by feel—with a bit of practice, anyway. The next two plugs provide RCA line-out, and can be used with the provided RCA to miniplug cable to hook into any ordinary two channel computer speaker set. The next set of plugs are the confusing ones; they can provide either analog line-in via RCA stereo, or digital line-in and line-out via TOSLINK.
Notable by their absence are any kind of analog surround outputs. The SPU on this card is quite capable of 5.1 or 7.1 output, but the only way you will get it is through an optical link. That said, if you are after surround sound for gaming or movies, this card is not aimed at you anyway.
Along the top edge of the card, the shroud has been parted to allow the front-panel header to peek out. Use of the front-panel header provided with most cases is unlikely with this card, given how poorly shielded those headers are against electrical noise, but it is nice to see Creative is not leaving anybody out.
Along the front edge of the card, we see a port curiously reminiscent of an IDE or floppy connector. This kind of port is typically meant for a proprietary “I/O Drive” that is usually sold as an addon, but this time around Creative has announced no plans for such a device to accompany the X-Fi Titanium HD. Such an addon would be welcome, as they use digital signaling to bypass the electrical noise problem that plagues most front-panel audio.