Diamond delivers the 2nd incarnation of PCI sound. This was my first endeavor into PCI sound and I must say I am a convert. A long time devoted Creative Labs AWE32 user I wasn't sure in the beginning. There were a few drawbacks that concerned me at first. Not having support for legacy games when you use the M80 by itself made me frown. I was hesitant about not being able to play Decent 2 and Nascar 2. Yes, you can still play these and other legacy games but only when you keep your old legacy sound card in the system. To me that kills the main idea behind upgrading to PCI sound, to leave behind the ISA buss and move towards the future. I still wanted to try and make it work.
How does it work
I didn't have a spare IRQ for the AWE32 so out it came. Installation of the M80 went smoothly and then the testing began. After playing Quake 2, Forsaken, and Jedi Knight I just didn't get that overwhelming feeling that other reviewers had. I understood that Jedi was the only Aureal A3D enhanced game but I still wasn't that impressed even with Jedi Knight. Don't take me wrong, I did notice a fuller sound in Jedi Knight and the sound was clean and crisp but no where near what I had read in other reviews. From what I had read, I was expecting a religious experience.
I played with the configuration software that Diamond includes and came away with the same feeling. The helicopter demo was the best and definitely gives a spacious 3D feeling however, I never could hear anything from behind my head even with headphones. It sounded more like in my head than behind it.
It's not over yet, recently I bought the game Unreal and now things are sounding different. Unreal obviously did a better job at codeing for the A3D because it sounds like 3D! I still don't hear things coming from behind me but when I run the game on my AWE32 system the game seems pale in comparison.
On the legacy game issue, I looked at it realistically I only had 2 old DOS based games that I was clinging onto Nascar2 and Descent2, could I live without them yes and that is just what I did (delete). Forsaken and Unreal have taken their place and time is ticking, before long Nascar3 will be here and the beat goes on.
To be free of ISA sound is good. I have turned the corner and won't look back.
Acceleration of sound due to the faster PCI buss is another issue that is not going to make you jump out of your chair and say wow! It's a more subtle benefit that allows more streams of audio to play simultaneously which can enhance the sounds that you hear. I never experienced more than 1 frame per sec loss in Quake2 even when using my ISA Creative Labs AWE32.
A3D sound will only get better as new games take better advantage of the technology. Unreal is a good example of the sound of future games.
Some people have posted problems with MS Sidewinder Digital joysticks. I haven't had any problems, mine works fine.
I found the MX80 a very good upgrade from my AWE32 especially if you play Unreal. If you are happy with your current sound card and don't mind spending a little more you may want to wait until Diamond releases the MX200, the cost is approximately $50.00 more. The MX200 has support for four speakers and I have been told that it's the four speakers that really make A3D sound shine. Remember to calculate in the cost of the two rear speakers.
Pros: PCI buss, Hassle free installation, one IRQ.
Cons: Requires ISA sound card to use legacy DOS MODE based games.