March 25, 2007

Creative Falling Behind

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Creative Labs – once a juggernaut in digital audio hardware – has now become a runaway company that has left many of its loyal customers behind. I, for one, have used Creative Labs products for 13 years. About two years ago, Creative brought the triumph of design known as the Audigy 2 ZS Notebook Edition to consumers worldwide. Mobile users such as myself were finally able to get the same quality of audio processing that desktop users have had, in the form of a card that neatly pops into the side of my laptop. However, since the release of Microsoft’s Windows Vista, the quality of both the experience and the support have been seriously lacking.
The official drivers provided by Creative are nearly identical to the beta drivers, and have the same problems. They pin my processor usage at its maximum, which lags my operating system into a frustrating and unusable state. They come with a pathetic control panel which lacks anything beyond very basic features. They lack hardware audio acceleration support, because Creative decided that only its new X-fi series of cards should be supported by Alchemy, which enables said hardware audio acceleration for many applications.
Furthermore, if you attempt to ask for help online or report a bug, you are ignored by the forum moderators. Creative also refuses to comment on whether they are working on these issues. It seems Creative has decided to dedicate its resources to gaining more sectors of the audio market, while leaving its existing customers hanging. This is unfortunate, because a company should always support every single product that it is selling.
A look at the alternatives, which require additional purchases, shows a rather bleak situation. Creative offers an X-fi USB dongle that hangs off of your laptop. There’s also the upcoming ExpressCard X-fi module. The dongle is not fit for mobile use, while the card is incompatible with the more established PCMCIA standard slot. This is exactly the problem with Creative hardware in the mobile market: no forward compatibility with the drivers, and no backward compatibility with the hardware interface. The Audigy 2 ZS Notebook Edition is quite the niche product, even too much so for me.