Microsoft rips out a fundamental audio feature from Windows and Creative hits back with a workaround.
Vista's completely rewritten audio stack has some benefits -- and some major downsides, like losing Creative's EAX 3D audio.
One of the benefits of this audio revamp is the ability to control the volume of individual applications, but it resonates deeper than that.
|Larry Osterman: A slightly horny version.
According to one of Microsoft's software developers, Larry Osterman
, one of the leading reasons for this change was operating system stability, or the lack thereof.
The multitudes of buggy third-party device drivers out in the wild tend to invoke evils in the audio stack, which is one of the main reasons that Windows chucks sickies. An additional cause for this instability in the audio stack was the amount of code that runs in the Windows kernel.
To fix this issue, the developers ripped out the entire audio stack from the kernel and stuck the new stack in user mode. Inherently, instability caused by dodgy drivers ought to be less of a problem.
But it was completely rewritten, so drivers that took advantage of features in the older audio stack, such as Direct Sound's 3D hardware acceleration, are now broken.
That's right, forget about backwards compatibility -- Microsoft shot this old tweeter clean out of the tree. This meant that EAX was effectively useless on Vista
Or at least until now. Creative has jumped to the rescue and churned out a beta package, called the Creative ALchemy Project, that returns features such as EAX to the stage.
Unfortunately, ALchemy only supports the newer SoundBlaster X-Fi line, and a small, albeit growing list of games to boot.
"Support for Audigy 2 and 4 class products will be determined as the current beta progresses and we are able to assess the quality of the beta and overall demand for Creative ALchemy," says Creative spokesperson, Jessie Lawrence.
You can download both ALchemy and a PDF that tells you how to manually add ALchemy support to games right here.