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Powering Cans Through a Gaming PC: An Overclockers Journey

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

Alright, so here is my story. I was introduced to the intriguing world of enthusiast computer's about 7-8 years ago and things have spiraled from there with the purchase of my first "gaming" PC to many purchases and upgrades in the past years. One of my favorite upgrades was getting an Auzentech X-Fi Prelude to send audio to my old Sennheiser PC-150 headset and Logitech X-530's(I know, very unimpressive audio hardware). After going from integrated audio, to an X-Fi Xtreme Gamer, and then to that Prelude, I have ever since been in the pursuit of something that truly brings me enjoyment when listening to audio through a PC(my primary source for all forms of audio: Movies, Music, TV, Games, etc.). I currently have a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD which is sending audio to my Onkyo Surround Sound which I plan to upgrade when I move somewhere that allows me to do so(apartments limit what you can do with surround sound). The card is also sending audio to my Sennheiser PC-360's. Now, as far as sound quality through the Titanium HD, I am pretty happy in that regard. The quality is noticeably better than my old Prelude(which I quit using due to the notorious Crackle/Pop Issue many experienced with that particular card), but I am just sick of using PCI sound card's in general. Interference is a big issue that I have experienced in multiple computers I have owned. Overclocking causes many issues with PCI sound cards, and frankly, I'm tired of dealing with it.

 

So, what am I looking to do you ask? Well, I am thinking about getting something external to handle my audio needs. As I previously mentioned, I send audio to an Onkyo Surround Sound and my Sennheiser PC-360's. I have future plans to get a custom surround setup that has HDMI audio capabilities so I can send audio through my video cards over HDMI to my surround sound and I may get another set of cans eventually(ATH-M50's or HD598/600s possibly). What I am wondering is what I should be looking at to handle audio to my Headphones.(The ability to send audio through this device to my surround sound receiver would be a plus). I have looked at a Fiio E17/E9 combo and a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD Sound Card, but am uncertain which of these are a better option for me, or if either are for that matter? Knowing what my future plans are for my surround sound and possible headphone purchases, what should I be looking at for options?

 

I should probably add that positional audio for gaming is quite important to me but I am also a HUGE movie buff and listen to a fair amount of music(see profile for my music tastes).

 

Also, I am confused on how using an external sound card or dac/amp combo works. Do you just send audio through the onboard sound card or do you still need a sound card to send audio to the external unit(which would defeat what I'm trying to accomplish)?

post #2 of 15

If you use HDMI out of a graphics card, then you're probably bypassing the sound card entirely. Not a good thing if you're playing any games that use the X-Fi DSP (basically everything that uses the DirectSound3D or OpenAL APIs), because then you'd lose EAX support. You could switch to the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD, but then you'd be stuck with HDMI 1.3 when we're already on HDMI 1.4. (There may be a workaround if the graphics card has an S/PDIF header for the HDMI audio path, but then you have to put up with S/PDIF bandwidth limitations.)

 

External USB sound "cards" would also be bypassing any internal ones, unless you use a little Windows 7 workaround that may not be ideal in terms of sound quality (basically, set the "What U Hear" input on the internal sound card to play back through the external one).

 

External DACs with USB inputs are basically external sound cards without inputs or other fancy audio interface features and have the same limitation mentioned above. However, those with S/PDIF inputs still need a signal from either the integrated motherboard audio codec or an internal sound card; doing so with the latter allows you to at least keep the sound card DSP in the chain, while leaving the DAC aspect to the external device.

 

By the way, any A/V receiver with digital inputs has a DAC by definition, so the receiver will ultimately determine the sound quality you get out of your speakers.

 

To be honest, I don't know why you want an external audio interface to begin with when you've already got a good internal sound card (probably one of the best out there for gaming, for that matter)...

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

Alright, well maybe I should have specified a little better. As far as sending audio to my Surround Sound receiver goes, I will eventually do that over HDMI when i get a receiver capable of doing that and I forgot to mention I rarely game with my surround sound now that I have gotten into the headphone world. Positional gaming is much better with a set of cans as I'm sure you know. The only reason I mentioned that it would be a bonus to be able to send sound to my surround sound through the external device is because I would maybe do it until i get a new receiver.

 

As I mentioned, I am quite happy with the sound my Titanium HD is producing, BUT I am fed up with dealing with the issues that arise when using a PCI sound card and overclocking. Random lock ups, loss of sound, interference(buzzing, crackle/popping, etc.) I understand why you are confused that I would want to get rid of such a wonderful sound card, as I truly enjoy the sound it produces, I am just looking at other options that would allow me to overclock as I want to.

post #4 of 15

Okay, now I think I get it. When you said you wanted to get around the issues that PCI sound cards have, I thought you already did that by moving from the X-Fi Prelude (a PCI card) to the X-Fi Titanium HD (a PCI-Express card).

 

I don't recall having major issues with either card because of my system being overclocked so much, but it is an older Core 2 Quad/P35 system. I'm not as sure about the later Nehalem/Westmere/Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge architectures simply out of not owning the hardware (though I will admit that my next desktop will likely be based on Ivy Bridge or Haswell).

 

The unfortunate state of affairs, though, is that no external sound device will be as ideal as the internal X-Fi cards, simply because even the external "X-Fi" products lack the DSP that sets the internal cards apart. Therefore, I have my doubts as to their suitability for gaming when they do everything in software, perhaps not as well as the hardware-based cards.

 

As for future surround sound speaker setups, I think we're on the same page now. If you're only going to use headphones for gaming, then I don't think you'll really be losing anything by setting up a secondary output device through HDMI for movies and maybe music out of the speakers, just so long as you leave the sound card as the default/primary output device so that the games will use it instead.

post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 

Well I'm wondering if maybe I shouldn't just warranty my sound card. I was running this overclock for quite a while with no issues and then one day I started losing sound randomly(requiring a restart), and getting full lock-ups frequently. I was able to get rid of this issue for a while by pulling the battery on the board and swapping the card to another slot(recommendations by other people having similar issues). But eventually it happens again and I get tired of messing with it all the time. As soon as the overclock is off it is fine, and I finally pulled the card a few days ago and am running integrated sound with the overclock with no issues. I suppose I could warranty the card and see if it fixes things. From what you have said, it just doesn't sound like I'm going to get what I want by running something external. Maybe I should just warranty the card(I think it's still under warranty) and see if that resolves my issues, although this isn't the first board/card combo that I've run into issues with while overclocking.

 

Also, if you can do it, I would try and stick it out until Haswell. Ivy Bridge isn't terribly impressive. I've got an i7 950 and I am definitely feeling the need for an upgrade(Overclock is tiding me over) but I think Haswell is going to be a much better upgrade.

post #6 of 15

Sound cards are strange devices, that's for sure. Doesn't seem to matter what brand or model you get; sooner or later, SOMEONE is going to have problems with it...I guess I'm just luckier than most with the X-Fi cards I've had, though the Titanium HD does have a reputation for having better drivers and stability than past models.

 

Then again, maybe my Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3P 2.0 just happens to play nice with most sound cards. Now that I think about it, a lot of sound card issues over the years may also be tied to particular motherboards and/or chipsets.

 

Sticking it out until Haswell won't be too difficult given how slow income's coming in, and I do expect that to be a more dramatic upgrade since it's a "tock" (new architecture). I mostly want a new computer because I'm tired of seeing the rest of the family slog along on an Athlon XP 1800+ desktop from 2002, and even my Q6600 at stock speeds would be overkill for their needs. (Wouldn't go into slow motion on a Flash-laden Web site, for a start.)

 

Well, that and I want better framerates across the board, but especially in more demanding titles like Crysis, Rise of Flight, and ArmA II. However, that could easily be done if I just replaced the 8800 GT with a GTX 670. The rest of the new computer can come later.

post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 

Yeah, the Titanium HD is definitely a nice card. I was so excited when they started releasing info about it coming out and I was one of the first in line to buy it. I just noticed they only have a 1 year warranty on it so I definitely won't be sending it in on warranty... Not really sure what I'm going to do now, I hate to buy a second one and find out nothing is wrong with this one. Maybe one of my friends would loan me theirs for a few days.

 

Getting rid of that 8800GT will definitely make a difference, but as I'm sure you know, that Core 2 Quad just isn't going to cut it for newer titles. I had an e6850, which I bought on release day(Dual Core!!!) and an 8800GTS 640MB which I ran until this current rig and I drug that machine out WAY too long. I remember NFS: Hot Pursuit coming out and that thing was having a hell of a time handling it, even at 1080p. I've got the 950 and 2 x  GTX 570 2.5gb cards now. I am planning to run this setup until Haswell and the 7xx cards come out.

post #8 of 15

The Q6600's overclocked to 3.2 GHz (8x400). It holds its own remarkably well for a 4.5-year-old CPU, moreso than processors from years past (where just 1 or 2 years down the road, you'd need a completely new computer to keep up with new game requirements, especially for someone as insistent on 60 FPS or higher such as myself). Having four cores instead of two also helps; I foresaw the need for quad-cores while other people were foolishly suggesting that faster dual-cores had more longevity.

 

I just recently built a computer for a client with an i5-2500K (stock) and a GTX 460. I didn't notice a dramatic difference over my Q6600/8800 GT system, though to be fair, that i5-2500K wasn't overclocked at all (because the client didn't have room in the budget for a better CPU HSF). I suspect that were it using a GTX 680 instead of a GTX 460, the difference would actually be night and day to my eyes.

 

While I'd try to help out with the Titanium HD issue by exchanging my card, I don't think it would be very practical for either of us due to shipping costs.

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 

Yeah, I'm still running the e6850 and for being 6 years old, it does well but definitely show's it's age. I have it running at 3.5GHz (7 x 500) right now. My i7 950 is clocked at 4GHz (19 x 211) and it's so weird overclocking with a multiplier instead of trying to push your bus speed as far as you can.

 

I hear you on the 60FPS thing, I won't settle for anything less.

 

At the time that the q6600 was being released quad-cores weren't being utilized at all, which is probably why so many were recommending dual cores. There are still many programs and games that are not optimized for them and only recently has a lot of stuff trended toward optimizing for them.

 

And yes, had he gotten a better video card the differences would have been immense. That card is definitely bottle-necking that CPU's performance. I have the opposite problem, my 2 x 570's are slightly bottle-necked by my 950 which is why I'm so adamant at having the overclock on it. My friend just did an i5-2500k/2 x GTX 570 build 3-4 months ago to replace his Q9650/4870 machine and it's on a completely different level of performance and he hasn't overclocked either.

post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Imminent Rueage View Post

Yeah, I'm still running the e6850 and for being 6 years old, it does well but definitely show's it's age. I have it running at 3.5GHz (7 x 500) right now. My i7 950 is clocked at 4GHz (19 x 211) and it's so weird overclocking with a multiplier instead of trying to push your bus speed as far as you can.

 

I hear you on the 60FPS thing, I won't settle for anything less.

 

At the time that the q6600 was being released quad-cores weren't being utilized at all, which is probably why so many were recommending dual cores. There are still many programs and games that are not optimized for them and only recently has a lot of stuff trended toward optimizing for them.

 

And yes, had he gotten a better video card the differences would have been immense. That card is definitely bottle-necking that CPU's performance. I have the opposite problem, my 2 x 570's are slightly bottle-necked by my 950 which is why I'm so adamant at having the overclock on it. My friend just did an i5-2500k/2 x GTX 570 build 3-4 months ago to replace his Q9650/4870 machine and it's on a completely different level of performance and he hasn't overclocked either.

I am just waiting for the new amd 7990 to be released and then i will be doing my new gaming build with two 7990s crossfire with ivy bridge and a load of corshair gear to keep the costs down!

post #11 of 15

I'm curious, how exactly does overclocking affect the PCI bus? Isn't it locked?

post #12 of 15

When Intel made the sandy bridge chips, they integrated the clock generator into the CPU. The base clock of the CPU effects the clock speed of the PCI bus and PCI-e bus too.


Previously there have been external clock generators.


Generally as you increased the FSB/ HTT whatever it is called on respective CPU, you would increase the speed of the other busses too, if you did not lock them. 

 

You want to lock PCI at 33.3Mhz, or as close to that as possible, and the PCI-e to 100Mhz.

 

That is how overclocking effects the PCI bus.

post #13 of 15

Going to hi jack your post here Imminent Rueage, I also have a slight problem with my gaming desktop.

 

There are currently 3 audio components attached to it:

-logitech z5500 through optical in

-audio engines A2 through the front audio jack

-schiit asgard + HD650 through the back via audio jack

 

Running a maximus gene z board with a realtek driver, and asus claims that it has a creative sound optimizing whatever..I do not have an external sound card or a dac. My problem is that I do not like my A2 cables plugged all the way in front of the front audio jack(quality is crap as well). So should I go for a sound card that supports all of these inputs at the back? Or go for a USB dac and free up the audio jack behind for my A2?

post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by bjonbjonbjon View Post

Going to hi jack your post here Imminent Rueage, I also have a slight problem with my gaming desktop.

 

There are currently 3 audio components attached to it:

-logitech z5500 through optical in

-audio engines A2 through the front audio jack

-schiit asgard + HD650 through the back via audio jack

 

Running a maximus gene z board with a realtek driver, and asus claims that it has a creative sound optimizing whatever..I do not have an external sound card or a dac. My problem is that I do not like my A2 cables plugged all the way in front of the front audio jack(quality is crap as well). So should I go for a sound card that supports all of these inputs at the back? Or go for a USB dac and free up the audio jack behind for my A2?


The jack on the front of the case is never to be used if possible. They have unshield paperclip as conductor, if you don't want to invest on something better, just get a 3.5mm splitter. I assume you don't control volume using software settings for the Audio Engines or the HD650, so it won't affect a thing.

post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ra97oR View Post


The jack on the front of the case is never to be used if possible. They have unshield paperclip as conductor, if you don't want to invest on something better, just get a 3.5mm splitter. I assume you don't control volume using software settings for the Audio Engines or the HD650, so it won't affect a thing.

Thanks Ra97oR.

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