Actually openAL does work in software, its is a open standard. It is not a hardware processing only feature. Any sound card can use openAL thru software. The only difference between hardware and software openAL is that in hardware the sound card processes the sound while software the cpu does. Now for X-FI cards the Hardware acceleration was needed to use the X-FI EAX 3-5 or Audigy's EAX 3-4 features in windows vista/7/8 in OpenAL since there is not DS hal.. That is all moot now because some years ago Creative killed off EAX in favor for EFX which can do all what EAX can do but is open source. They're haven't been any new EAX5 games in a couple of years now. So there's no point getting a X-FI sound card just for hardware acceleration for the EAX features, Unless you play alot of your older titles which uses EAX3-5. But For newer titles, Then any sound card is game just get one that has the features that you want. The Unreal engine used to be OpenAL+EFX With UT3 being one of the games off the top of my head that did it, but after that. They started using Wwise and Xaudio2 in it place.
Also today cpus are alot faster then they used to be, so they don't have problems handling the processing of sound like they used to, this isn't the 1990s where doing it on the cpu hurted your game performance. Sorry roller i disagree with you but only if you not playing older titles or older Direct 3D hal titles and games that came after wards that are using software API's or software engines. Because you can wish all you want for them to go back to EAX3-5+Openal. It isn't gonna happen as creative is pasted that. They only include there EAX features still on their sound cards for compatibility support, for people who still play the older titles that supported EAX3-5.
Plus you should be going after a sound card that has the sound signature you want if it doesn't have op-amp sockets or you don't feel like op-amp rolling. Now of course openal it self isn't dead as it used in linux, It just more and more games are past openAl usage and using more of Xaudio2 which I dislike when they half arse it, or FmodEX+EFX or Rapture3D or other software based engine they might use. I not bothered by it as long they do a good job with the sounds, making the games sound great and not half doing it *cough Serious Sam 3:BFE* . Now the only way I see openAL coming back in full force is if creative decides to start pushing EAX3-5 again. But they wont because they are pushing EFX instead. Yea I sure we still gonna see a random OpenAL game but remember that openAL game is using EFX and not EAX4/5 or that FMOD EX game is using EFX.
But I disagree to see the as the only sound card you should buy if your a gamer X-FI just because of the EAX3-5 compatibility,If that gamer doesn't play any old titles that with that function then it moot point and the EAX compatibility should be ignored when deciding on a sound card. the gamer should be looking at other features that matter to them, Not something that matter many years ago. The only thing that has really died is EAX and EFX took it place. Unlike EAX, EFX works with any sound card.
Edited by genclaymore - 12/18/12 at 1:11pm