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Leadtek K7N420-DA nForce Review Error

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  • Leadtek K7N420-DA nForce Review Error

    Author's email not working before anyone says anything. Anyway, on this page it states;

    "As mentioned above, the MCP-D allows for Dolby Digital Surround decoding. This means that the MCP-D does the audio signal processing from the Dolby source (being DVD in this case) and converts the signal to either 6 channel Analogue outputs as provided by the external brackets for the 2 front, 2 rear speaker and the Center and Sub channels, or it can be sent directly to the Coaxial port for connection to other Dolby devices such as stereo players."

    This is, well, completely *wrong*. The MCP-D is a Dolby Digital ENCODER, not decoder.
    I'll cut & paste about the MCP-D from a review I did a while back instead, which *is* correct;

    "(Or APU as NVIDIA refers to it as) One of the most talked about features of the nForce motherboard has been the integrated audio it comes with, as also seen in Microsoft’s Xbox. Or more specifically, the AC-3 encoding it can perform using DICE (Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoder). The words real-time AC-3/Dolby Digital encoding are more than likely what’s going to be the one main factor driving nForce sales given that people associated Dolby Digital with great sound. I mean, hey, that’s what they use in the Movies right?

    The main thing to understand is that AC-3, is much like MP3 (Bar the multi-channel aspect of AC-3 of course) in that sense that both are 'lossy' encoders which work on the concept of perceptual audio encoding, i.e. removing data which the human auditory system cannot hear. Whether or not you’ll be able to notice any difference when using AC-3 encoding of course is another matter, but the main thing to consider here is that AC-3 encoding will result in data loss.

    As regards Audio streams Aureal Minerva reports the following:

    Device Selected: NVIDIA- nForce(TM) Audio
    DirectSound reports...
    1 Primary buffer available
    255 Total 2D hardware mixing buffers available
    255 Static 2D hardware mixing buffers available
    255 Streaming 2D hardware mixing buffers available
    64 Total 3D hardware buffers available
    64 Static 3D hardware buffers available
    64 Streaming 3D hardware buffers available
    0 Total bytes sound card memory static buffer storage
    0 KB/sec Data transfer rate to hardware static buffers
    100000 KB/sec Max sample rate supported by secondary buffers
    100 KB/sec Min sample rate supported by secondary buffers

    Minerva is testing: <NVIDIA nForce(TM) Audio> for:
    DirectSound acceleration: <available>
    DirectSound3D acceleration: <available>
    A3D acceleration & compatibility: <not available>

    Clearly the nForce APU really is no slouch when it comes to performance compared to most PCI Soundcards, so what’s it like in Games?

    To test out AC-3 encoding I purchased an Optical to Coaxial converter cable as my DTT2500 only features a Coaxial S/PDIF input. Pleasantly enough the real-time AC-3 encoding works with seemingly no perceivable lag in DirectSound 3D and other extensions, e.g. EAX. Using a Sensaura engine for Reverb & 3D positioning like, say the Santa Cruz it offers good quality positioning & decent Reverb (Though not to the extent of Creative’s Soundcards). That said, despite being an AC-3 encoder, it’s only a 4.1 AC-3 encoder, i.e. No Centre channel. Based on some posts at 3D SoundSurge NVIDIA is working to implement Sensaura Multi-Drive 5.1 into the Drivers which will provide 5.1 output as would be expected. Being fair, this isn’t too much of an issue as no other controller based - Sensaura enabled soundcards offer Multi-Drive 5.1 support either, e.g. Game Theater XP & Santa Cruz only offer virtual 5.1 output, with the Centre being a mix of other Channels.

    Speaking of Drivers, the APU Drivers are in my opinion very under-developed. The simplest item which shows this is the NVIDIA nForce APU control panel applet which contains all the settings to configure it:

    Other than offering the ability to choose output modes there’s no option to select other common things like Speaker mode (2, 4 or 5.1 speakers). Similarly there’s no built-in Volume or Tone control, which you’d find in most soundcard drivers. Another missing feature seemingly is 6 Channel analog output. NVIDIA's Bryan Del Rizzo informed me the following however;

    nForce supports 6 channel as well as volume & speaker configuration through the standard Windows control panels. There's no need to do a custom control panel since it's already integrated in the OS.

    Though, kind of oddly enough some of the newer (Leaked?) Drivers available do include a built-in Speaker setup tab.

    As mentioned earlier the CA20 back plate contains not only Optical S/PDIF In & Outputs but also Center/Subwoofer & Rear analog outputs, with the Front analog output being on the Motherboard itself. After connecting the 3 analog outputs to my Inspire 5300 system, only the front speakers provided sound. Digit-Life also experienced the same so I’m fairly confidence to say this is just another Driver problem.

    Sound quality wise the nForce is nice enough. Certainly it’s probably as good as the SoundBlaster Live! soundcards, though anyone with a more modern PCI Soundcard would probably be best off sticking with what you currently have unless you need the AC-3 DICE rather strongly. It’s worth noting I also haven’t really compared the AC-3 encoded playback to Analog output because like I said, at time of writing Analog output is only 2-channel in the current Drivers.

    As it stands currently though, the only reason to consider getting an nForce that features the DICE is if your Dolby Digital/DTS Speaker system doesn’t feature 6-Channel analog input. A good example of this would be the Videologic DigiTheatre DTS – A nForce using DICE to provide AC-3 encoded content is the only way to get Multi-Channel content with this Speaker system in games & such. Other soundcards will only be able to provide 2-channel output via S/PDIF output, or of course if they are sending an AC-3/DTS stream to the system. However as already stated, current drivers are fairly poor when it comes to exposing all the APU is capable of.

    The final kind of comment on the APU will be is this rather weird line from the nForce APU PDF on the NVIDIA website contains a rather ironic line; “With the proliferation of first-person games, such as Quake 3, the advent of 3D positional audio is now much more important to developers & users alike than ever before”. Quake 3 is a rather poor game to mention here as Quake 3 only supported A3D 3, which nForce doesn’t and later patches have removed that support, leaving no 3D Audio support.

    Note – Since finishing this review NVIDIA have released a new Driver which adds Rear Stereo Support. If possible I’ll try updating this review with further audio testing at a later date."

    If you want dolbly digital decoding for with the nForce for the analog outputs you need a software decoder, period. The MCP-D doesn't decode it whatsoever.

    Dunno how the Author coulda missed this ;), AC-3 encoding in probably the most talked about feature of the nForce.

  • #2
    Thanks Thomas. Hopefully Sov will see this and be able to set everything straight.