Creative has been in the PC sound business for so long we've come to expect great things from it. Yet with rivals offering similar products that are often cheaper, it's had to fight back hard. That's where the X-Fi brand comes in, which has become established as a leader in desktop audio.
Now it's the laptop's turn to undergo an audio makeover, and the X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook is essentially the entry-level Xtreme Audio PCI card in Express format.
The Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook is a two-part affair, with the express card and a speaker-docking module to give you more speaker options, such as connecting your laptop to a home cinema system.
We tested it on a Vista laptop and installed the full suite of Creative's X-Fi software. This can come across as overkill because you're unlikely to use the majority of its functions. However, if you're a serious audiophile or into editing home movies, you'll soon find a use for the host of applications bundled with this card.
Whatever you end up using the card for - and let's face it, gaming and watching movies is where you'll see the benefit - you'll be amazed at just how good your laptop can sound. Portable PCs from leading manufacturers such as Harman Kardon that claim to have serious audio built in never seem to match desktop quality due to their small size.
All that's changed, and now laptops are beginning to outsell desktops it's time we all started investing in some better audio to complement the increase in graphics power.
For certain types of compressed music, the Crystalizer in the Creative software can be very effective, especially with headphones, so there's no need to rely on the basic audio modes in Windows Media Player or iTunes.
Bundled extras include a carry pouch for the express card so that it won't suffer damage on your travels, but the included headphones are only of average quality.