Laptop technology may be constantly moving forward, but when it comes to audio in your machine, things are a great deal slower.
If you want to add better sound you'll need to add a plug-in card, such as this. Instead of being a standard PC Card, this is a 54mm ExpressCard, which is the larger size, and takes the technology found in Creative's desktop parts and converts them into a package specifically for laptops.
Power is sourced from the laptop and we found that it can have a serious impact when running on battery power. The card consists of two ports: digital in and out ports that you can use with headphones or straight to external speakers, as well as a proprietary connector for the optional 5.1/7.1 docking module (£30 inc. VAT), which allows you to add a surround sound system to your laptop.
You'll need to have the larger-sized ExpressCard slot on your laptop to install the device. Drivers and Creative's own audio software needs to be installed, but this is quite straightforward. The sound chip in your laptop offers 16-bit playback at best. However, with this card you'll be able to record and play back in 24-bit.
A key component of the X-Fi is Crystaliser, which is a software tool designed to fill in the high and low frequencies that are lost when you compress either an MP3 or DivX file.
Other features include PowerDVD for Dolby and DTS movies, or with EAX and OpenAL in games.
To make the most of this card you'll also need to add a serious set of external speakers, so it isn't an ideal solution for the mobile user. That said, a set of Creative headphones are included in the package, so you can use the card on the move for listening to music or getting better sound when watching DVDs.
The X-Fi Xtreme Audio card is a great step forward for anyone looking to get the most from the sound trapped in their laptop.