The Card In Detail
The card is built on a black PCB and uses a PCI interconnect. It's got a classy gold coloured back-plate with six colour coded ports packed in the back, as well as two optical S/PDIF sockets (in and out). Including six 3.5mm jacks means you can plug in a full 8 channel sound setup as well as a microphone and line in (from an instrument, for example) without running out of ports.
Missing is digital coaxial support, though unless another PCI bracket was included with them on there's no more space on this card. I don't know whether it was intentional or not but the green, "front out" has been placed on the very edge closest to the side of the case, which makes sliding your arm around the back and blindly plugging in headphones that little bit easier.
Whilst it's no FCBGA bearing heatsink wearing behemoth, it does have a fair few components on it to give it a bit of that "I can see where my money has gone"
The major chip is C-Media's "Super High Performance PCI Audio Processor", the Oxygen CMI8788 which offers up to 12 outgoing channels and 8 ingoing channels, each channel consisting of one multi-channel DMA (32 bits, 8 channels, 192k), S/PDIF DMA (32 bits, 2 channels, 192k), and front panel DMA (16 bits, 2 channels, 48k). The 8 ingoing channels are spread in 3 recording DMAs (32 bits, 192k).
This is basically the highest end consumer bitrate and frequency enablement to playback. It even has built in S/PDIF transmitters and receivers to eliminate the need for extra IC's that affect the clarity of the digital audio.
The analogue audio is specifically handled by the CMI9780, an 8 channel AC'97 2.3 codec. The codec is coupled with 117dB SNR DACs which provide an effective SNR of ~110dB. This compares to the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Music, Platinum and Fatal1ty soundcards at 109dB and the Elite Pro at 116dB. Typical onboard HD Audio only has 85-95dB SNR DACs, so it's clear that this thing is pimped out with the best consumer level stuff you can get.
As a PCI card its usefulness is still high but diminishing. PCI cards are competing for the increasingly rare slots on newer motherboards. We'd love to see one of these cards in a PCI-E x1 form factor, making it more easily accessible to modern enthusiasts.
The Nitty Gritty
On the card there are 4 AKM AK4396 Stereo DACs which provide DVD-A/SACD level fidelity for professional audio applications, and six JRC 4580 dual channel op-amps - often found in $300/£200 DVD players and the $1000 Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player. The Wolfson WM8785 is an ADC rated at 111dB (Analogue weighted @ 48KHz) with 16-32bit and 8-192KHz support.
The ASIO driver also has a latency of merely 2ms at 96KHz sample rate. This is great for those who use professional audio applications that require minimal delay between an instrument key press and hearing the sound. Considering that sound travels through air at approximately 340m/s (depending on height above sea level and temperature) it’s equivalent to standing less than a metre away from an actual instrument. It's also worth noting the using Microsoft's own DirectSound driver you are looking at a 30ms delay!