Hi all, I just registered to report some observations with my ALC898 and Windows 7 on a newer AsRock z77 comparing and contrasting it with an X-Fi Elite Pro with Windows XP on an older Socket 939 NForce4.
Both systems have played through the same speaker/amp systems. Through either a Logitech z-5500 digital, or a right proper 5.1+ consumer home receiver. All outputs have been used: analog, digital, optical, coax and direct connect (analog). The X-Fi was even used on the Klipsch ProMedia 5.1s for years, long before the ALC898 was possible. All manner of MP3's have been played and EAX 1-2-3-4 and HD has been used in a number of different titles. Every version of Creative's driver suites have been installed, some with unprintable results. I have also used nearly every model of Soundblaster over the years and many other brands as well. I also understand the making of sound in many environments, including inside a mid to full tower PC case. I can sum up my experiences with this simple advice:
Try what hardware you have with the application you want to use it with first and then if you like what you are hearing from your audio sub-system, spare yourself the trouble of changing anything!
If you do not like what you are hearing experiment with alternative solutions and see what changes, if any, you can discern. If you can not discern or articulate why system A sounds any different from system B then they aren't really improvements to you.
Anecdotally, I find the ALC898 adequate in sound reproduction, which surprisingly isn't the first consideration for your sound sub-system, functionality is. Positional audio and channel separation and equalization are as important sonic factors as total harmonic distortion and then you must include driver functionality and ease of use. Do not underestimate driver functionality, the only way to customize your sound.
In sound sensitive games (even 'old' games) I find the X-fi produces a much cleaner and accurate sound stage. The level of detail ('audio resolution') is noticeably higher even to untrained ears. Not just footsteps behind you, but two uneven footsteps at different elevations, behind you here and here. The ALC898 does not provide as detailed an audio experience as an X-fi in positional gaming. Nor does it have the massive bass-headroom of an X-fi. Artillery barrages and the like are a physical experience with properly produced bass and clean channel separation helps with the higher end for fly-bys and other positional elements. The X-fi / Win XP subsytem is superior sounding in almost every application and connection method to the ALC898/ Win 7 system.
Curiously, Creative offers the THX Tru-Studio pro demo applet with AsRock's ALC898. The software is tied to your mobo and appears to be an 'exciter' or somesuch effect and I have yet to find a use for it, in gaming or otherwise, that simply enabling RealTek's DSP driver options does much better. Realtek's driver suite works perfectly with Windows 7 64 and it has numerous effects and post-processing to rival anything Creative offers, even if the GUI is circa Windows 3.11. It's entirely possible that EAX 2 or even 3 will run on the ALC898 and the bought version of TruStudio applies Creative 'witchcraft' to enable higher versions of EAX. As it stands usually enabling EAX on an ALC898, vanilla, causes hanging or other error. Miles positional audio and DirectX hardware accelerated audio work perfectly, as does any OpenAL program. In fact, there are bootleg ALC898 drivers that mimic the X-fi drivers in every way, I tried them and did get them to work partially. It's a great idea but didn't work quite right for me.
Add-in sound cards : on-board audio :: Add-in video cards : on-board video.