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Linux Audio Comparison

Michael Larabel

Published on 10 March 2006
Written by Michael Larabel
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Of the challenges that GNU/Linux users face when choosing hardware components for any system is the sound card compatibility. The two most popular Linux audio APIs are ALSA and OSS. ALSA, or officially known as Advanced Linux Sound Architecture, provides much of the audio and MIDI functionality to Linux users and is largely replacing OSS (Open Sound System). Some of ALSA's key features include fully modularized sound drivers, SMP and thread-safe design, user space library, and provides binary compatibility for most OSS programs -- in other words, backward compatibility. In addition to the free OSS API, 4Front Technologies also offer a commercial variant with some additional features and support for particular sound cards that are only accessible with the manufacturer specifications through Non-Disclosure Agreements. In this article, we are examining Linux audio performance in the gaming environment with a slew of sound cards. The contenders include Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Z3, Sound Blaster Audigy 2, Chaintech AV-710, Aureal Vortex (AU8820), and AC'97 integrated audio. Although we will have a few comments in regards to the subjective audio listening, we will be studying the CPU utilization with all of these sound cards and their effect on system performance when gaming; ultimately we are seeing the sound card's effect on the frame-rate performance. The system that was used for all of the testing with the various audio components is listed below. During testing, Fedora Core 5 Test 3 was used with all official updates up to March 05, 2006. Fedora Core 5 Test 3 uses Advanced Linux Sound Architecture v1.0.11 RC 2.

Hardware Components
Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.80GHz (C)
Motherboard: Abit SG-72 (661FX + 946L)
Memory: 2 x 512MB Ultra PC-3200
Graphics Card: ATI Radeon 9250 128MB
Hard Drives: Western Digital 80GB IDE
Optical Drives: Lite-On DVD-ROM 16x
Add-On Devices: Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS
Creative Labs Audigy 2
Chaintech AV-710
Aureal Vortex
Cooling: Swiftech MCX-478V
Case: SilverStone Sugo SG01
Power Supply: SilverStone Strider ST405 400W
Software Components
Operating System: Fedora Core 5 Test 3
Linux Kernel: 2.6.15-1.2009.4.2_FC5smp (i686)
GCC - GNU Compiler: 4.1.0
X.Org: 7.0.0

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