Creative Tries Again At Linux Drivers
Written by Michael Larabel in Software on 18 April 2008. Page 1 of 1. 22 Comments

Next to drivers for graphics cards and (Atheros and Broadcom) wireless chipsets, the Creative Labs X-Fi series is one of the most complained about pieces of hardware for its Linux support or there the lack of. The Creative X-Fi sound card series is a few years old, but it wasn't until a few months ago that open and closed-source drivers started coming about for this hardware. However, this sound card has still been left in a sorry state, but this week Creative Labs has finally pushed out another Sound Blaster X-Fi Linux beta driver. But does this driver correct their wrong doings from the past?

Since the first half of 2006, Creative Labs has been stating their intention of providing an X-Fi driver that supports Linux with full capabilities for ALSA and OpenAL 1.1 with EAX (Environmental Audio Extensions). Their plans were to provide this closed-source driver in the second quarter of 2007, but then come Q2'07 they had duped Linux for Microsoft Vista. It had taken Creative Labs more resources to develop a Vista-capable driver than they had anticipated and as a result, their Linux driver development suffered with their release schedule being pushed back by several months.

Finally in September we found out that an X-Fi Linux driver was coming soon but as a beta release. On September 24, 2007 that driver was finally delivered but it in a horrific state. This closed-source X-Fi beta driver had only supported x86_64 Linux (read: no support for all of the 32-bit Linux users) and hadn't even worked with GCC 4.x. In addition, the driver had its share of other bugs.

Months went by after that release with no signs of another beta, but back in February of this year, 4Front Technologies had announced an update to the Open Sound System (OSS) with initial support for the X-Fi series. Unlike support for some of the other sound cards on the market, the X-Fi support in its (sbxfi) driver wasn't reverse-engineered but Creative Labs had provided some source-code and header files to 4Front Technologies (Open-Source Creative X-Fi Support). These code files though had confidential markings, but two days later it was found out that this was legal and Creative Labs is interacting with both the OSS and ALSA projects. They had finally joined the open-source bandwagon.

After seeing this Open Sound System support and anticipating Sound Blaster X-Fi support for the forthcoming ALSA 1.0.17 release, we thought the Creative closed-source driver might just be dead. However, this week a second unsupported beta driver has finally been released. This driver supports the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic, XtremeGamer, Fatal1ty, Platinum, and Elite Pro models. It supports ALSA mixing, recording, and PCM playback, while the new features in this beta release is support for GCC version 4 and Linux 32-bit distributions. Major issues still not addressed are S/PDIF pass-through support and compatibility with external I/O modules.

The Linux "XFiDrv" is at version 1.18 for this beta release. We are in the process of testing out this driver and we will report back if there's anything interesting to hear. There is no report yet what other bugs this beta driver might have addressed. Now that there is GCC 4.x and 32-bit support, this may be a good temporary driver until the open-source X-Fi support matures. For X-Fi sound card owners, this driver can be downloaded from the Creative Open-Source Wiki.


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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.


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