While AC’97 is more than sufficient for typing in Word or surfing the net, many users wish for a more flexible, higher quality solution. Analog Devices and Intel stepped up to the plate with that solution a short while ago, and offered SoundMAX technology.
SoundMAX is essentially an upgrade to existing AC’97 audio that is designed to increase both quality and flexibility. The upgrade comes in both hardware and software form, both necessary for SoundMAX to be supported properly.
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Fig. 1 - Analog Devices' AD1885 CODEC (COder/DECoder). The entire CODEC, seen above, measures less than 8mm square.
The hardware involved is Analog Devices’ AD1885 Hardware CODEC (COder/DECoder), which is essentially a special purpose DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The AD1885 IC features high-quality digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital sample rate converters (DAC & ADC), as well as power amplification capabilities. The AD1885 is packaged in a 48-pin LQFP (Low-profile Quad Flat Package) package, and measures, literally, less than a quarter of a square inch in area. While we weren’t given an exact price, indications are that the AD1885 can be purchased (likely in quantity) for less than $2 per chip, making the hardware extremely affordable.
From a software perspective, the upgrade comes in the form of SoundMAX drivers. The special purpose drivers, when installed, can offload certain tasks to the host processor, and provide support for MIDI playback (GM, XG, and XG-Lite formats), as well as support for DirectSound, DirectSound3D, and A3D 1.0 and EAX extensions. At present, SoundMAX with SPX drivers are available for Windows 98SE/ME, Windows 2000. Update: Analog Devices has informed me that Windows 95 and 98 are NOT supported. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Windows XP drivers will most certainly be made available as well, as soon as they are required. Users of Linux/Unix or other alternative operating systems are out of luck, as, aside from standard AC'97 drivers, there are currently no SoundMAX-specific drivers available supporting non-Windows operating systems.