ED#02 : SoundStorm In A Cup
It's time to debunk a myth that I myself was guilty of perpetuating for some time - that SoundStorm is NVIDIA's optional high-end audio I/O card for nForce2 motherboards.
First, let's take a look at why people would be confused about SoundStorm - NVIDIA's own tech docs.
Here's the description of SoundStorm from NVIDIA's nForce2 APU Tech Brief :-
For the most powerful integrated audio solution available today, look for nForce systems featuring NVIDIA SoundStorm. PCs with the NVIDIA SoundStorm solution have implemented the most complete digital audio feature set for your desktop, delivering stunning audio and fantastic sound effects, all powered by the nForce APU. SoundStorm exposes a vast array of inputs and outputs, including a digital SPDIF connection for access to the Dolby Digital 5.1 real-time encoder, connections for Microphone, CD, TV, and Line-in, Headphones, Front Left and Right speakers, Rear Left and Right speakers, a Center channel and a Subwoofer connection.
There is also the picture of the NVIDIA SoundStorm :-
It really looks as if NVIDIA SoundStorm is NVIDIA's audio I/O solution for their nForce2 motherboards! It never occurred to me that SoundStorm is actually NVIDIA's brand name for nForce2 motherboards with audio solutions that pass its certification process. Well, that's what this editorial is for - to clear it all up!
To avoid confusion, I e-mailed NVIDIA, asking them if they could clear the air on SoundStorm. And here's what Bryan Del Rizzo, NVIDIA's Integrated PR Manager has to say :-
A product can be branded NVIDIA SoundStorm(tm) only if it meets the requirements listed below. Products that qualify for the SoundStorm brand are eligible to use the Dolby(R) Digital logo and branding. Products cannot get the Dolby certification nor use the Dolby Digital logo without participating in the SoundStorm program. Such products must have the following items as they are not optional :-
- NVIDIA nForce(tm)2 platform processor-based motherboard that includes the MCP-T with APU supporting Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding
- Discrete (non-shared) front left and right analog outputs
- Discrete (non-shared) rear left and right analog outputs
- Discrete (non-shared) center and subwoofer analog outputs
- Discrete (non-shared) S/PDIF digital output (coax recommended, but they can do optical)
- Discrete (non-shared) line-in analog inputs
- Discrete (non-shared) microphone analog input
- Minimum 85db signal-to-noise ratio on all analog outputs
- Minimum 80db signal-to-noise ratio on all analog inputs
- Dolby Digital testing, certification, approval from Dolby and NVIDIA
Currently, there are only three tested and certified products that meet the SoundStorm / Dolby certification criteria :-
- ABIT NF7-S
- MSI K7N2G-ILSR with S-Bracket
- Shuttle SN41G2 small form-factor PC
There are no provisions for upgrading to a SoundStorm solution or adding SoundStorm capabilities after a product is in the consumers hands. The product must contain everything necessary to provide full audio functionality in accordance with the SoundStorm program out-of-the-box and be tested and approved by NVIDIA and Dolby. This is done to ensure the best quality and consumer experience possible, and to guarantee a minimum level of quality on all SoundStorm branded products.
Other boards are currently in certification.
That certainly clears up all the confusion on SoundStorm, doesn't it?
As you can see, only three products have so far been given SoundStorm certification. No other products can claim SoundStorm support. Please note that NVIDIA initially reported the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe motherboard to be SoundStorm-certified but apparently, they have been dropped from the list.
So, if you are looking for SoundStorm-compliant motherboard, look no further than these three products - the ABIT NF7-S motherboard, the MSI K7N2G-ILSR (with S-Bracket) motherboard and the Shuttle SN41G2 small form-factor PC.
What Happened To The ASUS A7N8X Deluxe?
Now, although the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe was on the initial list of SoundStorm-certified products (which we posted not so long ago), it was noticeably absent from the latest list. This indicated that it was recently dropped from the certified list.
This caused quite a bit of a furor since ASUS has been selling the board as SoundStorm-certified, with Dolby stickers et al. Many people have e-mailed me or posted questions about this issue in the forums. So, I thought I should beef up this editorial with more information on the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe. This should help clear up the confusion.
First of all, let me stress that SoundStorm is a NVIDIA brand for qualified products that meet the requirements of NVIDIA's SoundStorm certification programme. Note the word "certification". A motherboard may not be SoundStorm-certified but it can still offer the same audio features and performance as SoundStorm-certified motherboards. What SoundStorm certification means is that the product has been tested by NVIDIA and Dolby and found to meet the minimum specifications listed above.
But how can a product that was initially SoundStorm-certified be dropped from the list? Did NVIDIA tightened the SoundStorm requirements? Or did something happened to the current batches of the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe motherboards that caused NVIDIA to dropped them from the certified list? Is ASUS cheating you by declaring SoundStorm certification with Dolby stickers on the box? I'm sure those were some of the questions that were running through your mind.
Finding Out The Truth
I received some inside information about this issue and thought I would try to get some confirmation from NVIDIA. Unfortunately (but understandably), they were mum about it. I was actually told to ask ASUS about it! Heh... As if ASUS would fess up to the issue! :)
Although I cannot tell you what actually happened, I can allay your fears about the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe being downgraded to the frankly irrelevant label of non-SoundStorm-certified.
The Verdict On The ASUS A7N8X Deluxe
As far as I'm aware, the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe passed the NVIDIA SoundStorm certification programme with flying colours. And since the requirements of the SoundStorm programme have not changed, it's hardly likely that the A7N8X Deluxe was dropped for not making the grade. Our source confirms that it is so.
Whatever caused the A7N8X Deluxe to be dropped from the list was totally unrelated to the quality or performance of the audio subsystem of the motherboard. Again, I cannot tell you what it was. Just that it had nothing to do with the hardware! The A7N8X Deluxe did and still meets the requirements of the SoundStorm programme. So, there's absolutely no need to worry about getting a substandard product when you buy the A7N8X Deluxe. In fact, I expect this matter to be cleared up soon and the A7N8X Deluxe to return to the list very soon!
As for ASUS' practice of shipping the motherboards with Dolby stickers on the box, well, you can hardly blame them. They were only dropped off the certified list very recently. The boards and packaging you see now were made sometime ago. It would take some time (and money!) to switch to a different packaging. But I doubt they will make any changes. Based on what I know, it would be foolish for them to do anything to the boxes right now when the problem is expected to be resolved very soon.
Questions & Comments
If you have any questions or comments about NVIDIA SoundStorm, please feel free to post them here! We look forward to hearing from you! :)