Most notebooks include a sound chip that can handle basic audio and music playback if pushed but it's distinctly low-fi.
But upgrading the sound card of a notebook is as easy as it is for a desktop PC. The main option if you fancy pumping up your notebook's audio performance is a USB sound card. But they can be bulky, may require an external power supply and aren't exactly convenient for use on the move.
Creative is seeking to change this with a PC Card version of its Audigy2 ZS line.
However, it's not the first company to make a notebook sound card - the Indigo range from Echo Digital Audio (www.musiclink.com.au) has been on the market for some time.
The Audigy2 ZS card is a standard size, but extends about 20mm from the PC Card slot to accommodate the connectors, which include a headphone/optical-out on one side and a line-in/mic/optical-in on the other. In the middle is a flat custom connector that accepts the optional - but included - breakout cable, providing three 3.5mm audio jacks.
The design of the connectors means you only need the breakout cable if you connect to a surround sound speaker system, so you can just use the headphone-out on the card when you're on the move and don't need more.
We found the sound quality to be very good. It also provides good ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) performance, operating with just 2ms output latency and 3ms for input in our test sequencing software, Ableton Live.
VERDICT: If you want to give your notebook audio a boost, but can't be bothered with the hassle or cable clutter of a USB solution, then the Audigy2 ZS Notebook is the card for you.
CREATIVE AUDIGY2 ZSD NOTEBOOKPRICE $369 VENDOR Creative Labs PHONE (02) 9021 9800 URL www.au.creative.com SPECIFICATIONS PC Card sound card; 7.1 surround sound output at 24-bit/96kHz resolution; DVD-Audio playback at 24-bit/192kHz resolution; headphone/ optical-out and line-in/mic/optical-in on card; surround speaker connections via included breakout cable
FEATURES 9 VALUE 9 OVERALL 9