The Need For Speed- by Jon Cochran

Hello, and I hope everybody had a great August. School is just around the corner and it seems as if some of us are entering the last year on that five-year plan. Is it possible to stretch it to six years?

Turning away from scholarly thoughts, it's time to think fun and games. More specifically it's multimedia time, and with Merlin coming out it's a good time to reexamine that sound card to be sure it will work with Voice Navigation and Dictation (which are, after all, two of the neatest new features in Merlin). And is that old 2X CD-ROM going to be up to the task of installing 100+MB of operating system files to your hard drive? (Well, yes, it will be but that's besides the point, everybody wants a shiny new one.) And, as a bonus, some Pro Audio Spectrum tips (I had no idea how many people actually owned this thing and needed help with it).

To start, the sound card is the linchpin in any multimedia setup. Without it, there's no sound, and therefore, no multimedia. If you've got an older 8-bit sound card, including the venerable Sound Blaster series (regular and pro) it's definitely time to upgrade. Those 8-bit sound cards won't work with the dictation and navigation in Merlin.

In choosing a new sound card, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping around. I'll run off a small checklist of things you should look for, and I will give some recommendations based on what I know about certain cards. Keep in mind, this isn't the Sound Card FAQ, which I definitely recommend you read if you have any questions about an odd brand sound card.

CD-ROM Interface

This isn't as important these days, since most people hook up a CD-ROM directly to their motherboard, but it's still worth looking at. Most sound cards have an IDE hookup, and a few have a SCSI hookup. I'd avoid the older cards with proprietary CD-ROM connections, but there are bargains to be found here (such as the original SB AWE32).

Wavetable Sound

Simply put, a wavetable card sounds leagues better than a normal FM Synthesis card. The first time I heard one, I was blown away. Even a regular game like SimCity 2000 sounds 10 times better on a wavetable card than on a regular card. If your card isn't a wavetable card, you can perhaps upgrade it (the SB16 series comes to mind here) but be sure that any wavetable upgrades are supported under OS/2 (the SB series is).

DSP functions

I have reservations about cards like this. The most common DSP cards I can think of are the IBM Aptiva sound cards (some type of MWave card). Yes, they do sound fantastic, and the modem is upgradable via software, but there are problems if you're on-line at 28.8 and try to play MIDI files, or so I've been told. You also have to start a server program every time you want to use the modem, which can be annoying.

Those are, in my mind, three of the most important things to look for when buying a sound card. Based on those three categories, I've compiled a short list of sound cards that sound good, are OS/2 compatible, and are available just about anywhere. Here goes...

Other than these two series of cards, I'd be extremely careful. Be sure drivers are available and the company supports the drivers. I know there are lots of other great sound cards out there (TurtleBeach, Ultrasound, etc.) but they just aren't that well supported under OS/2. Buyer beware!

CD-ROM

Now is also a great time to upgrade your CD-ROM to a 6x or 8x drive. I've never seen prices so low, and the proliferation of IDE CD-ROMs means you can use just about any of them under OS/2 without worries about drivers (worries about setting up your config.sys have become the new problem). You can pick up an 8x CD-ROM with an adapter card for around US$150 at Best Buy. If you're thinking about upgrading, now is a good time.

And, as promised, I'd like to include a little section here of Pro Audio Spectrum tips, for all the PAS users that can't get sound working right in WIN-OS/2. And I've also thrown in some MWave tips, for MWave users who are getting horrible performance out of their preloaded Aptivas.

Pro Audio Spectrum

MWave Tips (Aptiva Preloads)

If you have an Aptiva Magic series computer, and it seems like OS/2 just drags on your system, check to see if any WIN-OS/2 sessions are in your startup folder. On one Aptiva I looked at 2 WIN-OS/2 sessions were being loaded at startup (the sound and modem server). Taking these out of the startup folder dramatically improved performance (IBM what are you thinking here!) and upgrading to the latest OS/2 MWave drivers took care of the functions of the WIN-OS/2 session.

That's it for this month. See you in 30.


Jon Cochran is a full time student at Rider University majoring in History/Secondary Education. He hopes (or at least his parents do) to graduate soon.

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