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I've read that Windows Vista and 7 stopped supporting hardware acceleration (which included support for EAX sound effects) of DirectSound/DirectX Audio. Many of the old games (most of them released in the 90's-early 2000's) that I used to play in Windows XP support hardware accelerated EAX 1 and/or 2 thru DirectSound.

I would like to know if Windows 7, with my sound card(s), can still do EAX sound effects (even without hardware acceleration) or if it can be configured to support EAX sound effects thru OpenAL in these old games.

My laptop's (old; bought ~2004) motherboard has an integrated SoundMAX sound card (SoundMAX Integrated Digital Audio) while my desktop PC (bought this year; 2011) has a 'VIA High Definition Audio' sound card. Is there any software/driver I can use to enable EAX 1 and 2 sound effects (with or without hardware acceleration) in Windows 7 with these sound cards? (With Windows XP, the SoundMAX sound card was able to support EAX 1 and 2.)

Background info on this: Sound hardware acceleration was disabled in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Because of this, EAX sound effects are also disabled (unless you have a Creative-branded soundcard and install a program that can pass or convert EAX sound effects of a game to OpenAL like Creative's Alchemy).

From the Creative Alchemy webpage - http://connect.creativelabs.com/alchemy/default.aspx:

In Windows Vista, Microsoft has decided to remove the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) for DirectSound and DirectSound3D. The HAL is the software layer that in previous Windows operating systems enabled an audio accelerator such as the Sound Blaster X-Fi to provide DirectSound3D applications with hardware accelerated audio. This enabled soundcards to perform tasks such as sample-rate conversion, mixing, 3D spatialization using HRTFs, filtering, and effects processing. Without the HAL, DirectSound on Windows Vista will be rendered in software with no advanced functionality such as EAX.

The audio changes in Windows Vista do not affect OpenAL however. For audio cards that feature 'native' OpenAL support, such as the SB X-Fi series of cards, there is no need to worry! Games that enable support for OpenAL will continue to run just as they do on Windows XP - with hardware accelerated audio and effects. A listing of OpenAL titles can be found at http://www.openal.org/titles.html.

Although OpenAL has arguably replaced DirectSound3D, particularly in many modern PC Games (e.g. battlefield 2142, Doom3, Quake 4, Prey, etc.), there are hundreds of older PC games that support DirectSound3D and EAX technology. All of these games will sound empty and lifeless on Vista. As most DS3D games only enable 3D Audio and EAX if a hardware accelerator is present, most of these games will be reduced to a stereo output.

List of games that support EAX: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_games_that_support_EAX
EAX, and its features on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_audio_extensions

2010-11-11 Edit - Additional Notes:

None of the old games I play show the option to enable EAX 1 & 2 effects (even if they used to in Windows XP, on the same computer and soundcard). So it appears that in my current setup, there appears to be no support for EAX 1 & 2 (even though I was able to play games with EAX 1 and/or 2 activated on the same computer and soundcard when it had Windows XP installed).

As for my laptop's motherboard (ASUS), I believe they currently have no support for enabling EAX in integrated soundcards, and I'm not sure if they are planning on implementing support. I am looking for an option that will make EAX work through software because theoretically, like CJM said, EAX 1 & 2 are fairly simple, so modern processors should have no problem with them.

Many of the old games that I play support only EAX and not OpenAL so I am missing out a lot on the sound effects of these games. The game sounds have less "life" to them without EAX. Many of the old games that I play are in this list of videogames that support EAX.

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3 Answers

you could always get an Audigy sound card to use Alchemy with. the earlier series of Audigys can probably be had fairly cheaply now. for example, on Amazon you can get a used Audigy 2 for $20. eBay would probably have similar deals.

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Why? Why spend money just to allow the odd old game to play quite limited effects, perhaps not any better than his on-board chipset. –  CJM Nov 10 '10 at 13:27
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as the only option to get EAX on Vista/7 is through Alchemy with an Audigy or X-Fi i thought i would point out the option. if it fits the asker's need then great, if not then no worries. –  Xantec Nov 10 '10 at 17:12
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@CJM I agree with not spending any more money for this issue. If I spend money, I feel like I am condoning Microsoft (and also Creative,for profiting) on disabling a feature my soundcard and computer is perfectly capable of doing. This is probably a good example of Planned Obsolescence ( secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/… ). As for the "odd old games", many of the games I play are old games (certainly not "odd") in my case and support only EAX and not OpenAL so I am missing out on the sound effects (cont) bit.ly/cOdIxv –  galacticninja Nov 11 '10 at 13:39
    
About the now dead bit.ly link in my comment above: I edited in the text that should be in that link into my question. –  galacticninja Jul 20 '12 at 5:18
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http://www.indirectsound.com/ appears to do some of what you've asked for.

IndirectSound emulates audio hardware acceleration on modern Windows operating systems. This enables older games to have 3D positional audio (i.e. surround sound played out of rear and side speakers) like they were intended to when they were originally released.

http://www.indirectsound.com/knownIssues.html

Currently EAX support is emulated, meaning that IndirectSound pretends that EAX is supported and games will respond accordingly, but there is no actual audible difference when EAX is enabled or disabled.

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Windows 7/Vista effectively support EAX 1 and 2. The audio chipset you have emulates EAX (through OpenAL) - EAX is actually Creative Labs-only (plus a few partners more recently), so many other providers emulate EAX.

The effects encompassed in EAX 1 & 2 are fairly simple (reverb, chorus etc), and so can be emulated in software, but the more complex features of EAX in later version (E.g. 3D sound) need hardware abstraction which is not possible in Vista/7.

In older games, where EAX support is available, if you select it, your Windows 7/SoundMax should emulate the effects in EAX 1 & 2 but ignore any later (EAX 3+) effects. In my experience, where a game couldn't support it's desired EAX features, it simply ignores or resets your game settings. Perhaps you have seen it where you tick the EAX box only to find it unticked next time you go in.

Occasionally in the past, patches for games were provided to add OpenAL support (which can take full advantage of hardware support), but I wouldn't bank on it.

Alchemy is a Creative Labs tool that translates native EAX calls (3+) into OpenAL calls so that advanced hardware support can be used, but as you have identified, this only works for Creative's own cards. AFAIK, there is no generic to tool to do the same for other chipsets. It may be the case that your SoundMax drivers do a similar job - I have no idea - you will have to speak to your motherboard manufacturer.

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None of the old games I play show the option to enable EAX 1 & 2 effects (even if they used to in Windows XP, on the same computer and soundcard). So it appears that in my current setup, there appears to be no support for EAX 1 & 2 (even though I was able to play games with EAX 1 and/or 2 activated on the same computer and soundcard when it had Windows XP installed). As for my motherboard (ASUS), I believe they currently have no support for enabling EAX in integrated soundcards, and I'm not sure if they are planning on implementing support. (cont) bit.ly/bZesrL –  galacticninja Nov 11 '10 at 13:26
    
About the now dead bit.ly link in my comment above: I edited in the text that should be in that link into my question. –  galacticninja Jul 20 '12 at 5:18
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