Envision this. It's late at night and you'd like to deathmatch someone over the Internet. Or you'd like to voice conference with someone on a different continent. Or you want to download data from your PDA. Or you want to capture that vacation footage into the PC for editing and mastering. Regardless, you always have to reach behind the PC (on your knees if your PC is placed on the floor), try not to get your hand entangled in wires and find the correct port / jack to plug your headphone / microphone / PDA / video deck into. This is absolutely unavoidable for both new and veteran PC users alike. Wouldn't it be convenient to plug in the cables for your peripherals at the front of your PC?
Last year, Creative Labs finally provided a solution in the form of the Live!Drive I, which was made specifically for the Sound Blaster Live!. The main disadvantage of the Live!Drive I was it's high pricetag. So far, only OptiCompo has released a lower-priced product, the POFP. Nevertheless, the Live!Drive I ($129), Live!Drive II ($149) and POFP ($85.95) still cost a pretty penny. They cost just as much, if not more than a good sound card such as the SBLive! Value (est. $45 OEM, $70 retail). Plus, the Live!Drive I and II are non-universal, as they can only work with the full SBLive!.
Recently, a newly formed company released a product that finally addressed the shortcomings of the Live!Drives and POFP. With the backing of the Malaysian Technology Development Council and an intial capital of $1 million, Frontx CPX Sdn. Bhd. released the CPX Multimedia Ports. They have sold like hot cakes. In Malaysia and Singapore alone, more than 10,000 units have been sold so far. BlueSmoke recently acquired 2 units for review.
The CPX Multimedia Ports is basically an "input/output unit", or what some people term a "port replicator" in the form of a 5.25" drive bay. The CPX Multimedia Ports provides the standard sound card ports (headphone, mic, line-in and joystick) and ups the ante by offering additional ports such as composite / S-video, RCA, USB, parallel and serial.
First off, the package contents. The unit shipped in transparent plastic packaging, with the Frontx logo emblazoned on the right. It included an adapter plate that fits in a 5.25" bay together with the necessary wires, screws and a slot cover.
Installation is probably as easy as it will get. The instructions printed on the back of the packaging were clear and simple, and absolutely everything that is needed to install the unit is included. However, since the unit is about 0.25cm higher than most 5.25" devices, it is a tight fit, thus making it a bit difficult to line up the unit so that it sits flush with other 5.25" devices. The next step is to run the cables from the inner front to the inner back of your case. The cables are 2.5 feet long, so there were no difficulties installing the unit even in the SuperMicro SC-750A, a full tower case. Next, pass the cables through the low section of the provided slot cover to the back of the case. Once done, simply connect the cables to the appropriate ports on your sound card according to the color codes, or if you have an older sound card, according to the symbols on the plugs.
The unit comes with a headphone, mic, line-in (all 1/8 phono) and joystick port installed, with empty slots for 4 additional ports. The headphone port is a very noteworthy feature. It plugs into the line-out or speaker port on your sound card, creates a pass through that your speakers connect to, and gives you a headphone jack on the front of your case. An automatic cutoff is also implemented, ie. when you plug in your headphone, the audio feed to the speakers is cut. The convenience of this feature cannot be overstated as most speakers do not have a headphone jack on them. Moreover, you don't have to turn off your speakers to use your headphones.
The mic jack is useful for doing voice recordings or having a karaoke session. Also, the mic jack in tandem with the (aft-forementioned) headphone jack is also a boon to voice / video conferencing. Just put on a headset, plug it into the jacks, and when you're done, simply unplug it and keep it away. The same applies to joysticks. As for the line-in jack, it is certainly useful if you want to record audio from an analog source such as a cassette deck or a radio. While it is certainly no optical or coaxial SP/DIF port, it more than suffices for the average user.
One thing Frontx CPX realized was that people do not want their computer ports sticking out of the front of their systems for everyone to see. Thus, the CPX Multimedia Ports is equipped with a small swinging access door that covers the unit when it is not in use. You probably won't realize that you need this feature until you see it. Makes you wonder why these features are lacking on the Live!Drives.
On to construction quality. The CPX Multimedia Ports is quite solidly built, with the only weak points being the swinging door's locking mechanism, which could have been replaced by a tiny magnet, and the mismatched plastic colors. Furthermore, all audio cables are thickly insulated and as a result, no sound quality degradation was observed during tests with an Altec Lansing ACS-48.
The CPX Multimedia Ports is also designed with future expansion in mind. Frontx CPX will be adding serial, parallel, USB and video ports to the available features list by this November. This will be fantastic for those with PDAs, USB devices and for those who do a lot of video capturing.
Lastly, there is the issue of pricing. These prices include shipping, so you can roughly estimate the cost of the product itself by looking at the Malaysian price. Frontx CPX is based there, so hardly any shipping charges are incurred. If you country is unlisted, check for availability at the company's web site where you can web order the CPX Multimedia Ports.
Kingdom, Germany, Swiss, France, Belgium, Italy &
Norway, Spain & India
Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia & Brunei
At its price point, there is no other product to match the CPX Multimedia Ports. With its quality (fragile swinging door locking mechanism and mismatched plastic colors aside), convenience, universal compatibility and expandability in the form of upcoming serial, parallel, video and USB ports, the CPX Multimedia Ports is a sure winner. The only remaining downside is that users with small cases are unable to use this product. Thus, I hope that Frontx CPX Sdn. Bhd. will release a 3.5" version of the CPX Multimedia Ports in the near future. Congratulations to them for designing a great product.