When it comes to configuring that new notebook computer, you have a lot of options to choose from. Everything from the screen size, processor, graphics, memory and hard drive can be optimized to fit your needs and your budget. Unfortunately there are still some standard components that don't fully lend themselves to upgrades, such as the audio system.

Desktop owners have been enjoying high quality audio via 3rd party add-in sound cards for years, so why must notebook users be forced to go without?

Granted, there are ExpressCard sound cards available but not all notebooks have an ExpressCard slot. Creative recently released a USB sound card, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Go!, that can be used on all notebooks and desktops using a spare USB port. As the name suggests, the Go! brings X-Fi quality audio and EAX HD support to your notebook via a small USB dongle. The small device also doubles as a 1GB flash drive, allowing you to transport game profiles, music or any other files.

The X-Fi Go! is almost the same size as a standard flash drive but about twice as wide. The front of the unit is glossy black and features the X-Fi inscription which lights up white when plugged into your computer. There are also icons for the mic and headphone jacks but these are not illuminated. A write-protect slider switch prevents files on the device from being deleted or overwritten is also present.

The removable cover that protects the USB connector is tethered to the unit which eliminates the possibility of misplacing it.

Besides the device itself inside the box you will find a fold-out user manual, a set of headphones with mic, and an USB extension cable. The fold-out manual was a bit of a hassle as I felt like a lost tourist trying to consult a map when it was fully expanded. What is wrong with the traditional booklet style manual anyway?

Testing was conducted using my HP Pavilion TX1119 notebook with a 1.8 GHz Turion 64 X2 processor, 2GB of memory, 160GB hard drive, GeForce Go 6150 graphics and Realtek audio, all under Windows XP.

When you first plug the X-Fi Go! into your computer, you are greeted with a prompt which you can follow to install the unit. You can actually use the sound card right away without any driver installation, but to get the full effects of the card, driver and software installation is required.

Installation itself didn't take terribly long but after rebooting you will need to run the AutoUpdate software to get the most current versions of drivers and various software. I only elected to install the key software components which came out to around 160 MB. Download and installing all of this did take some time. I didn't measure the entire process from start to finish but if I had to venture a guess, I would estimate around 20-30 minutes total, which is very long.