Aloha! Since this most informative Thread is still alive i thought i'd finally post my own experiences with this nasty on board sound card/drivers crippling thing. Following the advice of others here (mainly eecon) i went ahead and found a Retail X-Fi Xtreme Audio Notebook. I didn't need the speaker dock (when i need the 5.1 i use the desktops).
I will try not to drag this out - forgive me if i am too wordy...
1. First and foremost, I need to thank everyone who contributed to this Thread. I actually didn't even KNOW that the was mic in on this laptop was only MONO, until i found it here.
Thanks to everyone here i was able to find an awesome work around to that and the other recording limitations.
2. I would never have even considered an add-in sound device had they not crippled the line-in and "what you hear" recording capabilities in the Soundmax. Why? Because they at least sounded fantastic with the Behringer MS40s. But upgrading to this card has greatly enhanced that sound. I am amazed it could or would be that much better! I'm no audiophile but i'd like to believe as a "semi-pro" musician (drums and percussion) i have a good enough ear to tell. I have played with the likes of Don Ho and a host of other in The Islands.
I am going to try an Optical out to the Optical in on the MS40s as they claim it is even better?!
Just need to get the cable now.
3. I was ready to go ballistic when i found out (after i purchased card no less) that Creative did not provide ASIO drivers.
I primarily use Audition for all my recording needs and recording anything was HORRIBLE using the DirectSound method. But in spite of so many users on so many forums claiming that the free ASIO4ALL drivers did not work, i was able to get them working without any problems whatsoever. What a difference they made!
Recording works AOK with all my other methods... EAC, AudioGrabber, etc. I don't use the Creative stuff and i never touch WMP.
4. I'm very sorry that so many Vista (& Win7?) users are having problems with this card in the T6x's. I only have one thing to say about that. They'll have to pry XPPro from my cold dead keyboard. I had ordered Vista with this laptop since it was free. I think it was in there all of about 20 minutes before i WAXED IT. Never looked back. It will soon be dual booting Slackware and XP Pro. And then i'll be even happier.
5. I only wonder about removing/installing this card without powering down first. I've had problems with older laptops with damage doing that. Never had a chance to try that in this T61. Can anyone confirm if it's ok?
6. eecon, could you please let me know which esata card you got? Since your setup (was) pretty close to mine i would be very interested. I didn't read all the way through this to find out if you are still with XP. I find that for IT work, it can't be beat except certain Network/Security stuff via Linux.
7. Again, i can't thank this Amazing Forum and all the Users for everything they are bringing to the table here.