Sound cards are something we almost never think about, until the sound stops working. Basically, a sound card is responsible for translating the information passed to it by your computer, and converting it to an audio signal to send to your speakers. On the back of your sound card is an interface - almost all of them look the same. It has several inputs, and one output. You can use this to plug in a microphone, as well as the standard speaker line out. There are a couple of different configurations with a sound card. Just like a video or networking card, you can have it be either onboard, or standalone. Just like the other hardware pieces, this is a performance issue as well. People who want additional features from their sound card typically go with a stand alone card. Below, we will break down several features of each setup.
Onboard Sound Cards:
It used to be, not so many years ago, that a lot of people avoided the onboard sound cards. Many people were more interested in getting surround sound and other fancy features for their computers' sound. Nowadays things have changed. Ninety-five percent of people we see are just fine with onboard audio, and even we use it. Unless you need something extra flashy (specific features like external audio controls, or surround sound), on board sound works great. The vast majority of people we see run the AC 97 onboard sound card, and while there are many choices on the market, we see this one the most often. It's important to note that you don’t often have a choice about your onboard audio. It comes with the motherboard, and isn’t something you can customize unless you're building from scratch. That said, if you don’t like how it is performing, you can always add a stand alone sound card, as aftermarket sound cards are very affodably these days. This is what a sound card looks like:
Stand Alone Sound Card:
Stand alone sound cards offer a wide variety of features, and still remain pretty popular with gamers and those who use their computers as entertainment systems. To elaborate, in most cases a stand alone sound card is going to have better features and better quality than an onboard sound card. If you like to watch movies on your computer, use it for music, and use anything more than the standard 2 speakers, you will likely want to consider a stand alone option. You will typically notice the difference when playing your sound at a high volume, or on multiple speakers. Installation is quite easy with stand alone sound cards. It's basically just like installing a printer - first, install the software. Second, shut down the computer, and install the card. Lastly, reboot your computer, then enjoy. It shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes from start to finish.
If you have any questions at all, shoot on over to our forum and ask away.