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Internal Sound Cards

An important hardware component for computers, an internal sound card is necessary for the computer to produce sound effects. There are many options for such cards depending on your audio needs. It is important to choose a sound card appropriate for your system.

What is a sound card?

A sound card is a piece of computer hardware that translates digital signals into audible stereo sounds. It is necessary for a computer to produce stereo sounds to speakers or headphones or to record audio through a microphone. Any Windows program that has sound or that records sound, such as video chat, will use a sound card. The sound card will also include various ports for audio devices.

A sound card may be integrated into the computer’s motherboard, or it may be independently linked through a PCIe slot. A card integrated into the motherboard will be purchased with the motherboard and cannot be removed. This also means that it cannot be upgraded.

A USB sound card is another option. These can be useful if the motherboard has no available PCIe slots left or if the user is not comfortable working inside the computer. These are simple plug-and-play devices that provide easily added and removed sound enhancement. They may be the only option for upgrading the sound on a laptop.

Do all computers need a sound card?

All Windows computers will need a sound card to play audio, but only certain computers will require a dedicated or external card. Basic programs can use the card on the motherboard without problems. Advanced software and hardware that may benefit from an external card includes:

  • Music Recording Software: Music recording programs require more precise audio control and functions. Since dedicated cards tend to be of higher quality than integrated ones, such cards will perform better and will produce clearer audio. They will also better handle the load of advanced programs and will be compatible with them.
  • Gaming Computers: A gaming computer benefits from an audio card because gaming programs tend to have more complex sounds, music, and multiple audio files being played simultaneously. This can overload basic integrated cards. Many games also have chat functions, which add to the complexity and which require compatible microphones and headphones. Most games list a dedicated card in their recommended hardware specifications.
  • Amplifier or Speaker System: If your computer uses an advanced audio output device, such as an amplifier or surround sound and stereo speaker system, you may benefit from a PCIe card to achieve high volume and proper sound balance and control. A high-end system may not be compatible with a basic motherboard card.

What are audio drivers?

All digital audio cards require Windows software that allows the card to communicate with the computer. These programs are referred to as drivers. They control how the card works, and dedicated cards will not work without the appropriate drivers. High-end cards come with interactive programs that allow users to tweak the audio and to adapt it to certain uses like music or gaming.

The user will install the driver using either a provided disc or a digital download from the manufacturer's site. Certain cards will work with Windows to self-install. It is important to keep drivers updated and to use the correct driver for each device.

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