Sound Cards Buying Guide

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A sound card  (also known as an audio card ) is a computer expansion card that facilitates the input and output of audio signals to/from a computer.  Typical uses of sound cards include providing the audio component for multimedia applications such as music composition, editing video or audio, presentation/education, and entertainment.  Many computers have sound capabilities built in, while others require additional expansion cards to provide for audio capability.

An Overview

When purchasing a sound card, there are several factors that can complicate the situation.  Before making a purchase, it is important to take a few factors into consideration. 

  • Interface:  You will want to make sure that you have the available connection on your computer.  Sound cards are available as both PCI and ISA.
    • PCI:  Most modern sound cards come in this format.  This is recommended if you wish to utilise the sound card for playing games or watching movies
    • ISA:   These are a bit dated and can be very cheap, making them a good buy for some users.  In addition, purchasing an ISA card will keep a PCI slot open for other things.  
  • Available Connections:  Look to see if your computer already has a sound card built into its motherboard.  If so, can it be disabled?  You will surely want to find out. 
    • Available Speaker Connections:   For computer gamers it may be important that the card has two available speaker connections.  One connection for the front speakers and the other for the rear speakers.  Users who do not plan on utilising this technology will only need one speaker connection to connect the set of two speakers to.
    • Midi Port or Game Port :  The midi port will allow a user to connect a MIDI keyboard ; however, it is more commonly used as a game port, allowing users to connect gamepads and joysticks to the card.
    • Microphone Connection:   Though it is generally a standard for all sound cards, it is important to double-check that your sound card includes a connection for a microphone
  • Full-Duplex:  Full-Duplex  allows for sound cards to play and record sound at the same time. This feature is most commonly used to do voice communication over the Internet. 
  • 3D Acceleration:  Today, 3D acceleration  is used and found in computer games and there are three types out there that you should know about.
    • Direct Sound 3D:  Microsoft's DirectSound 3D software includes API with DirectX.
    • EAX:  Creative Labs has made Environmental Audio Extensions to create realistic sound effects based on a game being played.
    • A3D:  This is a software that API developed using additional 3D acceleration, but without the Microsoft codes.
  • Warranty:  You will want to find out if your sound card comes with a warranty, and if so how long you will be covered for. 
  • Support:  You will want to inquire about whether the sound card company has a technical support number that can easily be reached.  If things are going wrong with your installation, you will surely want to have someone handy that can fix your problems and answer your questions.

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General Use

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