How to Choose a Sound Card?
By Dr. Michael and Lee Penrod
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- The quality of onboard audio has been dramatically increasing in the past year or so. Many new integrated solutions such as the nVidia nForce/nForce2 chipsets and cheap 5.1 integrated solutions like the C-Media 8738 have taken onboard audio to a level acceptable by many. Most new motherboards now have at least some form of onboard audio. If you are buying a new motherboard you may want to see how you like the onboard audio before purchasing a separate sound card. You may very well find that the onboard sound is more then adequate for your needs.
- Most computer sound systems are designed for both gamers and music lovers at the same time. An inexpensive sound card of any brand, costing only $10-20, together with an inexpensive pair of speakers, is adequate for most average users.
- With the advent of DVD, new multimedia software, MP3 audio, and high bandwidth Internet access on the horizon, the reason to have sound on a computer is changing. A realistic surround sound system is a must if you want to watch movies on your computer monitor.
- For gamers the good news is that the prices of high-end sound cards have been falling like a rock in the past year or so. One popular high end sound card, the SoundBlaster Live used to cost $200 just a year and a half ago and now goes for a small fraction of that. As the Audigy is being replaced with the Audigy II price on them are also dropping.
- Feedback from our customers and our own testing suggest that the result of high-end speakers with subwoofers does not correlate well with the price of such products.
- Here is some clarification on many confusing terms used on sound cards. 16-bit vs. 32-bit: These terms refer to the bus structure of a sound card, i.e., the number of bits of information the card can process at one time. An ISA sound card is 16-bit and a PCI sound card is 32-bit. Now, what do AWE64, PCI128 and AW37 mean? These mean the total number of sound waves that can be output at the same time! The SoundBlaster AWE64 sound card is a 16-bit ISA sound card capable of producing 64 sounds at the same time, while the Acer/AOpen AW37 is a 16-bit ISA sound card capable of making 37 sounds at the same time. More confused? OK, the higher the number of sound waves the better.
- The term 6-Channel audio and 5.1 audio are used interchangeable and mean basically the same thing.
- If possible use PCI sound cards. ISA is obsolete, and USB can sometimes be more problematic and of lower quality then similar PCI counterparts.
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Last Updated: 07/09/03