What are Computer
Sound Cards?

Why do you need them?

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Computer sound cards (also called audio cards) are expansion cards that output audio to your speaker system and also record audio to your hard drive.

They play back audio and have input and output ports for connecting microphones, stereo speakers and line input.

Computerized audio goes through three stages:

1.  Conversion of the input sound from analog to digital performed by the Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC).

2.  Storing of the digital audio in a compressed file on the hard drive.

3.  Reproduction of the audio which is achieved by re-converting the digital audio to analog audio done by the Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC).

Computer audio adapters/sound cards exist in the following forms:

  • An audio adapter on a PCI expansion card that you install in the PCI slot on your motherboard.
  • A sound chip on the motherboard produced by companies such as Crystal, Analog Devices, Sigmatel and ESS, etc.
  • Integrated into the motherboard's main chipset such as from Intel, SiS and VIA Technologies.
  • External USB types.

The most important component of computer sound cards are the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) which converts the audio into digital data for storage on the hard drive.

These two components (ADC) Analog-to-Digital Converter and the (DAC) Digital-to-Analog Converter together, produce the sound in your system.

Most sound cards are accompanied with a device driver and software needed, such as applications software, to play audio CDs. After they are physically installed, the device driver must be installed for it to function properly.

In older systems, an audio cable was connected from the CD/DVD ROM drive to the sound card; otherwise, there will be no audio. This practice is discontinued in today's PCs.

There are 3 main ways of producing audio. First is integrated or onboard audio which means the audio card is built into the motherboard. Next, PCI sound cards which are installed in the PCI slots on the motherboard and finally, external USB.

Almost all audio adapters provide dedicated jacks/connectors for analog joysticks and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) hardware. This feature, however, was only used in very specialized recording operations but, today, it has become a common feature for PCs.

In the late '80s, several manufacturers such as AdLiB, Roland and Creative Labs designed computer sound cards but they were used mostly for gaming.

The Creative Labs' dominance in the sound card industry no longer exists because of high competition from other manufacturers such as ASUS, M-Audio, Sabrent, Turtle Beach, etc.

Most present day computers come with onboard/integrated audio so unless you're an 'audio buff' or a serious gamer, there's no real need to upgrade to a discrete sound card.

Final Thoughts

Computer sound cards are absolutely necessary for your PC system. Without them, you certainly would not be able to enjoy your favorite DVD movies, audi CDs and any other audio requirements.

You should ensure that the card has at least 5.1 support since this makes the audio sound great if accompanied by a good speaker system.

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