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What is a Sound Card

These days, many people use their computers as home entertainment centres. Laptops are often used for watching movies and listening to music on the move while many desktop computers are used for immersive and realistic gaming. It's therefore, unsurprising that sound quality is important to many people. This is where sound cards come in.

A sound card is, as the name suggests, the component of your computer which processes sound and audio effects and provides various other audio-related features. The majority of computers have integrated sound chips, although audiophiles usually prefer to install dedicated sound cards which provide more features and greatly enhanced quality.

Almost all motherboards provide integrated (on-board) sound chips, with Realtek being the most common brand. For most PC users, these are perfectly adequate. Most modern integrated sound solutions provide support for 5.1 speaker systems, high-definition audio and various audio effects. Some years ago, it was rare for an integrated sound chip to provide such features and gamers and audiophiles often purchased dedicated sound cards instead. Nowadays, dedicated sound cards are not so popular, although they do still have their advantages.

Dedicated sound cards do generally improve on sound quality and they also add various extra features for gamers and audio enthusiasts such as Dolby Digital decoding, better connectivity and audio editing and recording features. Gaming enthusiasts will also find that dedicated sound cards provide more immersive, life-like sound, greatly enhancing the experience.

Many sound card manufacturers claim that having a dedicated sound card will improve the performance of your computer. This is not really true. Although a dedicated sound card will take any of the audio processing work away from your computer's CPU, the difference it will make with regards to performance is negligible.

Most of today's sound cards use the PCI-Express x1 interface. A PCI-Express x1 slot is a small slot about two inches wide and most modern motherboards provide at least two of them. Some sound cards, especially the slightly older ones, use the standard PCI slot which is still available on most computers.


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