Learning About Sound Cards
While a graphics card allows a computer to produce visuals, a sound card creates the audio to go with the graphics. While many desktops and laptops have sound cards already installed, you may want to upgrade, or you may need one for a custom build. A dedicated sound card allows your PC to produce clear, crisp sound so that dialog and sound effects in games and movies are sharper, and the finer details of the music come through your speakers or headphones.
Do I Need a Sound Card?
Many computers come with a sound card built into the motherboard, which produces audio that's typically sufficient for everyday applications. Your computer will boot and operate without it, so, even if you don't have one, your computer will still run—it just won't produce sound.
You can install new, upgraded computer sound cards, which may be necessary in certain situations. Professional audio production can benefit from a high-end sound card, since it's usually more insulated against external interference than a factory card. Dedicated gamers with high-quality headphones or powerful external speakers can also gain from an upgraded sound card, allowing them to truly immerse themselves, hearing environmental sounds clearly and responding quicker to game prompts.
How Do I Know What Sound Card I Have Installed?
You can see what sound card is presently installed on your computer, by checking the Device Manager. This should give you an idea of what your system can handle when deciding whether to upgrade to a different card. Research your computer system as well, to ensure compatibility with a new sound card.
How Does a Sound Card Work?
Sound cards convert digital signals into analog sound waves that people can hear. Sound comes out through a computer's built-in speakers or through external speakers. Sound cards also have connection ports for regular and studio headphones, microphones, and numerous other audio devices.
How to Install a New Sound Card
Computer sound cards connect to a PC's motherboard through PC slots. They are easy to connect and may be secured in place by a screw into the side of the tower case. Again, specialized sound cards may feature additional insulation to protect against interference, but should still connect to a PCI slot. Some sound cards may also require the installation of drivers or other software in order to function, which can be installed after the physical device is in place.
You can also install an external sound card that connects to your computer via USB. These are even easier to use and have ports for headphones and mics. Some external sound cards also feature their own volume control, and can easily switch between headphone and speaker output. External sound cards are often compact and portable, making them especially well suited for use with laptop computers.
While a computer sound card may not be an essential addition to your PC, it can upgrade your experience if audio is especially important, and you can find many models and other upgrades at B&H Photo and Video.