by Staff Writer
Your computer's sound quality can be significantly improved if you install a sound card to handle the audio for your music, movies and games. Sound cards have certain requirements in order to work with your computer and audio components. To help you select the right card for your system, here are some answers to frequently asked questions about sound cards.
How do I know if my computer can use a sound card?
In order to use a sound card, your computer must have an expansion slot for the card and an operating system compatible with the audio drivers your sound card uses. Your computer may need to meet minimum system requirements as well. Check your motherboard to see which type of expansion slots -- such as PCI or PCI-E -- your computer has available. You'll need a sound card type that fits an available slot. If you don't have an open slot, you may be able to connect an external sound card or sound processing device through a USB connection. Also, check the compatibility and system requirements for the sound card. There may be minimum RAM and processor requirements, as well as limited support for different operating systems.
How does sound card audio quality differ from CDs and other sources?
Two of the specifications you see with sound cards are bit depth and sampling rate. A sound card, for example, may say that it can sample 24-bit sound at 96 KHz, meaning the sound card samples the audio 96,000 times per second. By comparison, audio CDs are recoded with 16-bit sound at 44.1 KHz. With more than twice the sampling rate, audio from your sound card will be more clear and natural sounding than other audio sources.
What connections should my sound card have?
Which ports you want for your sound card will depend on what type of sound system you'll be connecting to it. Separate speaker ports for each audio channel make connecting a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system a great option. TOSLINK or S/PDIF optical ports can transfer a lot of audio data over a single cable between your sound card and an audio receiver for a home theater system. A connection for a line-in microphone will help with digital audio recording, especially if you don't have an audio mixer. A microphone will usually use a 3.5 mm port.