Dedicated sound cards have been around for years. Dedicated sound cards were often the only way to even have sound on a computer since motherboards did not often come with integrated sound chips. These days, things have changed. Virtually all motherboards come wit integrated sound cards Not only are on-board sound solutions included almost universally now, but they also invariably support high definition audio and multichannel sound. For most people, this is all that they need. Dedicated sound cards do still enjoy a place in the market, however. There are still reasons in favor of getting one. Following are some of the advantages of dedicated cards and on-board solutions that you may want to consider when upgrading a PC or building a new one.
Advantages in Favor of Dedicated Sound Cards
Dedicated sound cards have more features than on-board sound. This is the case with the majority of them. While on-board sound on a modern motherboard typically already supplies multichannel high definition audio, a dedicated sound card may provide extra features such as EAX, on-board memory and more advanced software. EAX and other advance sound features are used in many games, including advanced casino games, to provide a whole new level of realism and immersion.
A dedicated sound card often provides better connectivity options as well. Higher end sound cards often come with a front panel bay which provides a number of extra connectivity options for audio enthusiasts.
Without any doubt, a good quality dedicated sound card provides unmatched quality over any on-board solution. However, there is a catch here. Many people can barely tell the difference in spite of the technically superior quality.
Sound cards produce most of their audio reproduction in hardware, taking some load off the CPU. Theoretically, this provides a small performance increase though it is rarely anything other than negligible. Some higher end Creative sound cards provide a few megabytes of RAM on the card to provide a bit of extra performance.
Advantages in Favor of On-board Sound
On-board sound is quite obviously much cheaper. A good dedicated sound card costs around $70 at minimum. On-board sound effectively costs nothing since it is included on the motherboard which is the central component to any computer anyway.
On-board sound is also widely supported by up-to-date drivers since virtually all of them use a Realtek sound chip. It is extremely unlikely that you will ever run into driver problems or compatibility issues with on-board sound. By contrast, dedicated sound can cause all sorts of problems with regards to drivers and compatibility. Creative is infamous for this, having not yet made reliable, full-featured drivers for Windows Vista or Windows 7. Nonetheless, their Sound Blaster X-FI product line is still a market leader for dedicated audio solutions.
For a long time, one of the greatest advantages of dedicated sound (specifically Sound Blaster cards) was its provision of EAX for gaming. Support for EAX was scrapped with the introduction of Windows Vista but EAX effects can be reclaimed with third-party software (such as Creative Alchemy). EAX technology is steadily disappearing as games are starting to use different APIs.
For the majority of people, on-board sound is perfectly adequate so long as it provides high definition audio and multichannel sound. For music enthusiasts with expensive speaker systems, a dedicated sound card is undoubtedly the preferred choice. If you are a gamer who enjoys playing older games which use EAX 3.0 or higher sound, you may also want to consider a dedicated sound card. A dedicated sound card can provide the very best audio quality, but it is far beyond what the average user will ever need.