Lesson 5: PCI computer sound card comparison

In lesson 5 we’ll cover computer sound cards from low to high-end, what PCI sound card comparisons to look for when shopping, and how much you can expect to pay.


The sound card is responsible for creating all that you hear from your computer speakers. The sound card can also be used to bring sound into your computer from a microphone, TV or any other audio device.

Most motherboards have sound built into them so a separate sound card isn’t needed. If you’re going to use your computer for playing games or as a music or video recording workstation you should considering getting a separate sound card. You can find a sound card that will give you higher quality sound with all the inputs and outputs you need. The sound card will go into an open PCI or PCI Express expansion slot on the motherboard. See the motherboard component lesson and Installation lesson 8 for more information.

The quality of a sound card is based on the clarity of playback and recording of sound. The minimum specs to look for in a sound card are 16bit, 48.1KHz sampling and a SNR of 100db. This will give you CD quality playback and recording of sound.

Higher end sound cards offer 24bit and 96KHz sampling, which produces greater than CD quality and is considered professional quality sound.


To bring sound into your computer and output the sound to speakers or a recording device, there are several connections available.

All sound cards have three basic connections.

A Line out- which gives you stereo right and left to connect your speakers- called a 2.0 or 2.1 configuration- more on this later.

A Line in- for bringing in sound from a TV or another audio device

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Mid and high end sound cards have more connection options

  • A line out 2- for rear left and right speakers- for connecting to a 4.1 speaker set.
  • A line out 3- for connecting center channel and sub woofer speakers- for connection to a 5.1 speaker set.
  • A line out 4- for connecting 2 additional rear speakers- for a 7.1 speaker set.A digital in and out- for connecting to a digital playback or recording device, such as digital speakers for playback, or digital audio recording device, for recording sound from your computer.
  • MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) inputs and outputs- for connecting a musical keyboard or similar digital instrument.
  • Some cards with have RCA jacks for anlog or digital inputs and outputs

Chances are you won’t use all of these connection options, so you should look for a sound card that has the connections you do need. Getting extra connection options isn’t a bad thing, since you never know what you may need in the future.

Output to Speakers

More about 2.0, 2.1, 4.1, 5.1,and 7.1 speaker systems. The more speakers your system has, the better your experience watching movies and playing games on your computer will be.

2.0- refers to a speaker system with 2 front speaker
2.1- adds a subwoofer for bass sounds
5.1- adds a front center speaker for better dialog in movies and games and 2 rear surround speakers
There are currently no 4.1 or 7.1 speaker system being made for computers today

For more about these options and quality of speaker systems, see the speaker component lesson, how do computer speakers work.


A basic sound card runs around 30 to 50 dollars. Mid range cards are between 50 and 100 dollars and give you CD to Pro quality sound with most connection options. High end cards can cost as much as 300 dollars. For this you will get professional quality sound and every connection option there is.

When selecting the sound card for your system we recommend a mid level card around 80 dollars. It will give you pro quality sound and most of the connections available.

In the installation lessons we’ll go over how to install the sound card into your computer.

Sound card Warranties

Sound cards are generally very reliable and will last for many years. Warranty periods range from 90 days to 3 years.

Generally the more you pay for a sound card the longer the warranty will be. Though it’s very rare for a sound card to go bad.

Manufacturer Links
Creative Labs
Turtle Beach


Sound card Reviews

To find more reviews do a search in your favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo) for the model number of the sound card you’re interested in.

Buying a Sound Card

When you go to buy a computer sound card there is no shortage of choices. Below are several sites for a PCI sound card comparison and will help you find the lowest price from a reputable merchant.