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Sound cards

As mentioned on other pages, you well have your sound and video graphics integrated into your motherboard, in which case there is nothing else to buy! Let's assume you have neither.
Sound
All sound cards today are what is known as "Soundblaster compatible". This is a defacto industry standard, from the original Soundblaster card made by Creative Labs Inc, about 20 years ago! More important is whether the sound card you are buying has the correct "drivers" for the flavour of operating system you intend installing.

Typical speaker systemIf you intend installing Windows 98, will your sound card be automatically recognised? If not, does it come with drivers (programs) that enable the operating system to recognise it? What if you install Windows XP instead? Are there drivers for that? Without the correct driver (or operating system built in driver) your sound card will be of no use to you. Most cards these days will automatically run under Windows 98, ME and XP but don't get caught out like me - check before you buy!

Some sound cards are just "basic" ones: microphone and "line" inputs, stereo sound out. And there's probably a joystick socket there too. This is ok, but apart from a stereo, basic card, what else could you want?

Well, nowadays, if you're an avid games player, or movie watcher, you probably want Dolby 5.1 'home theatre' output. This means 5 speaker outputs (including the single large subwoofer (bass) speaker). Check out www.creative.com for further details of all this.

Your sound card is probably much more capable than you give it credit for; it's more likely your speakers that make it sound like a duck on heat. You can buy a simple stereo pair of speakers for about 10. They just plug into your sound card and probably don't even require any separate power cord. Or you could spend, say, 30 and get a powered pair of speakers plus a larger subwoofer that rivals the sound of many hi-fi setups. Finally you can go the whole hog for 200 and buy a complete cinema set up with 6 speakers.

Horses for courses. If you only intend to hear the burps and whistles that Windows occasionally emits to warn you of something then the 10 will suffice. If you want to listen to your CD collection then maybe that 30 set should be your starting point. For example, Cyber Acoustics sell a set of CA-44OE Dolby 5.1 speakers for just 40 that sound brilliant. So you don't need to spend the earth!

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