Motherboard Sound vs Sound Card

Difference Between Motherboard Sound and Sound Cards

Motherboard sound typically comes on the computer when you buy it. Motherboard sound allows the computer to play music, but with limitations. Typically motherboard sound will have no more than 2 speakers or 2 outputs (Headphone/Line-out). Most computers do not have more than one headphone jack, so this means that you cannot have headphones or speakers plugged into the motherboard at the same time.

Also, most motherboard sound will not be able to play in surround sound–it will only allow stereo output. You can still use a USB dongle for 5.1 surround sound though! If you have an underpowered computer from 2006 or thereabouts, you may need to upgrade your sound card in order to improve the audio quality. However, if your computer is less than a few years old and has an onboard sound you should have no problems.

How do I upgrade my Motherboard Sound?

Product 1
Motherboard Sound
Product 2
Sound Card
Product
Product
Motherboard Sound
Sound Card
Interface Hardware
Interface Hardware
PCI Express x4
PCIE x 1, PCI Express x1
Platform
Platform
Windows 10
Windows Vista, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows 10
Weight
Weight
2.50 ounces
‎9.6 ounces
Platform Hardware
Platform Hardware
Headphone
Headphones
Playback Stereo
Playback Stereo
192 KHz
4-bit 192 kHz

The easiest way to upgrade motherboard sound is with a USB dongle. Here is a link to one I recommend: Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro. This device allows you to plug into the USB port and play your audio through it.

It is important that you do not use motherboard sound if you want decent quality headphones or speakers plugged in at the same time. Motherboard sound will sometimes work with 2 outputs (like my headphones and my monitor) but it is not guaranteed. If you have a sound card, this will not be an issue at all.

For best audio quality, plug high end “audiophile” headphones into the USB dongle before using any other audio output devices in your computer.

Motherboard Sound vs Sound Card

Motherboard Sound

All motherboards on the market come with embedded sound cards, or onboard audio. The problem is

that since motherboards need to be small enough to fit into your tower, they have limited space for the sound card. As such, onboard audio is not able to produce the same quality of audio as a dedicated sound card. Many of the features needed to produce clear, crisp sound simply can’t be added to onboard sound cards. One major advantage of using onboard audio is obviously the cost. Not only do you save money on the sound card, but you also save a lot of money on new speakers or an expensive headset. You will still be able to listen to the same music or play the same games as someone with a dedicated sound card, but you won’t quite have the same level of sound quality.

Sound Card

Sound cards have a number of improved or added features, which in turn produce better sound quality all around. Features like higher signal-to-noise ratios, lower harmonic distortion, 24-bit sample rates, 192-kHz resolutions, and of course additional APIs. These additional features are what truly make a dedicated sound card worth the time and money it costs to install them and set them up to work properly. One thing to keep in mind is that you will need a good set of speakers or a nice headset to truly hear the difference. The main downside? Most will never really need that extra audio fidelity.

Sound cards are not for everyone. Not only do you need to buy the sound card itself, but you also need additional equipment to get the most out of your new piece of hardware.

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