When they designed the original PC 25 years ago, IBM didn't foresee audio as a business necessity, so the only provision early PCs made for audio was a $0.29 speaker driven by a square-wave generator to produce beeps, boops, and clicks sufficient for prompts and warnings. Reproducing speech or music was out of the question. Doing that required an add-on sound card, and those were quick to arrive on the market as people began playing games on their PCs. Early sound cards were primitive, expensive, difficult to install and configure, and poorly supported by the OS and applications. By the early 1990s, however, sound cards shipped with most PCs. By 2001 most motherboards included at least basic integrated audio, and by 2003 it was difficult to find a mainstream system or motherboard that did not have excellent integrated audio.
Properly, the term audio card or sound card refers to an expansion card, while audio adapter or sound adapter refers to any component used to produce audio, whether an expansion card or a device integrated on the motherboard. Like most people, we use these terms interchangeably.
An audio adapter by itself is useless without some means to hear the sound produced by the adapter. The usual solution is a set of speakers, although many people use headphones instead of or in addition to speakers. You can also use a headset, which is a set of headphones with a microphone added.
There are many good reasons to upgrade your audio adapter or speakers, including:
- Your current audio adapter or speaker set has poor audio quality or has failed.
- Your current audio adapter supports fewer speakers than you would like to use.
- You want to use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services such as Skype (http://www.skype.com) for free worldwide telephone service, but your current audio adapter doesn't support the required full-duplex operation.
- You need a digital audio-out connector to connect to home audio components and your current audio adapter doesn't provide one.
- You play games that require hardware audio acceleration or other features that are not supported by your current audio adapter.
The following sections describe what you need to know to choose, install, configure, troubleshoot, and use an audio adapter and speakers effectively
Can't find what you need? Try this upgrade and repair index.