Deciding if a Gaming Computer Needs an Upgraded Sound Card

April 16, 2021

For those in need of a custom or gaming laptop, computer or related device, the team at Xidax is your first stop. We’re proud to offer custom gaming laptops and a huge variety of related equipment areas, plus financing and lease-to-own options for those who require them and a fantastic return policy for all our products.

We naturally receive a wide variety of questions from our clients as we build custom computing devices to meet their specifications, and one of the most common areas here revolves around sound and sound cards. In particular, for a new gaming computer, do you need a specific aftermarket sound card added to the initial computing setup, or will the stock motherboard support the audio quality you need? The answer will depend on a few specifics, which we’ll go over in today’s blog entry.

How Computer Sound is Produced

First and foremost, this discussion is much more easily had if you understand the basis by which sound is produced within a computer. Sound cards and audio sections of computer motherboards are important, but of course will vary somewhat between devices – that said, there are a couple basic components that will be similar or universal here:

  • Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC): The first and most important audio component in a computer motherboard is the digital-to-analog converter, which converts the code a computer receives from an audio input – which is expressed in ones and zeroes – into a continuous wave that recreates the sound in question. The more bits used in the DAC, the higher the resolution of the sound – older units used 8-bit or 16-bit DACs, while newer modern computers tend to use 24-bit DACs that recreate sound much more accurately, or even 32-bit DACs for professionals. Many gamers recall the “electronic” tone from older games and computers – this is directly due to the use of older DACs with lower bit rates.
  • Amplifier: Also known as an amp, the amplifier is a well-known piece of audio equipment that’s also used in several other settings in addition to computer motherboards. The job of the amp, as its name suggests, is to increase the sound from the original analog signal, which when taken raw from the DAC is actually pretty quiet. The amp “amplifies” this sound, allowing for volume control up and down as well. When you change your computer’s volume for sound, what you’re really doing is adjusting how much power goes to the motherboard’s amplifier at any given time.

All sound cards and motherboards use a combination of DAC and amplifier. So when we receive questions about whether an aftermarket sound card upgrade is recommended for one of our gaming computers, we’re really trying to answer whether such an addition would make a noticeable difference in these distinct areas.

Possible Built-In Audio Concerns

Now, there are some cases where the standard motherboard audio in a computer, even a high-powered gaming computer, isn’t ideal for the user. For instance, those who have particularly sensitive ears may hear a hissing, static or another form of white noise when using some on-board audio systems, especially if there’s any electrical interference taking place.

However, there are also motherboard types that are designed to isolate the audio components from others in the system, or even surround the audio with a ground-shield to limit interference. In the end, the most common answer to the query, “Do I need an aftermarket sound card for my gaming computer?” is actually a firm no – most modern motherboards are outfitted with support for 5.1 and even 7.1 surround sound, and there are only a limited set of cases where adding aftermarket sound will make any difference, or nearly enough to justify the additional cost.

Specific Instances

Here are a couple of the situations we’re referring to above, those where it might actually be prudent to add aftermarket sound upgrades to your gaming computer or laptop:

  • Server or Workstation motherboards: For certain server and commercial workstation motherboards, such as several from SuperMicro for instance, there is no onboard audio component. However, these kinds of motherboards are almost never used for gaming computers, and are mostly for other kinds of work or needs.
  • Professional audio production: If the computer or laptop in question will be used for professional digital audio needs in addition to gaming needs, you will require the highest possible audio output. Only professional-grade sound cards can offer this, so it may be worth it to upgrade.
  • Extreme setups: In certain cases where users have gone to extreme lengths for their audio or surround-sound setups, audio additions may be needed. If you need support for a sound quality higher than 7.1, for instance, or if you have specialized inputs like RCA or XLR, these will require audio card upgrades.

What to Look For

If you do determine that additional audio quality is needed, the common format for this approach today is external. This is to avoid electrical interference issues that often take place for internal upgrades, though some of these are still offered.

There are several different external units, most of which are AMP/DAC combo units that are useful for everyone from beginners up through regular gamers. You can also buy separate units that separate the amp and the DAC, though these tend to come at higher costs and might not be justifiable within your budget. In fact, there are even AMP/DAC combos that provide extra software that will improve audio software – these are targeted straight to gamers and often impact them greatly.

For more on whether your gaming computer needs a sound card upgrade, or to learn about any of our custom gaming laptop and computer services, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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