About the Function of a Sound Card

By Contributing Writer

The sound card is an invaluable tool for gamers, multimedia experts and regular everyday people. It has a short history, but is one of the main components used in computers. Read on to discover why.

History

When personal computers entered the market more than 20 years ago, they were like putting a calculator, typewriter, Atari and television into a one device. This device had to have the ability to produce sound. For a while much of the sound came from an onboard source on the computer's main motherboard. These were just simple beeps, so programmers started creating music with these beeps for games. But over time, computers started getting more and more complex and needed separate cards to perform separate functions. The sound card was born out of this necessity. Sound cards were very simple at first, consisting of only 8 bit, 11 kHz sound. Sound cards and computer audio devices today have the capability of recording and playing back sound in up to 32 bit, 192 kHz.

Function

The sound card functions as an audio processor for your computer. Analog or digital signals come into the input of the card and are digitally interpreted as algorithms which are in turn interpreted as waveforms and produce a sonic signal in the output of the computer sound card. The sound card is an installed, running device on your computers system, with programmed hardware properties and separate device drivers. The sound card controls all audio on the computer.

Types

There are different types of sound cards, or audio devices. Actually, not all of them are in the form of a card. The sound card, or audio card is a PCI card that plugs into a slot inside your desktop computer. Laptops have slightly different configurations. There are also PCMCIA cards for laptops which are cards that plug into the laptops cardslot. These devices are considered external. There are also USB and Firewire devices that are external and plug into the computers ports. Brands of sound devices and sound cards include Creative Sound Blaster, E-MU, M Audio and Digidesign.

Features

Different types of sound cards and audio devices for computers have varying features. All of them are capable of mixing volumes, muting, and routing audio in and out. Sound card audio properties can usually be adjusted in the audio properties of your computer's system. Some audio cards or devices, however, have their own proprietary audio panels for routing and configuring the audio and the device.

Effects

Because computer audio is a separately running component on a computer, it takes up computer RAM and CPU. This effects your computer's overall stability and performance. You may have to adjust your computers performance when using audio applications. If you invest in better sound cards, they sometimes have their own onboard processing power, so they don't use much computer CPU or RAM.

Considerations

When considering how to either use your sound card to its best advantage or to purchase a new sound card or new computer you should consider the following. How old is the sound card or computer? You might want to upgrade to a newer or better system. What am I going to use the sound card? If you are recording music or playing video games you might want to consider a new sound card. Sound cards are built for specific purposes such as gaming and music production. What is my computer's processor speed/ RAM? These should be upgraded to satisfy audio processing needs.

Significance

The significance of a sound card is that it provides audio processing needs available to your computer. If you need to record audio, play audio, hear the sound playback from a DVD, or hear the sound from a computer game you will need a sound card to process the audio on your computer. Computer audio has changed the way the audio industry as a whole operates. Most audio today is geared toward computer technology. iPods, iTunes, digital recording, the DVD format and HD are a few examples of how sound cards are used in the industry of audio today.