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I'm interested in determining what factors lead to on-board sound on motherboards sounding worse than dedicated sound cards, and how one could predict whether certain motherboards would sound equal or comparable to a good sound card.

For example, here are a couple of motherboards I have:

Via CN 10000: On-board audio: "Via VT1618 Multi-channel AC'87 codec"
Asus P5N32:   On-board audio: "ADI 1988B 8 -Channel HD Audio CODEC"

And their on-board sound things both crackle, pop, and have bad treble when compared to a Sound Blaster Live 5.1 plugged in to the exact same motherboard, running Linux, using the emu10k1 driver. In all tests I was outputting to a set of Klipsch Pro Media Ultra 5.1 speakers.

Why might this be so? Specifically to that test, and in general?

How would one determine if this motherboard, for example, is comparable to a Sound Blaster Live 5.1?:

VIA VB8003 Mini-ITX Mainboard: "VIA VT1708B 8 channel HD codec"

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Much better. More effort from the beginning can avoid circles. Also, in future, to get another users attention please use an @ in front of their name. – BinaryMisfit Oct 14 '10 at 20:54
up vote 2 down vote accepted

It comes down to how the motherboard is designed and how well the electrical noise present in the system is rejected by the audio subsystem. Where the traces are routed, and how long they are, what they are surrounded by all contribute to a poor audio experience.

For most motherboard manufacturers, the audio is an afterthought, and that contributes most to the audio problem on motherboards.

I know that the audio codec on the board you're looking at is a nice codec, but you'll hear all the other crap that's going on inside the motherboard with it. The best thing you can do for your on-board audio, if you have to use it, is to buy a really nice power supply, it will do a lot to filter out the noise the motherboard is generating. Otherwise, use a different audio interface.

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In my desktop system with the P5N32 board, I had a Seasonic S12 500W ( PSU which is thought to be quite "good", and I still heard crackling with the on-board sound. – Neil Oct 14 '10 at 19:31
I don't have enough reputation to vote to reopen. :( As far as your other system goes, a power supply will make things a lot better, but by no means good. My desktop has become bearable with a nice PSU, but it's nowhere near what I would call "pristine". – CullenShane Oct 14 '10 at 20:02
And for what it's worth, I also don't agree with the closing. The question is perfectly reasonable as a quest for knowledge. It listed specific examples of cards just for clarification, but the question was not searching for buying advice. – CullenShane Oct 14 '10 at 20:05
For future reference, please review the FAQ. Super User is about quality questions and answers. The original question was more fitting to a discussion forum with a lengthy rant. This is not acceptable on Super User. The edits however, with the removal of the rant, has made this a completely reasonable and valuable question. – BinaryMisfit Oct 14 '10 at 20:56
can you provide a link/more explanation as to why a decent power supply would filter out noise??? – stijn Oct 14 '10 at 21:07

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