My motherboard (GA-MA770-UD3) supports 2/4/5.1/7.1 channel HD audio and I was wondering about

  • What more a sound card like Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 pro may provide. What will be the differences?

  • What is SPDIF should I use this port for song, movie or gaming purpose?

  • And what is AC'97 functionality?

Thanks for your help

  1. The main one is improved sound quality, mainly because all the other electronics on the motherboard cause extra noise to be added to the analogue signal and the higher quality DACs (Digital to Analogue Converter) found on discreet audio cards. Appreciating this difference does depend on what audio equipment you are using. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference between with a pair of $20 PC speakers, but with a decent $50 headphones you can. Other things a discreet audio card offers is more power and thus more volume from high impedance headphones. They also offer added features like EAX (which is pretty useless post-XP), OpenAL, emulated surround for headphones and encoded surround sound (see 2.).
  2. SPDIF is not technically a port but a protocol for transferring audio in digital form. You can do this over different kinds of connections, both copper and optical. It does have the advantage that it moves the decoding of audio from your noisy motherboard to your audio equipment. This should help quality. A big limit is that it can only to 2-channels of audio by default. So it is fine for listening to music but you won't get surround sound out of games. Movies is a special case because you can send surround in encoded format like Dolby Digital or DTS through SPDIF to a compatible receiver that then decodes it. This is how you usually get surround from a DVD player to a Home Theater setup via a single cable since the audio on DVDs is in those two formats. This is also an area where a discreet sound card can offer added benefits. It can offer the feature to encode surround sound from games and other sources to Dolby Digital via Dolby Digital Live and so lets you send all you surround sound via a single SPDIF connection.
  3. AC'97 is a codec (codec here meaning conversion from digital to analogue and the other way around) standard by Intel from 1997 that specifies a feature set and how the required hardware is to be integrated into the rest of the PC. It is supported by every audio codec in the PC industry nowadays. On the other hand, it has long since been superseded by Intel's High Definition Audio standrad.

1 - If you have a 7.1 card built in, unless you are hearing a lot of cracking noises and other problems, you may just want to stick with it. A lot of soundcards are very subjective - I can't find a link but recently there was a test of sound cards in different price ranges and many people could not really tell the difference.

2) This is simply a port, use it for whatever you want - Many people use it to link a computer to an Amplifier/home entertainment centre.

3) AC'97 is simply an Audio Codec specification that (I think all) modern sound cards support.

If you have the extra money, I would personally look at getting better speakers than a better sound card.

  • Thanks for your nice answer. I will wait for some more answers.. – ruben Feb 25 '11 at 22:59

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