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Soundcard vs Premium motherboard on-board sound

Posted on 2005-02-28
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Last Modified: 2010-04-12
In the context of a high-end gaming & multimedia PC, I am wondering what advantage there is to a soundcard anymore.  The features of the top-end motherboards keep getting better.  Is there any proof that an Audigy 2 ZS, compared to the on-board sound of an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe, still has an advantage?  Both have s/pdif optical output.  The saying always was that the on-board stuff stole some horsepower from the CPU, but doesn't anything attached to the computer involve the CPU to some degree, even a soundcard?  And the premium mobos like this one have additional chips that handle the audio processing don't they, I mean they aren't trying to do it all with software to save a dollar on a $200 mobo are they?

One reason I don't really want to add a soundcard is lack of slots.  Even though I don't have any PCI cards, there are some ports which are not included in the backplane of the mobo but instead use card-slot connector pigtails.  The serial port (for my spaceball), the firewire port, the game port and additional USB ports all take up a case slot, with this mobo.  The graphics card takes up two because of the fan exhaust vent.

I could do away with one thing if there was a definite reason why the Audigy 2 ZS would be better for gaming or listening to mp3s.  It's an AMD 3800+ so I doubt if I would notice a small load on the CPU, what do you think?

I asked this of Creative tech, but the guy obviously wasn't a salesman because he said he didn't know of any advantage.... haha, to their product.  I don't know enough actual detail of how the hardware works to know what to believe.
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Question by:mark876543
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12 Comments
 
LVL 6

Expert Comment

by:wompey
ID: 13422765
Hi mark876543 -

It depends on what you use your computer for mostly.  If you're a musician who needs a really high signal to noise ratio, a dedicated soundcard might do better.  If you use your computer mostly for games and general use, you probably don't need more than the motherboard already has.  

It's kind of a personal choice.  The soundcard MIGHT give you a couple extra frames per second in games, but is it worth the extra hassle to you?  For me it isn't.

This is more of an opinion than anything else, but I hope it helps.   :)
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LVL 8

Assisted Solution

by:eccs19
eccs19 earned 600 total points
ID: 13423508
I had an Audigy (can't remember if it was a 2 or the original), but one thing that I noticed going from the Audigy to the on-board (cheap MB, not high end board) was that I was not getting anywhere near the quality or amount of base coming through my sub that I was with the Audigy.
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LVL 69

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Callandor earned 600 total points
ID: 13423617
Separate soundcards are better in the analog department than onboard sound.  This has a lot to do with the quality of DACs used, which are not cheap.  Most onboard components are selected for compromises between cost and performance.  I would only choose onboard LAN, Firewire and USB as good performers.  The SATA isn't bad, but if you want good quality RAID, you go to separate cards.
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LVL 1

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by:talkabout_wireless
talkabout_wireless earned 400 total points
ID: 13424193
I tried onboard sound on a newly built machine. I was playing alllied assault and had sound lag. The gun would fire but the shot would be one second later. I through in a sound card and fixed the problem immediatly. This was when allied assault first came out, so your board is probably better than the one I was using. But this experience made my personal believe that a soundcard was better than onboard sound. I also noticed more clarity.
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LVL 5

Assisted Solution

by:J-A-L
J-A-L earned 400 total points
ID: 13425092
that's about it... you don't get a $100 sound card built-in to a motherboard providing high signal to noise ratio.  If you go for the DD built-in audio and 24bit resolution altho it sounds nice, it still doesn't provide the same quality in s/n ratio and performance.

Jeff
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LVL 4

Expert Comment

by:Vantim
ID: 13425247
I've seen countless arguements and battles over this topic.  Every review I've ever seen (internet hardware site or magazine) exept Tom's Hardware has said " A good quality add in pci sound card like the sound blaster line of cards are superior in playback quality and recording quality.  Also... because they have built in DSP's (Digital Sound Processors) they offload cpu cycles from your main processor.  Thus freeing up some more precious resources for other stuff (like games, visual effect audio players, and  everything else you do while listening.  I know the codecs and drivers have a lot to do with this also but, you just can't deny the masses.  If you pick up a review magazine or just google for it, you will find that pci sound cards win 99% of the battles and, most of them will recommend a sound blaster card of some kind.  I am a musician and have heard lot's of music and equipment, including on board sound and sound blasters.  It's very hard to distinguish the difference by ear.  Do the blindfold test and see for yourself someday.  So it's up to you.  Personally I like the add-ins.  They just seem to be better and when it comes to recording they just are better.  With sound cards it's a get what you pay for deal. Typically built in means cheap.  But beware their are lots of cheap add-in cards too.  If your an audio-phile or like the rumble of a good game you cant go wrong dropping a $100 or $200 bucks on a good quality card.   BTW...I turned off my AC97 on board and stuck in a Sound Blaster Audigy  and have used it in 3 computers so far.  That has guarenteed me good sound no matter what.
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LVL 4

Expert Comment

by:Vantim
ID: 13425264
Oh yes and don't forget no sound card can make bad speakers sound good!

Hope these 2 posts (sorry 'bout that...I hit submit too early) Help

Tim
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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:J-A-L
ID: 13425409
hahahaha, yeah, get good speakers.
The Logitech Z5500 would be nice... optical input too if you can handle that.
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Author Comment

by:mark876543
ID: 13428925
Yeah I got Z5500's and plan to use optical.  I suppose I'll get that Audigy 2 ZS, you guys have convinced me it'd be better.  My goal is realism for games, and great performance.  Do you think that's a good choice for soundcard or do you recommend another?
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Author Comment

by:mark876543
ID: 13506189
I was disappointed to see the Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS, didn't have optical output, but it had other silly things like a firewire feedthru and a game port.

I was even more disappointed to see that installing it on my system caused errors about "Raid Service" (nvidia nforce4 mobo chipset raid).  Why the soundcard should have anything to do with raid I don't know.  But every time I booted the computer it wants to send error reports to MS.  I just put it all back in the box and will try to return it.  The system went back to running great when I removed all of their garbage.  I should have been expecting garbage when the soundblaster CD installed AOL trial c'mon on my PC even though I picked the "drivers only" menu item.  I could not tell there was any lag or any problem running the 5.1 digital sound off the mobo.

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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:J-A-L
ID: 13594000
Yeah... the audify 2 platinum pro has a hub with optical on it.  THey don't make it easy these days do they ;-)

Jeff
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Author Comment

by:mark876543
ID: 13594530
I read in an nvidia (nforce4 chipset) forum that the Audigy 2 driver in startup items is what causes the error message about nvidia raid service.  The popular fix was to delete the Audigy item from running in startup, because it isn't needed with the A2ZS non-pro.  But it is actually required for the pro version that has the 5-1/4 bay front panel.  They said the offending driver was what recognized the front panel stuff.  I didn't have an extra front bay to give up anyway.
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