Weekend Open Forum: Are you using a dedicated sound card?

By on February 11, 2011, 9:29 PM
A decade ago, most hardware buffs could agree that sound cards played a significant role in performance-oriented computers. In addition to circumventing board-level interference, discrete cards offered more driver functionality and I/O options. Sound cards also reduced load on your main CPU, potentially translating to higher FPS in video games.

While much of that remains true today, integrated audio has improved over the years and most motherboards ship with an onboard solution that provides sufficient quality audio, controls and connectivity for the average user. Meanwhile, in an age of high-speed multi-core CPUs, the performance benefit of having a dedicated sound processor is virtually non-existent.

With that, we ask: what are you using to drive your computer's audio? Have you been relying on an integrated chip all along? Did you "downgrade" from an early Creative SB Live! to modern onboard audio? Do you purchase a new discrete card with every fresh build? No matter the case, feel free to "sound off" in the comments about your existing setup!

User Comments: 122

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SeiveD said:

I am still using my SB Live! 5.1, but before that I had a Soundblaster 16.. I really liked that card for its amped output which my SB Live seems to lack. If I were to upgrade my computer, however, to one with fewer PCI slots than my current one, the sound card is certainly one of the first things I'd sacrifice.

Prosercunus said:

I am always on a fairly loose budget when I build my gaming computers, however a sound card is way low on the list when it comes to what I personally consider "novelty" extras. Anytime I get some extra cash to upgrade my computer it is always another component that needs the extra love and care. I am a much more visual person, so I rather buy a new IPS monitor or an upgrade for my video card or something along those lines.

DokkRokken said:

Xonar Essence STX. It complements my Grado SR325's perfectly. I'll be carrying this card to the grave with me.

princeton princeton said:

Creative X-FI Titanium HD here.

Guest said:

PPA 1455 5.1 USB soundcard to drive mah Logitech X-540s

treeski treeski said:

I just use built in components on my Asus P6T Deluxe MB.

Cota Cota said:

Im using one cus i have to ASUS Rampage II doent have a integrated sound card, but if it had i would stick to that and forget about a sound card.

Guest said:

I haven't used a dedicated sound card in years. I have a SLI set up in my midtower Coolermaster Storm and I really don't want another card taking up the cramped space plus adding to heat and mucking around with air flow. My integrated audio is good enough, plus I was never impressed with the cards I had in the past and I just never felt like I was getting that much more value for the price. I'd rather put the money towards a new graphics card or an extra one for SLI.

I'm also looking at my next build to be in a SFF case, which means a Micro-ATX mobo with not a lot of room for an extra like a sound card.

KG363 KG363 said:

ASUS Xonar D1

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Like DokKRokken I also have the Xonar Essence STX card. An unbelievable card - ever since I installed it, I've used my PC as my stereo system as it makes my "real" stereo system sound like an AM radio.

It's pricey, but the sound quality and software functionality absolutely smokes any of the Creative cards I used to use.

Guest said:

Still sporting my SB Audigy 2 ZS. I plan on moving to an Asus card for my next build.

mrtraver said:

I added an SB Live! to my first store-bought computer because the VIA on-board audio chipset and serial port didn't play nice with my Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback joystick. But for my first build in 2005, I had a USB joystick and the on-board sound on my DFI LanParty was good enough for me. I have used on-board sound ever since.

Steve Steve said:

I don't bother with them, just use the onboard sound and spend the money elsewhere.

Jurassic4096 said:

Audigy SE 7.1.

Looking at ASUS for possible replacement

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

TomSEA said:

Like DokKRokken I also have the Xonar Essence STX card. An unbelievable card - ever since I installed it, I've used my PC as my stereo system as it makes my "real" stereo system sound like an AM radio.

It's pricey, but the sound quality and software functionality absolutely smokes any of the Creative cards I used to use.

Either it's that good or you have one sad stereo system. Personally I haven't had a discrete sound card since my Pentium 3 days.

nismo91 said:

Realtek ALC883 and ALC888S with DDL. Have a Logitech Z-Cinema connected to my desktop pc so basically doesn't need any sc on it.

Was using X-Fi 5.1 Surround USB but had some of BSoDs and boot issues with my desktop. Sold it and bought X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCI, only after few months mobo and gpu upgrade didn't left anymore PCI slot. don't bother with another ever since, use the money somewhere else.

Guest said:

Have a home theater setup in my basement. There's a projector on the ceiling, fed from one side (the right side if looking at the screen) by a home theater in a box, and fed from the other side (left side) by my computer. My computer has 2.1 speakers attached, and the sound is very rich to me. however, if I want better sound/surround sound for movies (speakers are wall-mounted around the room, 5.1 configuration), I've connected a digital coaxial cable from the built-in output of my GA-P55A-UD3 motherboard to the input of the HTiB. All the cabling is concealed behind the wall/ceiling.

With that kind of functionality built in to the motherboard, I really don't see any need for a discrete audio card.

Guest said:

M-Audio Profire 610 & X-FI Platinum

Profire for multitrack recording, X-FI for games.

Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Auzentech X-Meridian soundcard

Before that I've owned a host of Creative cards, last was a X-fi XtremeMusic.

However even with the new EMU20K1 soundchip I would have issues with the sound, and with the drivers.

With the Auzentech it has been smooth sailing

Guest said:

Already for years using just on-board sound - more than enough for me. I a lot more prefer more visual quality. But more than OK with on-board sound. Especially if using headphones.

Guest said:

I use an Creative USB X-mod because my integrated audio began making hiss and crackle noises after being active 24/7 for a while.


Im using my ASUS Xonar DX with Pioneer pro logic amp, it freaks the neighbours out when I crank Metallica

pVk said:


Still running x-fi creative xtreme gamer

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

Not sonce 2005 or so. The onboard in this case the (SupremeFX X-Fi 8-Ch audio with EAX Advanced HD 4.0 support) are so good I cant justify a separate card. and I have no room for one.

Guest said:

Creative X-Fi Xtremegamer.

It was free. Otherwise, I'd be using my on board(780i).

The drivers are HORRIBLE.

Guest said:

creative X-Fi extremegamer here

ChrisG683 said:

I had a Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty for about 4+ years, and I have just recently upgraded to an Auzentech Forte X-Fi 7.1

I simply cannot stand on-board audio anymore, it's like listening inside a tin can

Lokalaskurar Lokalaskurar said:

I did in fact downgrade from a SB Live! to an integrated sound card. But I got so fed-up with the horrible controls (did not "allow" anything fancy) for the integrated Creative sound processor that I bought a Sweex 7.1 card.

That did not work out the way I planned... the front panel has a non-standard connector for its audio I/O, thus the front panel only works with the integrated audio processor. Blast. Luckily, I got hold of a transistor 2-1 apparatus that allows me to have to line out's for just one speaker, so I can still use the front panel without trouble :]

Guest said:

i did in my old pc. but in my new one it's capable of surround. using two speakers and a sub now

IvanAwfulitch IvanAwfulitch said:

I tried having onboard sound for a while, but the drivers and the quality were so utterly terrible that I upgraded to a Sound Blaster Audigy SE and have never been happier. I would NEVER consider onboard after that experience.

I can understand how technology would have improved, but honestly...a dedicated sound card for any audiophile is a must. A new one for every build though? That's a bit much. I'd grab a good one, and reuse it. An upgrade would only happen if it was pertinent.

yowanvista yowanvista said:

Still using the Sound Max card included in my MB

Guest said:

I'm still using an old Audigy 2 ZS as well.

I like the front panel that comes with it, good for recording from turntables.

SilverCider said:

Used to have an X-Fi XtremeMusic card when I had Windows XP, as soon as I upgraded to Vista I had to get rid of it because there was no end to driver niggles that made justifying the sound quality worthless! I know have a Xonar DX, the slim one that could fit it in an HTPC case. Much better driver support and it does sound a lot better than my onboard audio. I wouldn't say I'm a serious audiophile (haven't got the money!!) but I have a decent 5.1 AV system that can make use of the higher quality audio streams

ess333 said:

cannot live without a discreet soundcard

Creative X-fi Titanium here

Guest said:

I just have to ask for the people that have had driver issues with on-board sound.

How Old/Cheep were these MBs?

I mean every computer I've built in the last 10 years on board sound work out-of-the-box with pretty much every OS worth using.

The only time I ever run into sound issues is when working on clients PC's who refuse to use anything other then a dedicated card, Or were 100% dead set on using windows 98/2000.

Lurker101 said:

I'm still using the onboard sound with my Asus P6T Deluxe V2. I will eventually buy a dedicated sound card, but it's not exactly a high priority since I get adequate surround sound already.

skitzo_zac skitzo_zac, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I had a Creative X-Fi XtremeGamer in my old system, no end of issues with the drivers with that card.

My new PC has an Asus Xonar D2X in it, drivers are not perfect, but they are a huge leap over the quality of Creatives!

Guest said:

I'm using Razer Barracuda AC-1, and honestly I didn't hear any difference between this and the Realtek HD onboard, maybe I should change my speakers.

Guest said:

I am using Asus Xonar D2X PCI-E card.

The switch was forced when my left channel jack on the motherboard stopped working making onboard useless to me.

I was always one of those guys that knew that onboard sound these days is just as good as dedicated solutions... I WAS WRONG.

The sound with the xonar is purer, the range is more balanced, I can honestly say that everything simply sounds better on it, this is no placebo effect, this is real.

Guest said:

I have a heavily modified Asus ST in a purpose built audio-only PC that has a linear power supply (AMB labs Sigma11). You can have a look at it at www.diyparadise.com . I also have a PC with a modified Onkyo SE-200 PCI and this PC uses a Silverstone ST40NF psu. PC soundcards can reach hifi levels but it takes some time and knowledge/experience with electronics to do it. It would be quite wrong to dismiss them.

Guest said:

Stopped using dedicated sound cards years ago - I see absolutely no reason for them today (just like modems - obsolete)

spikester48661 spikester48661 said:

rockfish 7.1 sound card

fpsgamerJR62 said:

I have a Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic on my XP machine with Altec Lansing ATP5 speakers. For my newer Windows 7 64-bit machine, I'm getting an Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7.1 PCIE sound card to be connected to an Altec Lansing 4121 2.1 speaker system. The same X-Fi hardware without the hassle of Creative's sometimes flaky drivers.

cyriene said:

I have been using Corsair headphone that process the sound so I don't even use the onboard sound anymore.

Johny47 said:

I'm not sure if it 'reduces strain from the CPU' in games or something but I have the creative Sound Blaster Audigy, nice little card and cost almost nothing.

I have Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit and yeah i works well with it.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Since I dumped my last creative card 3 +/- years ago I haven't bothered about buying another one, as onboard sound just about do the job now, hence the need for dedicated sound card isn't there for me. For people who use their PCs for music or things like that may have other ideas though.

bioflex said:

Onboard sound card FTW...i guess

FLHR said:

On board sound for me for years, just seemed to make sense not to spend the extra monies on a extra sound card,

milford50 said:

Xonar DX and HD 555 is like heaven on earth

Guest said:

Creative Xfi-titanium Fatality edition. I have tried many different onboard sound cards in the past and they just dont transfer my voice nearly as well as a standalone card. I play alot of games online with friends and use a very expensive headset so I want them to be able to hear me and the difference from onboard sound to a standalone card is huge my friends stop complaining when I stop using onboard sound, with it they say I dont sound clear and am hard to understand. As far as on my end environmental audio is alot more accurate with a stand alone card ive noticed and the bass and treble is so much more full with a good sound card everything sounds flat and dull with the onboard realtek crap you get today.

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