There was a time when many people needed to buy a dedicated sound card to be able to enjoy high quality audio playback from their computers. Today, however, all motherboards and computers come with integrated sound cards. As microchips progressively get smaller, manufacturers can cram more and more hardware onto a standard sized motherboard for less money.
Integrated sound cards became standard quite a few years ago, but they were still relatively limited compared to their dedicated counterparts. For example, few integrated sound cards provided high-definition audio or support for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speaker configurations. Such things have long been standard in the world of multimedia and gaming. Nowadays, almost all motherboards provide these features as they are considered basic.
With greatly improved integrated audio technology, there is less need than ever for dedicated sound cards, although they are still being manufactured and new models continue to appear on the market from time to time. The question is, are they worth the extra money?
A dedicated sound card which actually provides more than the average integrated solution typically costs at least $60. External sound cards are also available. These are great for those who want to be able to use the same sound card with different computers, since they are easy to plug and play rather like a USB flash drive.
Dedicated sound cards are generally not worth the money for the average computer user, even those who like to play modern games, listen to music and watch movies in high-definition surround sound. Most modern computers already provide this functionality by way of integrated solutions. Some laptop computers do not, however. If this is the case, and you want to hook your laptop up to a high-end surround sound speaker system and a big screen, then an external dedicated sound card will absolutely be worth the money. If, however, your laptop already has the necessary audio ports, then it probably isn’t.
Dedicated sound solutions will continue to satisfy a small niche for quite some time. They do still tend to offer superior sound quality, although usually only audiophiles can really tell the difference. Where they do shine through is with regards to connectivity options. Dedicated sound cards often offer far more connectivity ports, particularly the ones designed for audio professionals and enthusiasts. These high-end sound cards often come with an I/O panel which is installed in an available 5.25″ bay in the front of your computer.
To summarize, dedicated sound cards are generally no longer necessary for the average computer user, including gamers and those who enjoy multimedia if they already have a modern computer with integrated high-definition surround sound. If you are an audio enthusiast, you need an external solution or something with more connectivity options, then a dedicated sound card may well be worth the extra money.