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Onboard Audio, PCI Sound, PCIe Sound

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July 31, 2008 5:36:30 PM

I was planning on getting an ASUS P5QL-E (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131322) for my next build. It has onboard analog and digital sound. Is this codec going to be any good via coax or analog, or should I just go ahead and get a dedicated card? I have Logitech Z5500 speakers, and am looking for the best sound quality possible (though I'd rather not spend more than $125 on a sound card, if that).

If I do get a new sound card, is there much advantage with a PCI interface over a PCIe x1?

I'm also planning on connecting my PS2 via optical to my Z5500, therefore all digital signals must be via coax.

I'm currently running XP Media Center, and am holding off on Vista for as long as possible.

Thanks!

More about : onboard audio pci sound pcie sound

July 31, 2008 6:08:58 PM

I'll put it this way:

Under windows XP, my old ASUS P5ND2-SLI Motherboard (not the newer P5n-D) with onboard sound preformed flawlessly.

Under the same OS, my new XFX 790i with a Creative X-FI ExtremeGamer soundcard is often scratchy ingame (most notable on high-end games such as Crysis).

Unless you have a major surround-sound system, running on the motherboards integrated sound should be fine.
July 31, 2008 11:04:17 PM

Im inclined to agree with gamerk316 unless you want EAX and DDL and what not.

Why not just use the onboard for now and if its not enough look at an addin card later.
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August 12, 2008 4:30:22 AM

I was also wondering...is there a big difference between having a PCI installed sound card or a PCIe installed sound card. I was under the impression that PCIe would allow faster communication and transfer between the card and the motherboard.

I am curious how come you guys say go with the onboard sound. Doesn't that hurt your system by taking up resources?
August 12, 2008 5:16:23 AM

Sound cards still wouldnt be limited by the PCI bandwidth today. However, the move is more because PCI-e offers more power to the card... and its becomming more mainstream thanks to video, raid and the like.

It will "hurt" your performance a tad (debatable), but not to the extent that you would be unhappy.
August 12, 2008 6:42:15 AM

The best sound cards do all the audio processing in the unit, taking a load off your processor. I've heard of people getting better framerates with sound cards.

As for a suggestion, razor has a sound card/headphones combo for 200 that is very good. It will give you better audio quality then much more expensive speakers, and the reviews say it does well in games.
August 12, 2008 3:43:23 PM

That and the difference in audio accuracy. The difference between 16 or 32 (max what onboard gives) and 64 or 128 simultanous sounds (a sound card) is very audible. Keep in mind every gunshot, every step consists of a few separate sounds. 32 sounds is not enough for a battlefield sound scape.
As for taking load off processor I researched into this some time ago and found this. Might be interesting:
http://www.theinquirer.net/en/inquirer/news/2007/05/31/...
August 12, 2008 5:27:18 PM

The inquirer is not always the most reputiable source on the web, but as teh article suggests it does help some and the writer claimed to see benefits in a fairly modern game in Quake 4.
August 12, 2008 7:35:48 PM

Uncle_Ben said it right, IMO.

If this is for gaming, the difference in EAX2.0 and EAX5.0 is HUGE. If the game supports EAX 5 get a Creative card, their drivers are now, finally, pretty damned solid in Vista (should you choose to use Vista). The Z-5500 you have can resolve good audio detail and I think you'd hear a difference in a dedicated soundcard offering 100+db S/N ratio. The mid-and-upper end Creative cards (and Auzentech Prelude) are reported to offer up to 15% fps increase due to offloading audio from the CPU. The best of these cards even offer memory (X-RAM) to cache audio samples (in games that support this) to further increase performance.

Given that Creative is finally getting it act together and regularly providing good solid drivers I'd say to take a good look at their offerings. Auzentech has better hardware but their driver development (for Vista) is sorely immature. They're working on it and were supposed to have new drivers out today (but as of 12:30P PDT they still have not released the update). If you're purely into movies and music the Asus Xonar D2/D2X may be what you're looking for, but its very expensive for its abilities, IMO. At $200+ it should be the best consumer card on ALL fronts...and it is not, IMO.
August 13, 2008 4:18:20 AM

Are the Fatality/Titanium series SB's one of those that take the "load" off the processors?
August 13, 2008 4:36:20 AM

That they are...
August 13, 2008 5:45:57 PM

Do the simultaneous sounds correlate with the "bit" rate? For example, does a 24-bit digital audio card only support 24 sounds?

@Ben
How would I achieve the 128 simultaneous sounds you are talking about?
August 14, 2008 11:42:33 AM

Bit rate refers to how precisely the digital sound corresponds to the analog sound wave.

More bits = closer to analog, less bits = farther from analog.

Any digital version of an analog waveform is always going to be a little off, because waves in nature cannot be broken down into discrete elements, which is how computers store information.

Simultaneous sounds or 'voices' as they are sometimes called are completely different. This is the different number of separate sounds the hardware can play at once - rain falling, waterfall, guns shooting, people dying, etc.
August 14, 2008 12:03:33 PM

Comparing my creative Extremegamer to my onboard audio, in Crysis, you can hear a diffrence, but its minimal (the Creative sound cards sounds slightly more crisp...until the scrathcing starts at least :D ). I haven't noticed any framerate diffrence, but I haven't gone to actually check for any either.
August 14, 2008 4:40:49 PM

What do you guys think of the HT Omega Striker for a sound card for my Z5500?
August 14, 2008 10:40:25 PM

The HT's are designed more for audiophiles in that quality in music and movies are more important. They dont have many gaming features, from what ive heard (from mouth not my ears) they are of very high quality. Not sure on how drivers go for vista though.
August 15, 2008 3:03:21 AM

hispeed120 said:
What do you guys think of the HT Omega Striker for a sound card for my Z5500?


I think the Striker is HT Omega's card geared towards the gaming crowd. I'd probably go with an Auzentech if trying to avoid Creative, just because I'm not personally familiar with the HT Omega's.
August 15, 2008 4:04:00 PM

With only a P4 and not very high end system, should I look into getting a more expensive card with onboard memory? The HT Omega Striker seems to have gotten very good reviews, but has no onboard processing.

I'm also running XP MCE but may upgrade to Vista 64 in the future after the new year.
August 16, 2008 1:02:21 AM

I think so. I personally think any X-Fi with hardware audio processing would be fine for you in this scenario. A Fatal1ty FPS Pro seems like it would be perfect for this. A good card.
August 16, 2008 12:26:17 PM

Don't worry about onboard memory; it is only used by a very small handful of games.

What you need is an X-Fi processor which will take some of the sound processing load off your CPU, as long as the game supports sound hardware acceleration.

Some games use a software-only sound rendering engine, in which case your CPU will process the sounds and pass them onto your sound device. But games that use OpenAL or DirectSound3D will be hardware accelerated.

Vista is a special case in that Microsoft eliminated hardware acceleration for DirectSound3D; Creative works around this by translating DirectSound3D calls to OpenAL to allow users to continue to have hardware accleration for DirectSound3D games under Vista. This is done by a special .dll file and works fairly well for a lot of games.

DirectSound3D is dying out since its hardware layer was removed in Vista; developers aren't using it much, if it all, and so expect to see it less and less as time goes on.

Current games are probably 50/50 split between those that use OpenAL and those that use other software-only audio engines.

The only current sound cards that actually do this hardware acceleration of sound are the X-Fi cards, including the Auzentech Prelude. I use the Creative X-Fi Titanium and I'm pretty happy with it.
August 16, 2008 9:39:54 PM

If you have a multi-core processor, could you offload the sound card to one of the unused cores?
August 18, 2008 9:35:33 PM

Games will only take advantage of multi-core CPUs if they are written to be multi-threaded. And it will depend on the developer's sound implementation on whether or not sound processing is done as a separate thread or not.

More and more games are multi-threaded these days, and with current multi-core CPUs hardware acceleration of sound isn't as important as it once was.

X-Fi cards will still allow you to hear true EAX effects on games that support EAX, but in general as CPU cores and processing power go up the real effect of hardware acceleration of sound goes down.

This is actually Intel's argument that GPUs will eventually be unnecessary because their CPUs will be so awe-inspiring that video cards will be unneeded. That day is still far away, but it is possible that add-in sound cards could end up being quite limited in functionality in the next 10 years or so, with sound card companies transitioning their product lines to more onboard sound solutions or specialist / professional audio products.

But since my 'older' Athlon 64 FX-60 is my current bottleneck, I'll take any hardware acceleration I can get.
August 19, 2008 1:45:26 AM

Excellent info, thanks very much. It looks like I'll only have to deal with potential losses in the immediate future and once I upgrade (post Nehalem launch) I won't have to really worry about it as much.
!