I am currently shopping for parts for my first build, and I plan to hook it up to my TV and stereo system (for movies and music) and maybe some moderate level gaming.
Here are the Mobo and CPU I've purchased so far:
What sort of audio card should I be looking for? Or will the onboard audio be enough? My budget can accomodate up to $150, although I'd prefer to spend around $75 +/- $25
I have a 5.1 channel surround system, and although I'm not an audiophile by any means, I do appreciate quality sound, especially in movies and music.
FYI, Vista/Win7 both do ALL sound in software. All sound is computed as 32bit on your CPU. No longer is sound hardware accelerated.
A decent sound card is only used for good Signal-to-Noise and more options to connect with, which both are very important. But don't pay gimick "supports more sound channels" or anything like that.
"Windows Vista features a completely re-written audio stack designed to provide low-latency 32-bit floating point audio, higher-quality digital signal processing, bit-for-bit sample level accuracy, up to 144dB of dynamic range and new audio APIs created by a team including Steve Ball and Larry Osterman.
 The new audio stack runs at user level, thus increasing stability. The Windows Vista audio engine is designed to run faster than the Windows XP audio engine, and has tighter requirements on audio buffer position accuracy. Also, the new Universal Audio Architecture (UAA) model has been introduced, replacing WDM audio, which allows compliant audio hardware to automatically work under Windows without needing device drivers from the audio hardware vendor."
MS standardized sound processing to simplify it and make it more stable. It now runs the same on any sound card you use. As long as the sound card works with Windows(via drivers or Universal Audio Architecture (UAA) ), it will be processed the same.
The only difference is when the sound leaves from your computer to your headphones/stereo/etc. High quality physical pieces can make the difference with a low Noise.
If you're using a digital out via Coax/Optical/HDMI, then a $15 card will sound the same as a $150 card, assuming the $15 card doesn't break from poor craftsmanship or the cheap parts introduce digital errors on the line which will result in popping sounds. Unless of course you think a $150 card makes higher quality 1s and 0s than the $15 card..
but really, a $30-50 name brand card should be fine assuming it has all your connections