AMD: Onboard or Real Card?
I'm trying to make up my list of what I want for my new computer. Got to Sound Card. Looked at reviews and comparisons. Then, just by chance, since I am not a gamer, I checked out the new (5 Apr 03) comparison of different audio solutions on gaming sound on Tom's Hardware. They looked at how onboard and real cards affected performance & CPU usage. The best performance was from the nVIDIA nForce2 MCP-T CPU. The charts showed it outperforming Creative Labs' Audigy 2. "Like a sound card, it processes sound without putting much of a load on the CPU." It does this (if I have understood what I have read elsewhere here) by using their APU (Audio Processing Unit), which is on the Southbridge of the chip set, while most CPU operations take place on the Northbridge. Tom's says "For AMD fans, we can only recommend the excellent nForce2." However, I notice when looking at specs for computers such as ABS's Awesome AMD models, they have an ASUS A7N8X motherboard (which uses the nVIDIA nForce2 MCP-T) with an AMD Athlon XP and a Creative Audigy 2. Is this overkill or redundance, or does it mean that while the APU gives outstanding performance in games, a classical music fan (me) would also need a separate card such as the Audigy?
You won't need a second sound card. The Soundstorm APU is very powerful, and personally I really like it, especially since it's onboard. I think you'll be pleased as well. Don't waste your money on another soundcard. Why get the onboard if you aren't going to use it?
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What you should consider when purchasing an nForce2 system is that the thing that most affects the sound quality of a sound solution is its DAC (digital to analog converter). While nForce/2 southbridges with MCP-T (the APU) are top-notch sound processors, they can be paired with a wide range of DAC chips onboard. None of the nForce2 boards I know of has a high-end DAC chip (most use Realtek ALC650, decent but WAY below the Crystal 24-bit/192KHz DAC used on the Audigy2 or AKM DACs used onboard the M-Audio Revolution). So, if you're serious about music and you're planning to connect your sound card to speakers or your home theatre via an analog cable, the Audigy2 would be a far superior choice that (as you've seen in the review) holds its own in games (and it's the only card that supports the EAX AdvancedHD, new 3D audio effects that are being used by some new games and at least in Creative demos sound impressive) AND it is a 24-bit/96KHz card. In short, if you're serious about listening to music (any kind, especially classical), get the Audigy2 (or a comparable solution, see below), plain and simple.
However, if you'll be connecting the nForce digitally (e.g. to a digital speaker set or to your multi-channel receiver, etc.) AND it's a Soundstorm mainboard (MCP-T southbridge, real time Dolby Digital encoding through separate digital output) forget about any other sound card. You'll be more than fine with nForce2 Soundstorm's capabilities.
If you're partial to Creative sound cards, there are great options these days, like M-Audio Revolution 7.1 (probably the best sounding card for ~$100) and Terratec Aureon 5.1 Sky or 7.1 Space. All are 24-bit/192KHz solutions with top of the line audio chips (Envy24HT) and high-end DACs (from AKM).