First things to consider
This is the second of my two part guide on suiting your new system out with the best quality and value audio equipment possible for your budget.
The first segment explained what's most important when hunting for a decent set of speakers. Now we shift our focus towards the source; a sound card. I will also cover surround standards as well as specific information regarding surround sound in gaming. Let's see what to keep an eye out for and what to stay well clear of. Enjoy!
On-board or PCI? - Does space matter? - Do you only require basic audio but still want surround sound? Perhaps consider on-board; most new motherboards come equipped with at least 5.1 channels of on-board sound. These days you're even more likely to receive support for the newer formats like 6.1 and 7.1.
With so many on-board sound solutions out there nowadays, it seems there is a diminishing market for add-on PCI sound cards. Certainly, space is a consideration also, with some users having multiple graphics cards fighting for precious case real estate.
However, not withstanding the divide between on-board and add-on cards, companies like ASUS, Auzentech and Creative continue to develop fantastic new products for the demanding user that are ready for the taking.
So, what is the card going to be used for? - Similar to choosing the right speaker system, you must consider first and foremost about what your new sound card will be up against.
Do you have special recording needs or require external inputs for mics? - Or perhaps you just need lots of inputs and outputs in general? - These questions should all be considered carefully.
As touched on in the speaker guide, companies are trying to push 6.1 and 7.1 really hard as a selling point right now, so the chances are your new card will feature it along with all of the other more basic and relevant modes including 2.1 and 5.1. Luckily it won't hit your wallet in the same way as purchasing a 6.1/7.1 channel speaker system.