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sound card boxSelecting the audio and video cards for your new computer can be a daunting task. Breaking down your computer needs and desires into terms of functionality, you can make sense of how the multitude of dedicated processing cards can be sorted out to serve your particular needs.

Dedicated processing cards are sort of like your computer's main processor, except they are designed to handle specific tasks and types of information. Video or graphics cards are responsible for how visual data is displayed on your viewing screen. Sound cards are responsible for handling the performance of your speakers and other music or sound-related working applications

Your dedicated processing cards are two of the biggest component decisions you'll encounter when making your new machine truly customized. To make good choices, you need to go back to the very beginning of your computer planning and review exactly what you want your new computer to accomplish for you. Once you are reaffirmed in your computer performance desires, then you can proceed in choosing your processing cards and make your machine truly personalized.


Video cards:
The low-end or budget video cards are cost effective for people who will be using their computers for very basic applications such as email, word processing, and limited, simple web surfing, but they can leave you short changed in the long run. These cards are generally under $50 but will never provide you with adequate processing speed or picture quality if you decide to get into PC gaming. Additionally, the budget cards are likely to provide you with substandard results if you find yourself downloading much full length video such as television programs or movies. You're best to leave budget cards alone unless you're absolutely sure you aren't going to demand very much from your video display.

Mid-range video cards should cover most of your graphics needs, and will fall into the $50 to $175 range. These cards will do a fine job with in-home PC gaming; single player, online 2D gaming; all online video viewing; and will handle digital image application software such as Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop with ease. Some of the mid-range cards will even do an adequate job handling 3D multi-player online gaming, but you will run the risk of substandard performance. If you plan on using your computer for hardcore online gaming or large doses of video editing with multiple effects, your best bet, in my opinion, is to spend upwards of $200 to get a video card that's unquestionably up to the task. If you're getting into television or movie production, you had better plan on spending between $400 and $600.

The single most important consideration when hunting for your video card is compatibility. Certain cards will not work with certain CPU motherboards. You must refer to the manufacturer's specifications for your motherboard to be sure you get a video card model that will work for you. The word to pay attention to here is interface. If you have a PCI Express interface motherboard you need a video card that has that same interface.

I have chosen the NVIDIA GeForce 7600 for my new computer because it presents more than ample functionality for my intended computer uses, and it matches with my PCI Express capable motherboard. However, if I was into heavy duty 3D online gaming I'd be choosing a video card with greater on-board memory than the 512MB that this card provides.

Sound cards:
The two biggest considerations for sound cards are connectivity and sound quality. If you are just interested in getting good sound from your digital playback, pretty much all the sound cards in a price range around $20 will do a fine job. All sound cards carry a surround sound designation from 4.1 through 7.1 . What this tells you is the number of channels (speakers) that your sound card will support. In other words, a 4.1 surround sound card will support four speakers whereas a 7.1 designation means that up to seven speakers can be supported by your sound card. Additionally, the (dB) designation for sound cards refers to the signal to noise ratio, which directly indicates sound quality. You want a sound card with a rating of 90dB or higher.

If you plan on actually "working" with sound on your computer through the use of a MIDI or any of the fantastic digital music software available, or if you plan on becoming fully immersed in your gaming experience, you will need a higher grade sound card. Give consideration to the number and type of input and output jacks that the various cards have available. Be very certain that your chosen sound card will provide access points for any hardware you may already be using or equipment you may be adding on later.

These days, the world of sound card value is pretty much ruled by price. Simply cross-reference the various rating numbers and features of a few cards and you'll get a feel for what's available. If all else fails, and you don't have a clue as to what card may be "best" for you, just shop in the $30 range and pick your sound card based on other people's ratings and reviews. For my computer build I chose the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live at a price tag of $20. It's a good basic sound card with a few extra features that will cover all my needs. Besides, I can very easily replace it with an upgrade card if I ever decide that I need more features or connections.

Please feel free to see my full Build a computer from scratch series, as well as some other geeky building ideas from DIYLife writers. I promise that soon I'll have all my parts purchased and then we can put this thing together before it becomes totally obsolete!


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