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What are Video and Sound Cards?

Article Details
  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 July 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Video and sound cards are data chips that expand the capabilities of a computer. These can be installed on the motherboard by the user. They are beneficial for applications that are visually and sonically demanding, such as video games, HD movies, and movie editing software.

Video and sound cards control the visual and auditory outputs for most computers. The quality of the cards installed typically determines the quality of output received. Most computers are equipped with these accessories automatically, but users may choose to upgrade one or both cards for increased performance capabilities.

The type of work done on the computer by the user generally determines what type of card is needed. Individuals who are not using their computers for gaming, or precision audio and visual work, may not wish to upgrade their cards from those that are installed at the factory. For those who do, however, computer magazine and website reviews are typically reliable sources to check when considering purchasing a video or sound card.

A computer motherboard should be equipped with multiple entry ports, known as bus slots, which allow the user to add additional features to the hard-drive. The size of these slots plays a part in determining the type of video and sound cards that may be installed. The slots may be found along the back of the motherboard and will move towards the center along the edges.

Most computers are equipped with two or three different types of bus slots. They are known as PCI, AGP, and PCI Express. Each type offers a different level of data transfer quality and speed. PCI Express offers the highest transfer abilities of the three types. AGP works somewhat slower than PCI Express, but operates at a speed eight times faster than that of the PCI slot.

Video cards may be used to increase how many monitors one hard-drive can support, to watch HD movies, and to stream HD game graphics. They are typically sold in one of two formats: AGP and PCI-Express. AGP cards should be capable of operating on either a 2.0 or 3.0 level, as most AGP slots no longer support version 1.0. The card will typically come with this distinction labeled.

Sound cards may be purchased to fit any of the three bus slot types. These cards function by translating digitally encoded information into auditory sounds. Depending on the quality of card purchased, they may support multiple speaker types, including surround sound.

Users may purchase video and sound cards from computer websites or specialty electronics stores. They can be installed easily at home with some instruction. They also may be added to the motherboard at the time of assembly, by the computer manufacturer. Most dealers allow customers to purchase additional features for an extra fee when choosing their machine.

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