How to Choose the Best Computer Sound Card for Gaming

x fi best computer sound card

This X FI is the best computer sound card for gaming right now

If you’re looking for the best computer sound card for gaming it’s vitally important that you understand what those cryptic stats are, and how they uniquely apply to games.  The best computer sound card for music isn’t necessarily the best for gaming since gamers have a higher priority for 3d sound as well as signal clarity.  Let’s take a look at some of the features you’ll find on today’s computer sound cards and what these mean to the average computer gamer.

When shopping for a computer sound card you’ll often encounter the stats I’ve listed below.  I’m going to go through what they mean and then apply it to the unique perspective of a computer gamer.

Stats you’ll find on a gaming sound card

Db rating.  This is simply how loud you can crank up the volume.  This stat means nothing about how much background noise you’ll hear, just a simple measurement of how loud it’ll go.  For gamers this isn’t really a very important stat, it’s more important for some serious music listening.

S/N ratio.  This is the signal to noise ratio, or how much of the sound you’re hearing is actually just noise.  If you’ve ever turned up the volume and heard a hum or hissing, this is background noise.  For gamers you’ll want this to be high since in some games hearing somebody sneaking up on you can mean the difference between winning or losing.  For listening to music not so much, unless you’ll be turning it up really loud.

THD or total harmonic distortion.  This stat refers to how accurately sound is reproduced.  This isn’t important to a gamer since a footstep is a footstep.  For music however this is extremely important if you want to hear the sound the artist intended you to hear.

Frequency range.  This is the sound range a particular computer sound card is able to reproduce.  As an example, we’ve all seen where a person sings a very high pitched note and breaks a glass.  If the computer sound card you’re looking at isn’t able to go this high you’ll never hear this sound.  This is expressed as two numbers, how low it’ll go and how high it’ll go.  Don’t get too fixated on this stat because the average human hearing can only hear about 20 – 20000.

These are the four most important stats you’ll encounter when shopping for the best computer sound card for gaming.  As you can see, S/N ration is by far the most important.  If you’ll also listen to music you can give more weight to the other stats.

Let’s talk about 3d sound now.  I’m sure you’ve all seen things like 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1 sound.  This refers to the number of speakers the computer sound card can drive.  The first number is the speakers and the ‘.1′ means a sub woofer.  If you want real 3d sound you’ll need 5.1 or 7.1 capable sound cards.  If it’s 2.1 it’ll produce 3d sound via software which isn’t always totally accurate.  A note here, even if you buy a 5.1 computer sound card you will of course need 5 speakers and a sub woofer.  For true surround sound the best computer sound card will be 7.1 capable, be prepared of course to buy a surround sound speaker setup as well.

One of the most important things to be aware of when looking to buy the best computer sound card for gaming is it’s available software compatibility.  As a minimum you should look for EAX 4.0 (5.0 is better), Dolby and DirectSound.  Creative Labs computer sound cards go a bit further by offering CMSS-3D which will give you 3d sound even if using headphones.

When gaming, especially online gaming you’ll want to look for some form of hardware acceleration, this will take some of the processing requirements away from your CPU and put it on the sound card, thus speeding up your system.  I’d also look for a microphone input on the sound card so you can use voice chat.

How much memory should a gaming sound card have?

The best computer sound card for gaming will also have on board memory, 64mb is great to have to get some of the memory storage off your system and onto the sound card where it belongs, thus freeing up memory and speeding up your gaming experience.

Here are some of the best computer sound cards you’ll find geared towards gaming.  Once again, make sure you have the speakers to support them.
Creative Labs SB0886 PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional Series Sound Card
Creative Labs SB0880 PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Sound Card
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Sound Card (70SB073A00000)

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About the Author

Hi there!, My name is Norm. I am a college grad, a veteran, a pet owner and a family man. I started writing articles both to make a little extra money, and to share my knowledge with others. I currently work in the IT department of a major NY hospital.
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