Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts
Replacing PC Parts
Starting Your Own Computer Business
Copyright 2010 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Replacing a Sound Card
Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal -All Rights Reserved
Illustrated How to Install a Sound Card Replacement
Sound cards don't have a particularly high failure rate, I believe but they
get replaced more often than any other adapter, with the possible exception
of modems. The reason is that older PCI sound cards that came stock with
systems offered pretty lousy performance, so gamers and musicians often find
they have to replace the sound card just to work with the programs they buy.
The first step is to unplug the PC and open the case. Yes, you can use a
power strip and turn off the power switch to preserve the ground, but I'll
bet more people blow up adapters sticking them in motherboards with a live
5V rail than with static electricity. You only need to remove the top lid
on the average midtower - two screw, slide back a couple inches, and off.
You can see the original sound card connectors in the center of the adapter
The original sound card is secured in the case with a single screw. If you've
done this before, you'll see that there's something missing along the top
edge. This PC was built without an analog audio lead connecting the CD drive
to the sound card, which means it never would have been able to play music
CDs. This is an extremely common issue with PC's that were built without
any quality control or a CD was installed at a later date by somebody who
had a lazy attack. The audio lead is a two cent part, and it's probably generated
more "my sound card/speakers don't work" service calls than any other assembly
oversight, and who knows how many sound cards replaced for no reason. We
remove the old sound card, and also a blank bay cover next to it, because
our PCI 5.1 upgrade sound card needs two slots for the SPDIF riser.
Speaking of the SPDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interface), we now connect this
daughter card, or riser, to the new sound card. I like to do this before
actually installing the sound card in the case because the connectors aren't
always keyed. This connector is keyed the top left hole on this 2x5 connector
is blocked to match the missing corner pin on the board connection block.
In a bit of literary foreshadowing, you can also see just above my forefinger
the 4x1 connector where we'll later connect the CD audio lead. To the right
of those connectors is the silk screen explaining which is which. This
information is available ONLY on the sound card, the one page paper manual
that came with it had no info at all. I've got a new page looking at
laptop sound failure and USB replacement.
Here you can see the small SPDIF daughter board held above the basic sound
card,which I think I paid around $20 for. It's a 5.1 sound card, five regular
channels (front left and right, rear left and right, center) plus a low frequency
or sub-woofer channel. When you're upgrading a sound card, a 5.1 is pretty
much the minimum I'd consider. Newer motherboards come with 6.1 and even
7.1 sound built into the motherboard, so this isn't anything you should have
to fool around with a a newer PC. The game port is quickly becoming obsolete,
replaced with USB game controllers, but many replacement sound cards, like
this one, still feature a legacy game port.
Whenever you install a sound card or other adapter in your PC, you should
be careful not to touch the contact edge (the gold stripes) when handling
the adapter, and ideally, you should only touch them on the metal bracket
or unused real estate on the card. I seated this adapter in the PCI slot
with even pressure on the bracket and the back edge of the sound card.
Immediately after installing the sound card, secure both it and the SPDIF
riser with one screw each through the bracket on the back rail. That covers
how to install a sound card, now you have to get the internal and external
connections made right.
Now we attach the CD audio lead to the sound card. Obviously, we have to
attach the other end to the CD/DVD drive or it won't do much good, but I'm
going to let you take my word for it that it got done:-) The other connector
blocks on the top of the sound card are for modem inputs, lets you play your
phone through the speakers or use a system mike with a voice modem rather
than plugging a separate mike into the modem card. The truth is, I never
fooled around with voice on old PC modems, but the VOIP (Voice Over IP)
capabilities of PCs with broadband Internet connections work pretty good.
They use the sound card for the mic and headset, not a modem. Below, I just
wanted to show the optical SPDIF input. The clear plastic tube directly to
the right, is the protector I took off the optical connector, and the black
plug next to the clear tube protected the optical port on the adapter.
Don't replace anything without seeing the sound
and speaker troubleshooting flowchart!