Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts

Replacing PC Parts

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Copyright 2010 by Morris Rosenthal

All Rights Reserved

Replacing a Sound Card

Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal -All Rights Reserved contact info

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 bay.
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!