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Choosing the best gaming sound card is not very difficult, but there are a few things you should consider as you look for one. One of your biggest concerns should be the compatibility of a sound card with your computer. You should also be sure that any gaming sound card you choose can properly work with your speakers and sound system hardware.
A gaming sound card is an input device for a computer that allows speakers to be connected to the computer, and is specifically targeted toward the sound needs of a gamer. Most personal computer (PC) gamers tend to expect many of the same things from a computer sound system that film enthusiasts expect from their home theater setup: clear sound, proper left and right separation, and compatibility with the other hardware in the system. Any gaming sound card you choose should fulfill all of these requirements.
Compatibility with hardware you already have is one of the most important aspects of choosing a gaming sound card. You should be sure that any sound card you purchase will properly connect to the motherboard inside of your computer. This is as simple as knowing what type of port the sound card connects into, usually a PCI slot, and then ensuring you have an available slot of that type on your motherboard.
In some respects, the speakers you choose may seem more important than the gaming sound card you use, but you should be sure that the speakers will work with your sound card properly. This is especially important if you have a sound setup that includes stereo surround sound speakers, such as a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setup. In these types of systems, the number basically indicates the total number of standard speakers, usually five or seven satellite speakers that can be set up to provide surround sound.
The decimal indicates a dedicated bass speaker that is part of the system and provides deeper bass notes to accompany the other audio. You should be sure that any gaming sound card you choose properly supports the type of speaker setup you have, since otherwise you may not get proper audio to the different channels. For example, if you have a 7.1 surround sound setup, you should be sure you get a sound card that supports 7.1 and connect the speakers properly so sounds that come from your left or right in games will be relayed properly, giving you an auditory edge over other gamers.
This isn't nearly as difficult as it once was because most modern computers come with very good built in audio. The battle used to be over sound cards but that has moved on to speakers since computers generally produce good enough audio for most games. Computer manufacturers, however, rarely bundle in speakers that are at least tolerable -- both desktops and laptops tend to come with junk speakers unless you buy a high-end system (laptops in particular tend to lack the bass response that you'd like).
If sound is a major concern, one should at least get a system that has a subwoofer and a couple of solid satellite speakers. Choosing what setup is "best" is largely a matter of personal taste. Try a few and see what fits you -- that $40 system may be as good for your purposes as one that costs several hundred dollars.
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