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Typically found in a computer sound card, an audio chipset is the hardware assembly that contains the circuitry for a sound card. In general, a chipset is the circuitry board used in most computerized hardware devices. It refers to the specifications used to build that particular model of chip. Though a sound card can also be referred to as an audio chipset, usually, referring to the chipset indicates the chip part of the total sound card assembly, not including the audio input and output connectors.
A type of audio chipset is usually called the "build." To identify the manufacturer and build of an audio chipset used in a computer, a user should look either for a sticker on the hardware or a manufacturer's name etched into the chip. Careful inspection my reveal a different name on the complete hardware piece than the manufacturer name on the audio chip. The manufacturer that makes an audio chip is not necessarily the same manufacturer that made the computer or sound card that contains the chip. Often, small letters indicating the manufacturing company are hidden on the body of a chipset.
The circuit boards used in audio devices are more complicated in advanced sound cards, especially those that handle multi-channel, high-definition, or surround sound capabilities. The chipsets on professional sound cards can take up more space in the computer case than simpler sound cards. Advanced sound chipsets can also output more heat and require more case cooling when they are used. Some high-end sound cards employ a dedicated fan for cooling the sound chip.
Sound cards require the correct drivers to power the audio chipset installed in the computer. Usually, the driver disks come with the sound card but can also be acquired by visiting the download or support sections of the manufacturers' websites. Some manufacturers make multiple chipsets for audio devices, so it is important to identify the correct driver version for use with the existing hardware chipset.
In some computers, an audio chipset is actually a built-in part of the motherboard. This happens most often in standard, pre-built computers without special audio hardware. Having an onboard sound card can be beneficial because it takes up less space in a computer case than a separate sound card. When it is time to replace or upgrade an onboard audio chipset that is part of a motherboard, the user leaves the original audio chipset in place and uses the software to disable it before installing a new upgraded sound card. Common manufacturers of audio chipsets include Advanced Micro Devices® (AMD), Soundblaster®, Realtek® and Intel®.