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PCstats Q & A - Codec confusion - PCstats.com PCstats Q & A - Codec confusion
Fri, March 04 2005 | 11:13AM | PermaLink Feedback?

Our final Q & A of the week comes from Rob via the reader feedback page. Remember to try our friendly forums for answers too.

Q: I'm looking into purchasing a new Socket 775 motherboard, but I'm doing so on a budget. I've been looking at several models from various manufacturers and comparing their features. Your recent reviews have helped this process a lot, but there's one thing I'm still confused on. What's an audio Codec? I know it enables onboard sound, but I've seen a few of your reviews where you state that the motherboard has a hardware soundcard integrated... Is this better? I don't want to buy a separate soundcard, since I'm not an audiophile, but I remember how horrible integrated sound was on motherboards a few years back. Can you shed a little light on this?

A: The only real difference between integrated sound based on an audio codec like AC'97 and 'full' integrated sound solutions is the presence of a DSP (Digital Signal Processor) to process digital sound outside the processor itself. Full hardware implementations are essentially a soundcard on a chip, and contain everything necessary to process and convert digital signals to analog for output to speakers. Audio codecs like AC'97 are integrated with the chipset and the processor itself, and contain only the hardware necessary to convert and output a digital signal. Any signal processing must be done by the processor and chipset. As you'd expect, this places a slight overhead on your system, so using integrated audio while playing games, for example, can slightly compromise performance. Also, some advanced audio effects are specific to certain company's DSP hardware and cannot be emulated by an audio codec. For every day use such as playing MP3 music files, there is no real difference between codec-based audio and full hardware solutions.

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