Build Your Own PC/Computer

Install a PCI, PCIe and external USB sound card

If you purchase a retail boxed PCI or PCIe sound card it will come with an installation manual that shows how all of the features of the card are used. If you purchased an OEM sound card that is supported by the vendor instead of the manufacturer, you will probably have to download the manual from the manufacturer’s website. If the sound card is built into the motherboard, the motherboard manual will provide the necessary installation information. If you don’t have a copy, identify the motherboard’s manufacturer and locate its website by using the name as a search query in a search engine.

If you don’t know the make and model of the motherboard installed in your computer, here is a good free utility – Belarc Advisor – that creates an analysis of the hardware and software on a personal computer. Another utility that also provides detailed information on the memory itself is CPU-Z.

Installing a PCI (old technology) or PCIe sound card (current technology) is merely a matter of removing the screw and/or clip that screws and/or clips the slot’s metal cover (blanking plate) over its outlet at the back of the case and inserting the card into a free PCI or PCIe slot on the motherboard so that its face plate replaces the metal cover and shows at the back of the case.  The screw used by the blanking plate is used to screw the card in. Some PC cases can have the blanking plate fixed to the case by a screw and a clip. You should then secure the sound card into the case in the same way as the blanking plate was. PCI slots are all the same size, but PCIe slots are these sizes – x16, x8, x4 and x1 – from longest to shortest. There are also x12 and x32 PCIe slots but they are not used by the motherboards of home desktop PCs. Most PCIe sound cards use the shortest x1 slot, therefore with PCIe cards you must make sure that the PCs motherboard has the slot that the card uses. Here is a video of a man who replaced a x1 PCIe sound card with a PCI sound card because the PCIe sound card caused his graphics card to overheat. There is only one x1 PCIe slot on the motherboard and it is right next to the x16 slot that his graphics card is installed in. He shows a close-up view of the new PCI sound card in its slot. You can see the short x1 slot beside his graphics card. Note how short the connector edge of the PCIe card is compared to the connector edge of the PCI card.

Installing a new PCI sound card that replaces an x1 PCIe sound card –

Note that there are occasions when screwing the card in too tightly raises its end out of the slot and causes an error that can render the computer unbootable, because the edge connector on the card has to make complete contact with the slot’s matching connection points.

Unless its installation manual says otherwise, you should install a PCI or PCIe sound card before installing its software. Usually, you install the PCI sound card, close the case, boot into Windows, and cancel the Found new hardware wizard if it starts to run. You can then insert the CD/DVD that came with the sound card into the PC’s CD/DVD drive, and follow the instructions to install its device drivers and other software.

Installing an external USB sound card is just a matter of plugging its cable into the device itself and into a USB port on the desktop or laptop PC, both of which are usually provided by the motherboard at the back of a desktop PC’s case and usually at the sides of laptop PCs.

The sound card should have come with an installation manual or guide. A USB sound card’s software might have to be installed before connecting it to a USB port. After the device is plugged in, Windows will then install its device driver automatically. Alternatively, Windows might install the driver automatically or request the location of the driver (file in a folder or on a CD/DVD) so that it can be installed. If you want to remove the device while the PC is switched on, right-click on the icon for USB devices in the System Tray/Notification Area and choose to stop that device. If there are USB devices working, an icon representing them will appear in the Notification Area.

If you plug an external USB sound card into a USB port provided by a desktop or laptop PC, you should remove any internal PCI/PCIe sound card (installed in a PCI/PCIe slot of a desktop PC’s motherboard). Windows will then stop installing its device driver at startup.

If the PC’s sound is produced by a sound chip that is integrated into the motherboard, which can be the case with desktop PCs – and is almost always the case with laptop/notebook PCs – there should be entry for the sound card in the Windows Device Manager that can be disabled by right-clicking on it and you should also be able to disable the integrated sound chip in the PC’s BIOS/UEFI.

The device driver of a sound card that is being replaced should be removed if it is listed by Windows before closing the system down and installing the replacement card. Note that in Windows Vista, Windows 7  and 8.1, the Add or Remove Programs list of programs and device drivers used by Windows XP is listed under the Programs and Features category in the Control Panel.

To be able to identify the correct device driver requires knowing the make/model of the integrated sound chip. For example, in Windows Vista/7/8.1, you might find a device-driver entry called, say, Realtek High Definition Audio Driver. If so, you would find a matching device called Realtek High Definition Audio in the Device Manager under Sound, video and game controllers, which can be opened by entering devmgmt.msc in the Start => Start Search… box in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Realtek also make device drivers for network adapters, etc., so, if more than one driver made by Realtek appears in the list of programs, you must only remove the audio driver.

Next page: How to connect a sound card to other devices and configure Windows