When the PC was first introduced years ago, its audio capabilities were limited. Most PCs were equipped with a small internal speaker, capable of around one tenth of a Watt of output power. Further, the circuitry behind that speaker was equally lacking, as, in most cases, the system could not produce anything beyond the extent of beeps and blips. Anything more was simply too sophisticated and too costly to implement in a PC.
That changed about ten years ago when very primitive (by today’s standards) signal processors became available. These small, very application-specific processors could be placed on a daughter-board, and were capable of playback, recording, and even basic mixing of two-channel audio. These early sound cards were again, by today’s standards, very primitive, often being 8 or 16-bit designs, and not capable of dealing with sample rates beyond 11 – 22 KHz.
Modern sound cards have come a long way. The hardware is much more sophisticated – not only capable of more effects and modes, but also presenting superior acoustic quality. Modern sound cards are capable of digital input and output and advanced 3D positional effects and environments, as well as high sampling rates and S/N ratios, and low levels of harmonic distortion.
Despite all this, basic integrated audio like the ancient PC speaker has its advantages, particularly in terms of cost and ease of implementation and use.
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