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Assume the CPU is the bottleneck in my PC's performance (I've a great GPU and tons of RAM), and lets say I'm playing a game that permanently maxes out the CPU load.

My PC has no dedicated sound-card. Now, If I install a dedicated sound-card (something average price, nothing really fancy), will it improve performance on the mentioned scenario?

I'm not asking if the sound card improves audio quality. I'm asking if it will lighten up CPU load by a few percentage points. Given a good graphics card, most of the graphics-processing should be assigned to the GPU, but the processor still has a lot to do, is sound-processing a significant part of that? (edit)

More specifically: does sound-processing consume a significant amount of CPU time in modernd high-end games (assuming there's a good GPU to take the hit from graphics processing)?

Will a dedicated sound-card take care of it?

Does it matter if the headset is USB or audio-jack?

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@StrixVaria - It's borderline. Some people would see that you were asking about gaming and vote to close reflexively, while others would be happy about it. –  ChrisF Oct 13 '10 at 20:46
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@ChrisF It's not about tuning for gaming, though. It's a legitimate hardware question that can even have non-gaming application. –  StrixVaria Oct 13 '10 at 20:49
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@StrixVaria - "Borderline" was the wrong word - but some people will vote to close if you even mention games/gaming. I think it's a legitimate question on either site. –  ChrisF Oct 13 '10 at 20:51
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@ChrisF Games are mentioned in one sentence, and could easily be rephrased as "let's say I'm running a program that permanently maxes out the CPU load". To me, this is really a Super User question because it is about Hardware and can be applied to any intensive program, not just games. –  Grace Note Oct 13 '10 at 21:09
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I think that's a good enough edit to stick around. –  Grace Note Oct 13 '10 at 22:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Absolutely!

Check out this post over at guru3d.

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+1 Great link, Robb. I may have to get a new sound card when I go to upgrade. –  MBraedley Oct 14 '10 at 11:25
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The linked post contained a big block of opinion/anecdotes. Can we get something that's more like evidence - or even just a case study? –  MGOwen Oct 21 '10 at 2:35
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Does this article still apply, considering that Windows Vista and 7 have already disabled hardware acceleration for sound cards (breaks EAX support, among other things)? –  galacticninja Dec 12 '11 at 2:54

This is an old question, but it certainly deserves an answer.

Yes it most certainly will help. Motherboard mounted sound chips do not offer any type of AD/DA conversion capabilities, and even if they do they will be heavily laden with latency issues because of the way Windows works (if you are using Windows). In order to do sample conversions the work must be handed off to the CPU, which causes latency to build and that is when you get real anomalies appearing in your audio.

You will discover that there are also USB headsets, but these act precisely the way on-board conversion chips do. They move a program to the CPU which does the heavy lifting.

Interfaces, whether USB or Firewire, have actual AD/DA processors, as do the higher end audio cards. If, you want to play games, then you might also want to chose one of the more exceptional cards that offer 3D positioning.

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I dont think his question was related to audio anomalies, he wanted to know if would impact his CPU utilization. It's doubtful there would noticeable performance effect with a modern CPU and motherboard. Audio operations are on the order of kilobytes/hertz. If that's bringing you down.... you have other problems. $100 on an audio card would be much better used upgrading other components. (However a bad/dying audio chip on your board could cause performance problems) –  Hefewe1zen Mar 15 at 16:49
    
@Hefewe1zen Stock sound chips offload AD/DA conversion to the CPU. If you can hear anomalies, then this is your problem. Don't forget that occasionally you will need to resample sound files from their stored frequency (typically 22KHz) to the frequency the audio chip needs (say, 48KHz). That's even more work for the CPU unless you have dedicated chips doing this work instead. The value you place upon audio is an individual priority; what's a waste of money to you isn't to those wanting clear audio and precise 3D positioning in games. –  RPV Audio Mar 27 at 20:36

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