Sound cards enable your computer to play music and sounds through your speakers. Almost all new computers come with a built-in sound card. However, if your computer doesn't have one installed, or if you want to upgrade the sound playback or recording capabilities of your computer, you may want to install a sound card.

There are three types of sound cards: sound cards built onto your computer's motherboard, and internal and external sound cards. This article focuses on installing an internal sound card, which fits in an expansion slot inside your computer. Motherboard sound cards can't be removed, though you can usually install an internal or external sound card and disable the motherboard sound. External sound cards typically connect via a universal serial bus (USB) connector. For information on installing external sound cards and other USB devices, see Install a USB device.

Before installing a sound card, be sure to consult the documentation that came with it. The guidelines shown here are very general, and the sound card documentation may contain important information specific to installing that card. Also, be sure to consult the documentation that came with your computer to see if opening your computer affects the computer's warranty coverage.

Before installing the sound card, you'll need the following:

  • The sound card you want to install.

  • Possibly a Phillips screwdriver to open your computer, if needed.

  • The CD, DVD, or media that came with the sound card (if any), which will contain drivers and other programs.

Show all

To open your computer case

  1. Turn off your computer and unplug it from its power source. This is very important, as installing a card in a computer that's plugged in can damage the card and computer, and could shock you as well.

  2. Open the computer case. Look on the computer cover (usually on the back) for screws or clasps to undo. The documentation for your computer typically includes instructions on how to open the case.

  3. Once the computer case is open, ground yourself by touching the power supply (the metal casing that surrounds the jack where the power cord plugs in). This will protect the new card and the existing computer components from static electricity.

To remove an existing sound card

If you have an existing internal sound card, you should remove it before installing the new card. If your computer's sound card is built onto the motherboard, you can proceed to "To install your new sound card."

  1. Locate your sound card. If you're not certain which card is your sound card, follow the wires from your speakers to the back of the card, and then note which slot that card is in.

  2. Unplug any speaker and microphone cables from the back of the sound card.

  3. If there's a cable inside your computer connecting the sound card to your CD-ROM drive, disconnect it. Many newer computers don't have this cable. If it's not there, you can skip this step.

  4. Remove the screw holding your sound card in place.

  5. Carefully pull the sound card straight out of the slot. Be careful not to twist or bend the card as you remove it.

    Note

    • The card may need one or two gentle up-and-down nudges to come loose. Even if you're throwing away the old sound card, use caution when removing it as you may damage the motherboard. If it seems stuck, it's better to spend a few extra minutes tugging gently than to rip the card out too quickly and damage the motherboard in the process.

  6. If you're not installing a new sound card, install a slot cover if you have one, and replace the screw. Then close the computer case and replace any screws you removed when opening the case.

To install your new sound card

  1. Locate an expansion slot in the computer that will accept your new sound card. If you removed an existing sound card, you can use the same slot if your new card uses the same type of expansion slot. Check your computer's documentation if you need to determine the types of expansion slots it has available.

  2. Gently place the sound card on top of the slot. Line up the pins on the sound card with the slot and push the card down so that it sits in the slot. Be sure that the card is securely in the slot and pushed all the way in. If the pins on the card aren't perfectly aligned with the pins in the expansion slot, the card won't work properly.

  3. If your computer has an audio cable that connects the CD-ROM drive directly to the sound card, locate it and plug it in to the card. Consult the documentation that came with your sound card to determine the location of the CD-ROM audio connector on the card. Note that this cable is rarely necessary with current audio hardware, and in most cases plugging it in is optional.

  4. Screw the sound card to the frame. Don't warp the sound card or the frame while tightening the screw. It's better to tighten the screw barely more than you can tighten it with your fingers than to bend the frame or the card.

  5. Close the computer case and replace any screws you removed when opening the case. Plug your speakers, and microphone if applicable, into your new sound card.

  6. Plug your computer back into its power source and turn it back on.

    Windows will install the necessary device drivers for your new sound card. If your sound card came with a disc containing software, install that now. Check the information that came with your sound card to see what software installation steps are required.

    If Windows does not recognize your sound card and you don't have the driver that came with your sound card, you will need to find a driver yourself. (Drivers enable Windows to recognize your device.) Visit the website of your sound card's manufacturer and check the support section for a driver you can download. For more information, see Tips for fixing common sound problems and Tips for fixing common driver problems.