Most new desktop computers come with a built-in sound card that you can replace. If your computer doesn't have a sound card installed or you want to upgrade the sound playback or recording capabilities of your computer, you can install a sound card. If you're having sound problems on your computer, see Tips for fixing common sound problems.
The instructions here apply to desktop computers. Most laptops have built-in sound processing chips (also called sound processors) but not internal sound cards. You can upgrade the sound on a laptop by plugging an external audio device into a USB port or external card slot, but this is rarely done.
Sound processors can also be built into desktop computers. You can't remove them, but to upgrade your sound, you can usually install an internal sound card and turn off the sound processor.
Before installing a sound card, check the information that came with it. The guidelines shown here are general, and the sound card documentation might contain important information specific to installing that card. Also, be sure to check the information that came with your computer to see if opening your computer affects the computer's warranty coverage.
Before installing a sound card, you'll need the following:
The sound card you want to install
A Phillips screwdriver to open your computer, if needed
An empty PCI slot inside your computer, unless you plan to replace an existing sound card (in which case you can put the new card into that slot)
If your sound card came with a CD, DVD, or other removable media, it might contain a driver for your sound card. Hold on to that until Windows has finished looking for and installing a driver. Windows does this automatically after you install the sound card in your computer and turn the computer back on. If Windows can't find a good driver for your sound card, then try installing the driver that came with the sound card. Software from the manufacturer might also include other programs for your sound card.
Turn off your computer and unplug it from its power source. This is very important. Installing a card in a computer that's plugged in could shock you or damage the card and computer.
Read the information that came with your computer to learn how to open the computer case. If you no longer have the instructions, look on the computer cover (usually on the back) for screws or clasps to undo the case.
After opening the case, ground yourself by touching the metal casing that surrounds the jack where the power cord plugs in. This can help protect you from an electric shock and can help protect the new card and existing computer components from static electricity.
If you have an existing internal sound card, you should remove it before installing the new card. If your computer has a built-in sound processor, you can proceed to the "To install your new sound card" section of this topic.
Read the information that came with your existing sound card to learn how to remove it. If you no longer have the instructions, 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.
Unplug any speaker and microphone cables from the back of the sound card.
If there's a cable inside your computer connecting the sound card to your CD drive, disconnect it. Many newer computers don't have this cable, so if it's not there, you can skip this step.
Remove any screw or hook holding your sound card in place.
Carefully pull the sound card straight out of the slot. Be careful not to twist or bend the card as you remove it.
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.
You might need to gently wiggle the card for it to come loose. Even if you're throwing away the old sound card, use caution when removing it to avoid damaging 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.
Read the instructions that came with the new sound card to learn how to install it. If you don't have instructions, locate an empty expansion slot in the computer that will accept your new sound card.
If your computer doesn't have an empty slot, you'll have to remove another card before you can install the new one. 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.
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 gently down so that it sits in the slot. Be sure that the card is pushed all the way in and that it's secure. If the pins on the card aren't perfectly aligned with the pins in the expansion slot, the card won't work properly.
If your computer has an audio cable that connects the CD drive directly to the sound card, plug it into the card. Check the information that came with your sound card to determine the location of the CD audio connector on the card. This cable is rarely necessary with current audio hardware, and in most cases, plugging it in is optional.
Screw the sound card to the frame. Don't bend the sound card or the frame while tightening the screw. It might be best to tighten the screw barely more than you can tighten it with your fingers.
Close the computer case and replace any screws you removed when opening the case. Plug your speakers into your new sound card and, if applicable, plug your microphone in too.
Plug your computer back into its power source and then turn it on.
Windows will install the necessary 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 for the installation steps.
If your card isn't working properly, check Windows Update for a newer driver for the sound card. For more information, see Update a driver for hardware that isn't working properly and Sound cards: frequently asked questions.