Because no one envisioned sound as a business necessity, the only provision early PCs made for sound was a $0.29 speaker driven by a square-wave generator to produce beeps, boops, and clicks sufficient for prompts and warnings. Reproducing speech or music was out of the question. Doing that required an add-on sound card, and those were quick to arrive on the market as people began playing games on their PCs. The early AdLib and Creative SoundBlaster sound cards were primitive, expensive, difficult to install and configure, and poorly supported by the OS and applications. By the early '90s, however, sound cards had become mainstream items that shipped with most PCs. By 2001 most motherboards included at least basic embedded audio.
With a sound adapter and appropriate software, a PC can perform various tasks, including:
This chapter focuses on sound adapters, but because MP3 has become increasingly popular and generates much reader mail, it also covers the basics of MP3 what it is, and how to use it to extract digital audio from CDs and store it on your hard drive in compressed form. The following sections describe what you need to know to choose, install, configure, troubleshoot, and use a sound card effectively.