Now let’s have a look at VIA VT1616 spectrograms:
The ALC650 codec showed the claimed signal-to-noise ratio, while VT1616 did not. However, we should keep in mind the fact that other components of the analog section also affect the overall result. Of course, the mainboard maker is the one responsible for proper integration of an AC’97 codec, which implies that they have to choose proper electronic components, design wiring layout, make sure they meet the codec maker’s recommendations and so on. Thus, the same codec may sound differently on two different mainboards: in test programs and by ear. I often came across mainboards where the working hard disks or even mouse movements produced noise in the integrated audio. So, the results you have just seen are only typical of these two mainboards.
As our testing confirms, hardware implementation of certain audio subsystem functions helps to reduce the CPU workload. As for sound quality, many add-on sound cards are still better than integrated audio solutions. The reason is simple: mainboard makers try to reduce the cost at any rate. They choose cheap codecs, and don’t care about proper screening of audio components. That’s why a user may consider purchasing a sound card to be a better decision than using the integrated audio.
Today, everything is being integrated: graphics and audio subsystems, network, FireWire, Serial ATA. This approach has its advantages: you don’t need to install a separate driver for each of the system components. A single, “all-in-one”, unified driver will be enough. Integrated solutions are good for many users, but not for all of them. The integrated audio lacks many functions and often offers not the best sound quality. Will you put up with it?