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A multiple sound card system in a computer can lend versatility and control to a computer sound system, but this type of setup can also cause a few problems. High-powered sound cards can be bulky and get in the way of other hardware or computer cooling. Sometimes, a multiple sound card system can be confusing for basic users, so it may not be a good idea for homes where users of varying computer skill share one computer. Depending on the software running the sound, multiple sound cards can make switching audio output sources difficult or inconvenient.
One positive aspect to having a multiple sound card setup is the ability to play two audio feeds into different speakers at the same time. This can usually only be done on software designed with the ability to run multiple sound cards from within the software. In a home computer media center, a multiple sound card system can mean that one person can watch a movie with the sound in headphones while someone else listens to music on speakers in the room. For computers with multiple monitors, two sound output channels can enable two users to watch different movies at the same time.
A drawback to having multiple sound cards in a computer is the process of switching between sound cards. If a user is listening to sound through one sound card and wants to listen to sound through another sound card, in many software media programs, the user must shut down the program, change the sound card output in the computer control panel, and restart the media program. This is particularly common while playing video or audio through a web browser.
Another disadvantage to multiple sound cards is that their presence can crowd a computer or clutter a workstation. In addition to the space taken up by the sound cards themselves, each sound unit has a set of headphones or output speakers that also take up room. Professional sound engineers often employ racks or shelves to organize the sound equipment attached to a multiple sound card recording setup.
Each type of multiple sound card system has its own space problems. External sound cards take up desk space and have unwieldy cords that can clutter a workstation. Internally installed sound cards take up space and produce heat, making it more likely that the computer will run hot. To deal with this problem, some users opt for a larger and more spacious computer case, while some may choose to install an advanced cooling system to better remove heat from the case.
In some cases, having a multiple sound card setup is unavoidable. Some computers come with sound cards built into the motherboard of the computer. The motherboard is the main chipset in the computer that contains the processor chip. When a user upgrades from an onboard motherboard-based sound card to an installed sound card in another slot, she usually cannot remove the original sound card because it is part of the computer's essential hardware.