An increasing number of people are using their notebook computers to watch movies, play video games, and listen to music. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the speakers on most notebooks leaves a lot to be desired, and the basic audio processor lacks many of the features of the advanced sound cards. The only way to improve the sound is to add a PCMCIA sound card and use it to drive a set of headphones or external speakers. There are very few of these cards on the market so your choices are rather limited, but the one you will find are very good at producing cinematic sound.
To get the best movie experience, a surround sound system is a necessity these days. That also applies to modern video games, most of which are designed to support surround sound. People who appreciate music are often not content with default audio settings, because they like to adjust the settings to get the best possible sound. The problem is that many notebooks have only basic audio support, especially on the older models. They were designed as workstations and not as entertainment platforms, so their audio qualities were not considered important.
The PCMCIA slot is the only way to add an expansions card to a notebook. Inside a desktop computer, there is a large PCI bus on the motherboard that can hold several cards. Due to the lack of space inside a notebook, there is no room for PCI expansion cards. The PCMCIA slot is used mostly for wireless adapters, 3G broadband modems, USB port adapters, and solid state hard drives. Nearly all notebooks have only one PCMCIA slot, so you often need to juggle two or more expansion cards.
A PCMCIA expansion card has a distinctive appearance that is unlike any other computer peripheral. It looks like a metallic credit card but is slightly larger and thicker. The last inch or so of a PCMCIA sound card is expanded to accommodate the audio sockets. This end sticks out from the side of a notebook but the rest of the card sits inside the slot. There is often a large sticker on the top surface which has the name and details of the card, along with some of the wild artwork commonly seen on computer peripheral boxes.
To deliver superior sound quality, a PCMCIA sound card needs to support the common audio formats, such as Dolby Digital and DTS. On most models, there is not enough room on the end for all the sockets normally found on PCI sound cards, so only the most important sockets are included. A volume control is handy to have but not really essential, as you can usually find one on the headphones or external speakers. There may also be a little light that stays on while the card is working. Changing the audio effects is done with the various applications included with the software bundle.
To use a PCMCIA sound card, plug it into the slot on a the side of your notebook and then wait for it to be identified by the operating system. On some notebooks, the stereo speakers may stop working when a PCMCIA sound card in inserted. The first time a card is used, software drivers may need to be installed before it will start working. You may also like to install applications from the software bundle included with the card, such as audio editors, equalizers, and disc burners. Of course, a good pair of headphones or a surround sound system is also required to get the best possible sound.
The lack of additional PCMCIA slots on a notebook is a real problem when you need to use several expansion card at the same time. Thankfully, there are USB versions of most of these cards, including the PCMCIA sound card. Most notebooks have several USB ports so there will usually be a spare one available. The latest notebooks have such good audio quality that you may not even need a separate sound card or adapter. For older notebooks and cheap new models, a PCMCIA sound card will improve the sound quality dramatically.