Expansion Cards – CompTIA A+ 220-1101 – 3.4

The expansion slots in our computers provide us with almost unlimited upgrade options. In this video, you’ll learn about audio cards, graphics processors, network interfaces, and other options.

One of the nice parts about our modern computing platforms is that we’re able to extend those capabilities by adding additional hardware to our systems. One of the primary ways of adding this hardware is through the use of expansion cards. You can purchase the expansion card, install it into your computer. And now you are extending and adding to the capabilities of that system.

This allows you as the end user to purchase any available and compatible products and install them yourself in your own system. This might be just hardware, where you purchase a card and install that card into your system. Or it might also involve the process of installing a hardware driver that integrates this new hardware to the operating system that you’re running on that computer.

Installing the expansion card is relatively straightforward. You would remove the top of your case, find an available expansion slot, and place the card into that empty slot. As you’re gently pushing this card into place, make sure that the holes, or the keys, that are in the card match the keys that are part of the expansion slot. And if you do that, you’re able to then push the card all the way down. And now you have a card that’s ready to be used by your system.

One type of card you might install is one for audio. This is a sound card that could provide output of high-end audio. You might want to integrate your system with an external mixer or external headphone amp. Or you might be using this output to provide the highest quality audio possible.

This audio card might also allow you to record or provide input into the computer, especially if your computer is the one that’s doing the recording or the capture of that audio. This is common if you’re doing podcasts or if you happen to be creating a video training course. Here’s an example of just some interfaces that you might find on a sound card. You can see there is a headphone jack that looks to be a 1/4-inch jack, along with a line-in jack.

There’s also outputs for S/PDIF, which is a digital audio format, and both front-right and front-left speakers on this sound card. Your sound card might have other interfaces and provide other capabilities. So make sure you check with your documentation to see what options are available to you.

Another upgrade you might want to make to your computer is the video card that you’re using. Many CPUs already have video technology built into the CPU package itself. You may not need an external video card if you simply need basic video capabilities because that’s going to be provided by your CPU.

When you have an external video adapter card like this one, we often refer to it as a discrete graphics card, which is different than the integrated GPU or integrated graphics that are in your CPU. This is usually when you need something that has much higher performance than what’s available in an individual CPU. So if you’re working with a graphics application or you’re doing gaming, you might want to invest in a discrete video card.

Here’s an example of the interfaces that might be on the back of a computer that has an integrated graphics card or the graphics are integrated into the CPU of the system. You can see on this motherboard you can plug in a VGA connection, a DVI, or an HDMI connection. The video card will, of course, connect to the expansion slots that are in your computer. And there will be additional interfaces directly connected to that video card.

Here is an example of some of the interfaces that are on this video card. You have DVI. Looks like there are DisplayPort interfaces and HDMI output. To be able to use these higher-end capabilities of this card, we would now need to plug our monitor into one of these interfaces that are directly connected to this video card.

If you plug into the interfaces on your motherboard, then you’re using the integrated graphics. You would need to plug directly into this card to be able to take advantage of the discrete graphics processor. Our discrete graphics cards are usually output devices.

But what if we would like to put video into our computer? In those cases, we would need a capture card, which acts as video input into our computer. So if you want to capture video or provide live streaming, you would need some type of external card to receive that video signal.

Video information is quite large. So this card has obviously been designed to be able to maintain high levels of video input, especially when using higher resolutions. Here’s a video capture card I use in my studio. This one has a PCI Express interface.

And it supports two different types of video input. This first connector is the well-known HDMI connector. So you can take HDMI from a camera or any other video source and provide that as an input into this video capture card.

This card also supports high-end video capture over an SDI interface. That stands for Serial Digital Interface. This SDI is brought in through coax. And you can see there is a bayonet connector on this coax connection. Either one of these can provide a video input. And it uses this capture card to be able to receive that video on your local computer.

Many motherboards come with a wired ethernet connection integrated into the motherboard itself. But there might be times when you want to add an additional Network Interface Card, or NIC, onto your computer. It may be that you need additional interfaces, or perhaps the integrated or built-in ethernet interface is no longer operating. You commonly see this with servers or routers or other specialty devices that need multiple interface adapters on the same physical device.

Installing a network interface card is exactly the same as installing any other device into an expansion slot. You find a slot that’s available and then push the adapter card into that available slot. If you’re setting up a server or some type of network infrastructure device, then you might want to use a multi-port ethernet adapter card. You install one single adapter card. And you can connect to four separate ethernet connections.

Before purchasing an adapter card, you might want to do a little bit of work to make sure if that card compatible with your system. Check your motherboard documentation and determine how many different slots are available and what those slots happen to be. From there you can look at the specifications of the adapter card and make sure that the adapter card matches the specifications of your motherboard.

There might also be minimum requirements for the operating system you’re using. So check the software specifications as well. It might be useful to go to the manufacturer’s website and look through their knowledge base to confirm that your system is compatible with this particular adapter card.

And if you want to get even more information about how this card is performing for others, you might want to check support forums to see what other people might be saying about this product. Sometimes you have to install software prior to installing the hardware adapter card. Other times you install the adapter card first and then install an installation program once that hardware is in your system.

It’s useful to have the hardware available. But we need some type of software that will allow the hardware to properly talk to your operating system. And that software is called a device driver. Usually there’s a separate installation process for the driver. Or the driver might already be built into the operating system that you’re using. Make sure you check the documentation for the adapter card to know exactly the process you should use for installing this driver.

The drivers that might ship with your hardware are almost always out of date. So it’s a good best practice to check the manufacturer’s website and download the latest version of the device driver. Some device drivers can simply copy over any previous versions of the driver in your system. Or the documentation may require you to uninstall an existing driver before installing a newer version.

Sometimes this driver installation is done through the Windows Device Manager. But some manufacturers have created their own installation executable. So make sure you have the correct process for installing the driver on your system.

And there may be some times when all you have is a single driver file. And in that case, you would use the Windows Device Manager to step through the process of adding that device driver. Once you’ve added the driver, you can check Device Manager to see the status of that system to confirm that the operating system is using that new hardware properly.