I’m going to talk to you about my own experience with soundcards.
Sadly I can say that I’ve encountered sound card problems before and it had a disastrous impact on my gear; it forced me to start over from scratch. Since that event happened I learned a lot about how to prevent soundcard disasters from happening again, and I want to share all that experience and knowledge with you. Soundcards are not supposed to overheat, but it can happen.
So, can soundcards overheat?
A soundcard can overheat for many different reasons, but the most common is a faulty fan. As much as a soundcard can overheat, all other internal components in your CPU can have the same fate. Also, a hot environment, blocking the exhausts of the case or laptop, and overworking your unit can lead to overheating.
Lack of cooling leads to heat, heat leads to melting, melting is the end for your soundcard, and in some cases your internal CPU components.
Are you ready to learn all about this rather sad, but utterly important topic? Pull on your fire-proof overcoat and here we go!
It’s a physical phenomenon… with a real, physical cause
This is something that we need to clear up before we even start our theme: overheating is not digital, but physical. Melting, fire, and overheating are phenomena you can experience with your senses. There are mainly three indicators that something inside your computer is overheating.
- Burnt smell – If you start perceiving burnt smell coming out of any electronic system including computers, it should be enough of an alarm to take action. If your computer starts making popping noises and the audio goes out, this might mean its soundcard might be overheating and you need to do something about it. A good trick is to smell the laptop after you’re done using it because the burnt smell sticks around for days.
- Extreme heat – If you are using a CPU or a laptop on a desk, you can easily spot burnt marks on the wood or whatever material your desk is. When CPUs are on the floor and far from us, it is more difficult to spot extreme heat. Touch it at least twice during your working session to check on its temperature. You’ll be able to differentiate regular heat from extreme heat with just the palm of your hand (beware not to get burnt, ouch!)
- Smoke – Smoke is definite proof of overheating. If your CPU or laptop, at any time, turns into a chimney, you have to take action. It can be an element inside setting on fire which could, potentially, destroy your entire computer. In the presence of smoke, just pull the plug and get professional help before it’s too late.
What Can Cause A Soundcard To Overheat?
Now that we’ve seen the most common symptoms of overheating, it’s time to talk about the cause behind them. There are a plethora of reasons why a soundcard and a computer can overheat; let’s go through the most common ones:
- Fan malfunction – Fans are your best ally when it comes to heat and we’ll go deeper into them in a bit. When your fans are malfunctioning they either never turn on or are on all the time. Both case scenarios are bad. On one hand, if they don’t turn on when your computer needs them, it can cause overheating of internal components. On the other hand, if they are ON all the time, there’s nothing to cool the fans, which can also cause a disaster.
- Blockage of exhausts – This might seem like a no-brainer but I learned it the hard way. In my early days of music and video production, I had spent all my savings on an amazing machine and kept it in the corner, next to the walls so it would be safe from anyone tampering with it. I didn’t realize I was blocking the side exhausts and left it rendering a video to go see my girlfriend. When I came back I didn’t have a computer or a desk anymore. I had to start from scratch with my home studio again. Never block the exhausts because hot air needs to get out.
- Hot environment – If the temperature in the place you live at can go over 35 degrees Celsius, you need to cool the room where the computer is at. Fans work moving the air around, but if the air is always hot, you can have heating problems.
- Overworking the equipment – Have you ever heard about “rendering farms”? You can check the term in this video.
- Render farms are a great example of how overworking your equipment can melt it. Most companies, including the biggest ones, use a third party for rendering extra-heavy sequences. If you are using your computer 16-20 hours a day, you need to give it periodic breaks so it won’t overheat. It is much cheaper to pay for rendering than buying a new computer.
Laptop vs PC
Is it easier to overheat a PC or a laptop? Both can run into that problem but you need to have extra care when handling a laptop due to the reduced space and the closeness of the internal parts.
If any component overheats inside of your notebook, it will affect the rest of the components. This can cause a domino effect and ruin your computer for good. Believe me, I’ve seen it and you can’t rescue almost anything from a computer that seriously overheated.
Fans Are Your Best Friends
Fans are like the inside agent beyond enemy lines.
They are the ones in charge of your computer’s cooling and at the same time depend on the system to start working. Make sure all your fans are functional and that the air outlets of the CPU or laptop are not cluttered with anything. Remember that fans are your best friends; if you want to add more to the structure it is always a welcome possibility.
Prevention Is The Best Action
Finally, you need to do prevention because once overheating started, there’s no turning back. Trust me; I had to start again from scratch after overlooking the proper functioning of my fans and the placement of the CPU. Run a periodic check on your fans, check the airflow, and make sure you’re not overworking your computer.
Sound cards can overheat beyond fan control because of 12 hours of rendering non-stop, for example. Make sure you let that be handled by a rendering farm and protect your investment.
Good Soundcards For Music Production
The best sound card currently in the market for music production, in my criteria, is the Sound Blaster AE-9. It is an all-around great piece of hardware that can take your computer to the next level. It works on 32-bits and features an external piece of hardware with an XLR input and dedicated phantom power.
If you are not producing music, you can still use it to run state of the art video games and edit some visual content. This super powerful soundcard does not come with a built-in fan, so make sure you place it close to an air outlet on your CPU.
I have written an article on how to get started with audio interfaces. You can read it here.
A great audio interface to get started with is the popular Focusrite Scarlett Solo. Check out the Scarlett Solo here on Amazon.
Good Soundcards For Video Production
I have two different options for those of us who work on audio and video at the same time. My overhauled CPU (which is no longer in a corner, of course) contains state of the art video equipment and also an EVGA NU AUDIO which is very capable of processing all the audio from all my videos.
It also helps a lot to take that load away from my motherboard. If you are an audio and video editor, don’t overlook your soundcard; it can help your workflow grandiosely. The second option is the Asus Essence STX II, which is just as capable as the EVGA NU AUDIO and, for some, the backup of Asus as a brand is very important.
Good Soundcards For Gamers
Finally, this category is for those who love to get lost in a world of fantasy and entertainment, and also, for those who work to make it happen.
Just as much as a good producer is first a music lover, a great video game music maker is first a game-lover. In this regard, I think that the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z is the perfect match. It will turn your computer into a premium sound system and allow you to perform sound operations at 24 bits on your computer.
You can check out another article I have on soundcards and why they make a difference here.
If your soundcard overheats, it can have a domino effect on your computer and end up ruining your entire investment. With all of the above advice, you can protect not only your soundcard but any other internal component that can cause disaster.
Remember to check on fans periodically and let the computer release all that hot air into the room by not obstructing the air outlets. Protect your investment and avoid starting over from scratch.
Have fun and enjoy (cool) music-making!