What Are the Three Sound Ports on My Motherboard For?

Written by daniel thompson
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What Are the Three Sound Ports on My Motherboard For?
Analogue motherboard audio ports are compatible with 3.5mm mini-stereo jacks. (Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Many motherboards have an integrated microprocessor that performs audio processing in place of a sound card. Motherboards with on-board sound use a variety of ports designed to accommodate sound input and output. The most common ports are the microphone, line-in and line-out ports. Many modern motherboards also have other types of audio ports that are designed to support additional speakers or digital audio output.

Basic Ports

The three basic ports provided by all motherboards with integrated sound are the microphone, line-in and line-out ports. These ports are compatible with audio devices using the 3.5mm audio jack common to most desktop speakers and headphones. The microphone port is designed to accept input from microphones using the 3.5mm audio port. On most computers this port is colour coded pink. The line-in port is designed to accept audio input from devices other than the microphone. The line-out port is commonly used for desktop computer speakers but is compatible with any device using the appropriate audio connector. The line-out port is easily identified on most computers by its green colour coding.

Audio Headers

Motherboards use a series of connectors known as audio headers that send and receive audio through secondary audio ports on the front of the computer case. Nearly all motherboards have front-side audio headers, however, some computer cases do not have the ports that go with them. Cases that do support front-side audio ports typically have microphone and headphone ports along with several data ports. The front-side audio ports are primarily designed for your convenience while using headsets with short cords. The front side audio ports are identical in function to the rear panel speaker and microphone ports. Many modern motherboards also include software that allows you to disable specific ports or reassign them to a different type of output or input.

Digital Ports

The three basic audio ports convey analogue audio and are compatible with most desktop speakers. Certain high end speakers use digital audio and require a different type of port. Many modern motherboards support digital audio output using a Toshiba Link port. TOSLINK ports use a fibre optic cable to transmit audio data. The main advantage of this type of cable is that it is immune to electromagnetic interference and can transmit higher quality sound than normal 3.5mm audio ports.

Other Ports

Most motherboards support a minimum of six 3.5mm audio ports, including the three basic ports found on all motherboards with integrated audio. These ports are part of the rear input and output panel located on the back of the computer case. These extra ports are designed to support additional speakers for surround sound configurations and a subwoofer. The additional speakers are distinguishable from the three basic ports by their colour coding. The rear audio output port is typically black while the subwoofer port is orange with the third line-out port coloured grey.

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