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Issue #596: December 23-29, 2018

Q: Just wanted to say how much I appreciated your column about researching a company providing computer services (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #588, October 28, 2018). Your references to different research sources are very useful and enlightening. Generally, I think you do a nice job each week with your answers, and our community is fortunate to have your expertise available. I’m kinda a geek myself building computers for my kids since 1980 and still dabbling with keeping my gaming desktop updated with the latest and greatest, plus playing with Linux a bunch. Thanks for all you do.

Isn’t it interesting how sound cards are disappearing with motherboards expanding their features? Also, you might discuss dual band wifi in the future to educate your readers. I think wifi technology is going to explode with innovations soon.

– Gary S.
Shalimar, Florida

A: Keep it up, Gary, and you’re going to make this old Geek blush!  But no, seriously, keep it up.  I’ll take this opportunity to remind my readers that in the capacity of doing this column, I am an unpaid freelancer, not an employee of your, or any other newspaper.  There are few rewards in doing this column, so the occasional gushing praise of a reader fuels the spirit, and reminds me why I started writing it in the first place.  The column you mentioned was a lot of fun to research and write, mainly because of why I discovered along the way.  I took great pleasure in sharing my findings with my readers, and exposing a probably-fraudulent company in the process.

Your observation about sound cards is an interesting one, although to really discuss it, I’m going to broaden the scope.  Over the course of years, motherboard manufacturers have drastically changed the way their products are designed.  Back in the day, the purpose of a motherboard was basically to be that part of the computer into which all the other components were connected.  Save for the BIOS, CPU and memory, there wasn’t a lot of extra functionality there.  Motherboards were made with a variety of expansion slots into which various cards plugged-in to provide any additional, necessary interfaces such as disk connectivity, and serial/parallel ports. These were among the first technologies to be directly incorporated into the motherboard hardware.  Over time, manufacturers have directly incorporated more and more hardware right into the motherboard.  In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, commonly built-in devices include display adapters, network interfaces, USB hubs, and, as you mentioned, sound capabilities.  If the PC happens to be a laptop, the integration is even deeper, with these computers including devices such as Wi-Fi adapters, fingerprint readers, SD card adapters, touch screens, and more.

The benefit of this is that the overall price of a computer manufactured from such a highly-integrated motherboard is far lower than the price of one with all the interfaces on expansion cards.  Many computers don’t even have more than one or two expansion slots anymore, because the need for 8 or 10 of them no longer exists.  This also makes shopping for a computer a lot easier on people who don’t really care to pick-and-choose every aspect of their computer.  The manufacturer makes (hopefully) reasonable choices about what hardware to build-in, and the consumer doesn’t need to make a lot of choices beyond the processor speed and type, and the capacity of the RAM and hard drive.  Of course, that’s a dual-edged sword.  For geeks who like to custom-build systems, their choices are often limited, because the manufacturer builds so much right into the motherboard.  There is always the option to disable on-board hardware in favor of slotted options.  In other words, if you want a fancier sound card than the one integrated into the system, you can disable it, and plug-in the one of your choice.  You do kind-of end up paying for the hardware twice, but that’s often the price one pays for such custom work.

I’m out of space for this week, but I think your requested topic of dual-band Wi-Fi has merit.  I’ll discuss it in an upcoming issue.

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