Sound Card Interface connections – Is it PCI, USB1.1, USB 2.0, FireWire or PCMCIA?

January 3, 2007

So it’s time to look around the back and side of your computer – failing that check the instructions. So which interface type do you have? Is it PCI, USB1.1, USB 2.0, FireWire or PCMCIA? You should have at least one of the above – maybe you have several! Most modern Macs and PCs come with a wealth of USB ports and many also come with FireWire options too. Tower PCs are usually PCI based and laptops often have PCMCIA card slots.

So what do all of these terms mean? In short, nothing – don’t worry about them too much! All you need to know is that they are mostly related to the speed of the interface connection and that the higher the speed the less issues you will have when transferring audio in and out of your computer. USB 1.1 (often simply known as USB and standing for Universal Serial Bus) is the slowest, allowing for less than a couple of megabytes (MB) a second for transfer. FireWire is faster, allowing up to 50MB/second and USB 2.0 allows up to 60MB/second. These are the most common ports found on computers and an important fact to note is that USB2.0 devices will work on USB 1.1 ports although at the lower 1.1 speed. Also USB 1.1 devices will work in USB 2.0 ports although they won’t work any quicker for doing so. Another point is that these connections are usually plug n play meaning that you plug your external interface in and it will more often than not work straight away (however I’m not going to be led into saying ‘always’ as in some instances you may need to load appropriate software or drivers that should be supplied with the hardware).

PCI slots are of a larger variety and usually found on tower PCs. The hardware that plugs into these bays usually requires software (at least a driver) to inform the computer of a hardware presence but the advantage is that the hardware interface is, more often than not, incorporated more into the computer and won’t necessarily have a bit of hardware dangling from it on a lead (although, again, not always!).

Finally PCMCIA cards are hi-spec’d interfaces usually found on laptops and there are many quality interface available for these although not all are plug n play.

So are you still with me, and do you now know the kind of interface you require? I’ll assume that the answer to both of these is ‘yes’. If not take five and go and read your computer’s instructions. Don’t worry if you’re still confused. Like I say, all you need to know is the interface type and the number of ins and outs you need and it’s down hill from now on.



  1. This blog is really superb!!! Thank you for you work! Good Luck.

  2. Thanks for the usefull info, didn’t know that Firewire port was slower than the USB 2.0. By the way, there is also 2 diffenent Firewire type of ports: Firewire 400 and 800. I suppose Firewire 800 must be quite fast.

  3. The Firewire 800 is indeed faster. theortically giving transfer speeds of up to 100MB/s, although this is limited to RAID 0 drives at present.

    The two standards also have different connectors, the Firewire 400 and 800 have a 6-pin and 9-pin connectors respectively.

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