44.13. Dealing with Sound Cards and Other Annoying Hardware
There are a lot of devices available for PCs that were never designed for an operating system like Unix to use. Often these devices' manufacturers simply provide Windows drivers and never expect you to need anything else. Luckily, there is a large community of developers for the various free Unixes, and they implement device drivers for many of these devices. Availability of a driver for a particular piece of hardware, however, depends entirely on whether someone happened to write a driver for it.
Sound cards are one bit of hardware that commonly has this problem. Most free Unixes have a set of drivers that support a selection of sound cards and one or two other drivers that support a lowest common denominator to get minimal functionality out of most sound cards. If you want real support for your sound card, look at the supported devices list for the OS you want to install before you buy a card, and pick one that someone's written a full driver for.
On Linux, take a look at the sndconfig utility, which can probably configure your sound card for you. Take a peek at http://www.linuxheadquarters.com/howto/basic/sndconfig.shtml for details.
Other hardware that falls into the "check your supported hardware list before buying" includes frame grabbers, multi-serial boards, AD/DA converters, X-10 controllers and any hardware that's brand new (and thus may not have had time for someone to create a Unix driver). All of the free Unixes have extensive supported hardware lists -- check before you buy.
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