It must feel good to defend onboard audio chips, otherwise you wouldn't be doing it, other than for trolling. Even the discreet audio (pseudo) cards you mention have very similar measurable performance to the measly onboard audio chips, even if I don't like to bring RMAA to the table due to some controversy around it.
I wasn't originally going to respond, but might as well make this clearer:
I'm not defending jack sh*t, onboard audio can be good or bad. I'm presenting the neutral, evidence-based viewpoiont, lest the thread starter buy into the whole audiofoolery. You've made it clear that you disagree and I have no reason to argue with you about it.
Back to advice,
Audio cards are a good solution, I have the Xonar STX and it is a superb well-made card. However, I'm a gadget snob, and often buy things that are beyond practicality. You can have the same sound from an audio card that costs lest than fifty bucks, like the Xonar DG. If you are unsure, those cards (CMedia codec & >100 SNR) are the best bet. But try to compare them to tell whether there's a noticeable improvement.
Edited by anetode - 6/24/11 at 5:54am