The specification covers two types of component, and the "AC-link" digital interface between them:
- an AC'97 digital controller (DC97), which is built into the southbridge of the chipset, and
- an AC'97 audio and modem codec, available from several vendors, which contains the analog components of the architecture.
AC'97 defines a high-quality, 16- or 20-bit audio architecture with 5.1 surround sound support for the PC. AC'97 supports a 96 kHz sampling rate at 20-bit stereo resolution and a 48 kHz sampling rate at 20-bit stereo resolution for multichannel recording and playback.
In 2004, Intel released Intel High Definition Audio (HD Audio) which is a successor that is not backward compatible with AC'97. HD Audio has the capability to define up to 15 output channels, but in practice most motherboards provide no more than 8 channels (7.1 surround sound).
AC'97 has had several revisions:
- AC'97 1.x compliant indicates fixed 48K sampling rate operation (non-extended feature set)
- AC'97 2.1 compliant indicates extended audio feature set (optional variable rate, multichannel, etc.)
- AC'97 2.2 compliant indicates extended audio, enhanced riser audio support, and optional S/PDIF
- AC'97 2.3 compliant indicates extended configuration information and optional jack sensing support
The AC-Link is a digital link that connects the DC97 (the controller) with the audio "codecs." It is composed of five wires: the 12.288 MHz clock, a 48 kHz sync signal, a reset signal, and two data wires which carry the actual audio data: sdata_out and sdata_in. The first four are outputs from the controller, while sdata_in carries input from the codec. The link carries a bidirectional serial data stream at a fixed bitrate (12.288 Mbit/s) between the controller and one or more codecs.
Each 12.288 Mbit/s stream is divided into 256-bit frames (frame frequency is 48 kHz). This is therefore a time-division multiplexing (TDM) scheme.
Every frame is subdivided in 13 slots. The first (slot 0) is 16 bits long and contains validity flags for the remaining slots, while the remaining 240 bits are divided in twelve 20-bit slots (slots 1–12), used as data slots.
Slots 1, 2 and 12 are used for non-audio data, while slots 3–11 carry up to nine channels of raw pulse-code modulation (PCM) audio signals. Normally, six channels are used for 5.1 surround sound, and three channels are available for modem use. However, slots can be combined to provide a 96 kHz sampling rate for the L, R and C channels.
Lower sample rates (such as 44.1 kHz) are implemented using a handshake protocol between the controller and codec which skips data during certain frames. (This capability depends on the codec. Alternatively, sample rate conversion could be performed in the DC97 (controller) or in the software driver.)
Codec chips have an AC97 interface on one side and analog audio interface on the other. They are usually small square chips with 48 pins (48-pin QFP package). They are D/A and A/D or only D/A.
- Analog Devices AD1819B, 1881A, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1980, 1981, 1985
- AKM (Asahi Kasei Microsystems) AK 4540, 4543, 4544A, 4545
- Avance Logic (now Realtek) ALC201A, ALC202/A, ALC650, ALC655, ALC658, ALC101, ALC202A, ALC250, ALC850, ALC888
- Conexant Cx20468 - with a modem
- Cirrus Logic CrystalWare 4236, CrystalClear SoundFusion CS4297, CS4299
- Crystal Semiconductors CS4205, CS4202
- C-Media CMI9738, 9739, 9761, 9880
- ESS ES1988 (with a modem)
- Empia EMP202 (2 channel, 20-bit DAC and 20-bit ADC, full duplex AC'97 2.2 compatible stereo audio CODEC)
- Intersil HMP9701 (obsolete, 48 kHz fixed samplerate)
- National Semiconductor LM4550, LM49321, LM49350, LM49352
- Philips UCB 1400 (with touchscreen controller)
- Realtek ALC5610 ALC5611
- SigmaTel (now IDT) C-Major STAC 9460 (D/A only), 9461, 9462, 9463, 9200, 9202, 9250, 9251, 9220, 9221, 9223, 9750
- Silicon Image Si3024 (mono only)
- TriTech Microelectronics TR28022, 28026
- Yamaha YMF 743, 752, 753
- VIA VT1612, VT1616 (VIA Six-TRAC Vinyl Audio), VT82C686
- Winbond W83971
- Wolfson Microelectronics WM9701, WM9703, WM9704, WM9705 (w/touchscreen), WM9707, WM9708, WM9709 (DAC only), WM9711, WM9712 (w/touchscreen), WM9713 (w/touchscreen), WM9714
Front panel connector
Computer motherboards often provide a connector to bring microphone and headphone signals to the computer's front panel with standard color jack. Intel provides a specification for that header; the signal assignments are different for AC'97 and Intel High Definition Audio headers.
- I²S (Integrated Interchip Sound)
- Audio/modem riser (AMR)
- Advanced Communications Riser (ACR)
- Communications and Networking Riser (CNR)
- S/PDIF Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format
- PC System Design Guide
- "1.2.1 AC'97 Compatibility", High Definition Audio Specification (PDF), Revision 1.0a, Intel Corporation, 2010, p. 17
- Audio Codec '97 (PDF), Revision 2.3 Rev 1.0 [sic], Intel Corporation, April 2002
- AC'97 Interface Archived March 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- ALC5610 datasheet V1.4[permanent dead link]
- ALC5611 datasheet v1.3[permanent dead link]
- Intel Corporation (February 2005), Front Panel I/O Connectivity Design Guide (PDF), Version 1.3, pp. 19–25