I mostly agree with you, but disagree on one little pint, Mutilated: for gaming, the choice of card can make a huge difference. Only the creative cards can handle modern EAX, and so other cards suffer as a result. Of course, the OP stated that's not a huge concern of his, so the point is moot, but I just wanted to clarify that. The flip side of this is that ALL
Creative cards cannot properly encode/decode digital sound for 5.1, and so are limited to 2.1 in/output if that matters to you. They do analog fine, but the sound quality is lower than with many other cards.
As far as a great but inexpensive sound card, I'd recommend this Chaintech card:
It's dirt cheap, but preforms like a champ, especially when you're using digital. Perfect for playing music and movies. Many of my home theater/ computer geek friends have and love this card; I'm stuck with my Creative X-fi because of my gaming needs
Definitely have some good speakers though; generic speakers are absolutely terrible, and you will see no
gain from your upgrade. I'd recommend a nice Logitech setup; you can find the z5300's for around $70 now, IIRC.
So bottom line, avoid Creative if gaming is not a priority and/or a digital signal is important to you. A Creative card will give you better sound than onboard, but your money can be much better spent elsewhere
. I'd definitely avoid an older Creative Sound Blaster 5.1 card, though; those are old enough that modern onboard sound is about comparable.
I hope that helps! If you have any other questions feel free to ask. The place where I myself learned much of this information is here