Solving sound driver problems


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We all encounter problems with different hardware devices for our computer. Some encounter problems when installing a new video card, others when installing a new printer. I experienced problems when installing my Ethernet Card. However, there are many users who experience problems with their sound cards.

Sound cards are not so difficult to tackle, but the nature of the problem is confusing. Sometimes, even the error messages are confusing. In this short tutorial we will try to explain how to properly configure the sound card and how to make it work even when you receive that annoying beep and nothing works.

The beep error

The "beep error" is usually encountered when you open Winamp or another music player and attempt to play something. The annoying beep is made by the system speakers (not your speakers) and it is a warning. Aside the beep, you will see an error screen, telling you that there is a problem with your audio drivers. Here is how this error screen looks like:

Bad sound driver

You can click OK, but the next time you try to play anything, you will receive the same annoying beep and the same error. You just know you have plugged in your speakers correctly! Everything is good, but the sound just won't work! You might think it is from your Winamp and install a newer version. It is not Winamp's fault! The errors are thrown by your system and the cause is obvious – missing, corrupted, or wrong sound drivers.

To make sure this is the problem, go to Start, and click Control Panel. Go to System (might be under the Performance and Maintenance tab) and go to the Hardware tab. Click on Device Manager to see all your hardware components. Notice the Sound, video and game controllers section? Click on the small "+" to see all the components. Everything seems to be in place? It is not! Where is the Audio Controller? It may be missing entirely or you might find an Unknown Device in its place.

Whatever you find, it is not good. You need to install the latest drivers for your sound card. But how can you do that if you don't have the original CD (the one that came with the audio card and contains the drivers) anymore? You can't find the documentation either. What can you do in this scenario? Simply go to the World Wide Web and search for a driver.

How to fix the sound driver problems

All you need to do is find and install the newest audio driver you can find. For this, you must start your search from the manufacturer's website. It offers the most easy and secure way to download and install the drivers. For example, I have a Realtek HD audio card. It is an embedded audio card, nothing too special really! The manufacturer's website usually has the same name as the manufacturer. So, since I have a Realtek sound card, I will type www.realtek.com. And surprise, I found it. Although this will work most of the times, some manufacturers have different websites. A simple search on Google will do the trick. Search for "Realtek drivers". The first result is usually the manufacturer's webpage. Here is how Realtek's webpage looks like:

Realtek main page

And, as you can see, in the upper part of the page we can find the Downloads section. Usually, on any website, the drivers are found in the Downloads section. This is what we came here for! So go ahead and click on the link. You will be redirected to a webpage like the one below:

Realtek downloads page

We must go to the Computer Peripheral ICs – PC Audio Codecs – High Definition Audio Codecs – Software. You will have to navigate with the mouse. Clicking will not help until the end of the list. Click on Software and you will reach the following page:

Realtek accept terms page

Click "I accept to the above" after reading the text. If you don't agree, you can't download the drivers, so you don't really have a choice! After you accept, click Next and you will go straight to the download page. Here is how this page looks like and how to download the drivers:

Realtek results page

Depending on your operating system, pick the driver you need. I am running Windows XP, so I need the "Windows 2000, Windows XP/2003 (32/64 bits) Driver only (ZIP file)" version. Click GO on what download site you want to use and save the file on your computer. It is best practice to burn the file on a CD so you can have easy access to it whenever needed. Every time you reinstall Windows or just update it to a newer version, you will need to reinstall the drivers. For an update, you need other drivers, specific to the operating system.

You don't want to hear that annoying beep again do you?! After you store the file safely on a Compact Disk, let's install the drivers. Extract the contents of the archive in a folder of your choice.

If you notice, there is a file named Setup.exe. This is the main installer program. Go ahead and double click on it. The install will begin and, since it is completely automated, it will install everything all by itself. All you need to do is click Next in the window that appeared. Here is how it must look like:

Realtek welcome window

The installation begins and the audio hardware driver is installed on your computer:

Realtek installlation

After the install is finished, you will be asked if you want to reboot your computer. Save anything you are working on and click Finish. You need to reboot because the new settings must take effect. So, go ahead and click Finish:

Realtek installation finished

I am installing my own sound card drivers as I write this tutorial so I will see you after the reboot, in a few minutes!

Back! The reboot was completed successfully and Windows announced me that the new hardware is installed and ready to use. I don't quite believe the operating system so I will check it for myself. I suggest you do the same! We go to Start, click Control Panel, and go to System (sometimes under the Performance and Maintenance tab). Go to the Hardware tab and click Device Manager. We find the Sound, Video and Game controllers and take another look. Something new appeared and it is called Realtek High Definition Audio. This is the Audio controller we did not mange to find the first time we were here. Here is a screenshot:

Audio device in Device Manager

It looks like Windows was right. The device can be seen and it looks available. Double click on it to see some additional details. Go to the Driver tab. As you can see, all tabs are filled with info. The Driver Provider, Date, Version, and Signer tabs present you with useful info. This means that the driver is successfully installed and that the sound card is indeed ready for use.

Now let's pray Windows does not throw another error or exception message when we attempt to play some music. Open Winamp and play a track. Everything should be in order and your speakers should output the sound. My card is working fine now, and so is yours. Congratulations! You have just fixed your driver problem and are now able to take full advantage of your sound card.

Other errors

If you still encounter errors after installing the hardware drivers, it might be a hardware problem or a conflict. Fixing these is not a very easy thing but it is not the purpose of this tutorial. Here is a screenshot of the sound card's status. It is the first tab from the sound card window in Device Manager:

Sound card information

Always make sure that in the Device usage tab, the option is Use this device (enable), like in the screenshot. Also, watch the Device status. It should say "This device is working properly." Like in the screenshot. Any of these can cause errors and your sound card will not work or will work with problems.

Of course, like any other hardware component, the sound card can be destroyed. This can happen from a small electrostatic discharge in the card. In this case, installing the drivers is not an option. You must change the sound card and install the proper drivers for the new one.

I hope you have had a pleasant lecture and that you are now a professional when it comes to fixing sound card errors and installing correct hardware drivers for any sound card! Remember, whenever you install Windows or update it, you need to go through this process. For example, if I would upgrade to Vista (although I don't see this happening in the predictable future), I would need to reinstall the drivers. However, I would need the drivers for Windows Vista, not XP. Aside this, the process is almost the same. Good luck!