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How to Troubleshoot Computer Sound Card Problems

Updated on February 10, 2012

If you enjoy playing video, music, games, or any application on a computer that plays sounds then you should have a functional sound card and speakers to enjoy the experience. If you are having a problem not getting sound there are ways to troubleshoot the computer sound system yourself.

The first thing you should do is to look for the obvious problem. Check the volume controls on Windows operating system and on the speaker itself. One way to verify if the speaker works is to try it on another computer or laptop. The steps below assume that the speakers are working properly. There are sound cards built into the motherboard but we will consider it a separate part referred to as “sound card”.

Since there are several versions of the Windows operating systems in use, the instructions to go to a place within Windows will be described using Windows XP. The procedures using other versions of Windows will be similar.

In Windows XP, go to Start, Control Panel, and System. Click on the Hardware tab and double click on the Device Manager icon. If you have a sound card separate from the motherboard, you may see the sound card listed. If the sound card is embedded, the sound properties will be listed with a gray speaker icon labeled “Sound and Video Game Controllers.”

Expand the Sound and Video Game Controllers label by double clicking on it. You should see other items under this label such as Audio Codecs and Audio Drivers. Look for a yellow circle with an exclamation mark to any of the sound related items. If you see this yellow icon, the sound card is not configured or functioning properly.

Look at the Device Manager and see if there is a listing called “Other Devices”. Expand this list. If there is a yellow question mark next to any audio related items, the sound card may have an issue that needs to be addressed.

For sound cards inside a computer in a card slot, carefully open the computer case with the power cord disconnected. Make sure you touch metal on the computer to discharge any static that can damage electronics. Check the sound card by ensuring that it is inserted all the way in the slot.

Locate the CD disk with the sound card driver. The driver is the software that connects electronic components to the Windows operating system. If you don’t have the CD, download the sound card driver through the internet. The sound card manufacturer or computer manufacturer will have the driver but the toughest part is identifying the name and model of the sound card or component.

If you don’t have the manual of the sound card handy, you may have to open the computer and take the sound card out to look for identification. If the sound card is in the motherboard, you will have to look at the computer or motherboard manual to identify the sound device to match the right driver. Sometimes the name of the sound component will be listed in the Device Manager.

After downloading the device driver in a folder you can find easily, unzip or extract the files.

Some sound drivers have a setup or install program. The software will setup automatically. Others drivers may require some manual work.

To install the drivers manually, go to the Device Manager and go to the item with a problem. An example would be “Audio Driver” or the name of the card. Do a mouse right click on the listed item. You will see an option to uninstall the driver or device. Select uninstall and follow the directions on the pop up windows for uninstalling the driver or device.

After removing the old sound driver/device, reboot the computer. Once Windows comes up, you will see an indicator on the bottom of the screen that new hardware is found. Click on the message before it goes away. Use the instructions on the pop up windows to locate the driver. Select the files the install program is looking for in order to install the driver. You will be asked to reboot the computer once again if the install worked. If it did not, repeat the process of uninstalling the driver and reinstall it.

Once the sound driver is installed properly, test the sound by playing a music or sound file on your computer. If the software installation is not successful, consult a friend knowledgeable in fixing computers to help. There are websites that offer free computer help. Just google free computer help. The site is one of many examples.

If you suspect the sound card to be bad, try a new sound card. Sound cards are not expensive and good models can be purchased for around twenty dollars. The current sound cards in the late 2000s and early 2010s are more reliable and easier to install. Just make sure that the sound card is the same type that fits in your computer slot.


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