Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Resurrection of a Laptop's Audio

Spring has not, in recent years, been the kindest season to my electronics.  About a month ago, I had several simultaneous maladies visit my computers.  First, my desktop, barely two years old, decided it no longer needed to turn on for no apparent reason.  A new motherboard ordered and RMA'ed later, whatever was ailing it was still utterly undiagnosable, so I bode my time until I could pounce on a stellar deal at Woot!.

The second problem was that my laptop decided it no longer needed to play audio out of the right channel.  It only refused to work with headphones or external speakers plugged in, of course.  I was reduced to the choice between one channel of audio and three: my laptop's internal speakers feature the conventional "left" and "right" plus the extra added bonus of "static".

Obviously, it was a much less disastrous problem than what befell my desktop, but man, it was irritating.  And if my laptop was to become (at least temporarily) my actual computer, it was a problem that I wanted to get fixed.  (How else was I supposed to enjoy Indie Pop Bonanza during my lunch hour-and-a-half?)  I tried all the usual steps: disable and re-enable the device, uninstall and re-install the device, update the driver, roll back the driver... all to no avail.

Skeptically, I give Sony tech support a call to see if they had any ideas, fixes, or straight-up magic to cure my machine, but I was pretty much resigned to it being a hardware issue.  I speak with "Hugo," and of course I can't get the idea out of my mind that I'm getting tech support from Hurley.  (I console myself by remembering that his name probably is not really Hugo.)  He leads me down the exact same path I've already trodden, and eventually he concludes that it's a hardware issue.  Thanks, Hugo.

Hugo gives me a link to the Sony service site, where I'm sure I can send in my laptop (currently my only computer) and probably pay $89 for the privilege of having someone pop out my old card and put a new one in.  Or, I can take the grad-student approach and fix it myself for $9.  Doing an Amazon search for "sound card," I discover a product I never knew existed: the external sound card.

This is a brilliant inch-and-a-half piece of plastic that plugs into a free USB slot and makes your computer play sound again.  I didn't notice a significant drop in quality, though it's possible that a serious audiophile comparing it with a dedicated sound card would.  If you can stand the slight inconvenience of another part to keep track of and a permanently occupied USB port, this thing really is straight-up magic to cure your machine.

Currently listening: "Tell Your Mama," Vespers

1 comment:

Katie P said...

Holy cow thank you so much Matt! My computer's sound died this week and I too think it's a hardware issue.