I just spent the last half-day trying to fix my father-in-law’s e-machines desktop Windows XP box. He can’t clearly explain what happened, but somehow he became concerned that a new scanner he’d purchased had installed bad stuff on the computer, and I think he sought to remedy this by hand-removing some of the items he thought the installer had put on the disk. Hand-removing stuff under Windows is a bad idea.

At any rate, the upshot of all this was a non-functional sound card – the system thought it was running fine but no audio was produced. After walking through the unhelpful, very basic audio troubleshooter built into Windows, I took a deep breath, cleared my calendar for the day, and initiated a support call and ticket with e-machines.

After a brief intake, it was determined that the never-registered machine was out of warranty, and that the ticket would run $20 to initiate. I had been expecting some sort of charge, so I okayed it and we began.

After a few followups and verifications, we were recommended to run a full system install, wiping the HD, after pulling my father-in-law’s documents to a backup. Happily, we were able to do that with no gnashing of teeth, and I initiated the system restore.

When the initial-boot Windows XP setup appeared, it appeared over soothing music! Hurrah, the card’s fixed, I thought. After reboot – nothing. Alas.

One more phone call, and I was advised that the physical sound card was bad and that I should simply replace it. Now, my father-in-law really enjoys his computer, but rather than learning about it by reading or becoming a tech-nerd, he has evolved an elaborate personal set of metaphors that suffice to allow him to use the machines. However, that means he’s likely to blame the last person who touched the machine if things start going awry, and thus, the last thing I wanted to do was pop the case and start rummaging around in the guts of the machine.

I may understand how to assemble and disassemble computers but my level of expert Wintel knowledge dates to 1993, the first year I could afford to buy a Mac and get the hell outta Dodge.

After some frowning thought, I realized that the support person who advised me to buy a new soundcard had missed a clue: the machine played audio when booted into the setup routine. The card, physically, was fine. There had to be a way to address whatever tangled thing had cut off the circuits from the software.

One more call back to e-machines and I was told, in this order:

a) your machine is still in warranty for another year

b) we’re refunding your $20 ticket fee

c) use the device manager to uninstall the modem, then reboot

d) we’re going to reinstall the audio drivers from the restore CD before the modem drivers are re-enabled at startup

As it happened, due to a slight accident, the machine booted into Windows directly, with the startup chime!

I’m happy that the emachines support people were able to help; each time I placed a call I was connected to a real, live human within 30 seconds of having navigated the intake telephone tree.

On the other hand, I was told that the machine was out of warranty and that the audio card was dead, inaccuracies that would not have been corrected had I not pushed back, something that makes me reluctant to recommend the manufacturer to naive PC-users.

Finally, I have to note that the whole experience occupied me for four hours. Yeesh. I’m sticking with my Macs until they pry ’em outta my cold, dead hands.

UPDATE: One reboot later, the sound output is AWOL, again. On a clean install! Man! How do you people live with it?

3 thoughts on “a happy ending

  1. As someone who has spent a good deal of time pounding my head against the wall in frustration due to a Mac’s refusal to functional properly, I must object to your assertion that your platform of choice is any more stable or sensical than the alternative.

    Case in point: I was recently handed a copy of Panther and told to install it on the blue-and-white G4 in my testlab, but the machine absolutely refused to recognize the 10.3 install disc as bootable. If I manually rebooted the machine while pressing the ‘C’ key, it would throw a kernel panic that, while attractive and presented in a pleasant variety of languages, told me FUCK-ALL about what had gone awry. (At least a Windows BSOD will give you something google-able.)

    Updated System 9.0 to 9.1. Nothing.

    Updated System 9.1 to 9.2. Still nothing.

    Updated System 9.2 to 9.2.2. Hold on…it’s…nope. Nothing.

    Spent an hour trolling Apple’s forums for kernel panics during OSX install. Found an unrelated post that hinted at a potential solution to a separate problem. On a whim, attempted said fix. Lo and behold, installation.

    The solution? Remove the extension cable between the keyboard and the USB port. Mac OS X Panther 10.3 “the Simplest Fastest Operating System Ev4r OMG!!1” refused to install BECAUSE THERE WAS A GOD DAMNED EXTENSION CABLE ON THE KEYBOARD.


    So, yes. Macs have inexplicable hardware issues, just like PCs.

  2. That said, eMachines are fairly well-known for being unreliable and problematic (much like HP and Packard Bell), and your experience is not a surprising one

    Here’s what I would do in this situation:
    1. Look at the Resources tab (in the Properties dialog) for the affected hardware within Device Manager and make sure there isn’t an IRQ conflict. If they’re both on the same IRQ and Windows allows you, change one of them to another IRQ. If Windows forbids it, try looking in the BIOS for IRQ settings and manually adjust them there.

    2. If that doesn’t solve the problem, look in Device Manager (or, if all of the hardware in the machine is original, the manual) and identify the exact make and model of both modem and sound card. If possible, download the latest drivers for each from the manufacturers’ sites.

    3. Disable both devices in Device Manager (by right-clicking on the device and choosing “Disable”) and reboot. Once you’ve rebooted, neither device should be available, nor should they have reinstalled themselves.

    4. Install the drivers for the sound card and reboot. If necessary, re-enable the device within Device Manager. Test it to make sure it works properly.

    5. Re-enable the modem and install the new drivers. Reboot if necessary. See whether the sound card still functions and if the modem works as well.

    6. If this still doesn’t work, you might try switching the order of the cards in their (assumedly PCI) slots. I understand that you’d prefer not to pop the case, but otherwise Dad is going to be short one sound card.

  3. Thanks, Dan, I’ll look into it. Interestingly (IRQ fiddling aside), your plan was my next move, so apparently I’m learning, or something.

    Regarding the joy of keyboard: Macs often have special hardware sensing circuitry on the board side of a given port (video, USB, firewire, whatever). The sensing is valid, in most cases, only for the first object on the bus to the port. Thus, mysterious cases of unrecognized hardware can frequently be remedied by moving the apparent boat anchor to the first spot in a chained bus.

    This is, of course, only a rule of thumb.

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