Sound cards: frequently asked questions


Here are answers to some common questions about sound cards, sound processors, testing speakers, and general problems with sound.

Note

  • Laptops don't usually have sound cards. Instead, they have integrated sound processors. However, many of the questions and answers in this topic apply to laptops.

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What is a sound card?

A sound card is hardware installed on a computer that lets your hear, record, and play back sounds. A sound card might improve a computer's sound quality, even when the computer has sound capabilities built into it with an integrated sound processor.

What should I do if I can't hear sound coming from my computer?

Here are some things to check:

  • If you have external speakers, make sure that they're plugged into a working power source and that they're turned on.

  • Make sure your speakers are correctly connected to the computer.

    On your speakers, make sure that the cable that plugs into your computer is plugged into both the speakers and the correct jack on your computer (the jack that goes to your sound card). Most sound cards have at least three jacks. Plug the speaker cable into the line-out jack. This jack often has a symbol showing an arrow pointing away from the jack. If the jacks aren't labeled, check the information that came with your computer to see what each jack does.

    Picture of the jacks for a typical sound card
    Most sound cards have at least one line-out jack to connect speakers and a line-in jack to connect an audio input device.
  • Make sure the speaker volume isn't turned down too low or muted. This is particularly important for laptops, which often have small speakers that can be hard to hear.

    1. Open Volume Mixer by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Hardware and Sound, and then, under Sound, clicking Adjust system volume.

    2. Move the slider up to increase the volume.

      Make sure the Mute button is not turned on. If the button looks like this: Picture of the Mute button turned off, muting is turned off. If the button looks like this:Picture of the Mute button turned on , click it to turn off muting.

    Note

    • Some laptops have an external volume control on the outside of the case. If you're using a laptop, check the external volume control to make sure it's not turned all the way down.

  • Make sure your headphones aren't plugged into the line-out (headphone) jack of your sound card or computer (unless you want to listen with headphones rather than speakers). When you plug in headphones, most computers automatically cut the sound to the speakers.

  • If your computer is supposed to have a sound card, make sure that the sound card is installed and that it's working properly.

    You must be logged on as an administrator to perform these steps.

    To make sure that your computer has a sound card

    1. Open Device Manager by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then, under System, clicking Device Manager. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    2. Double-click Sound, video and game controllers to expand that category. If a sound card is listed, you have one installed. If no sound card is listed, check the information that came with your computer to see if there's supposed to be a sound card installed. If there should be a sound card installed, you'll need to install one. See Install or remove a sound card.

      Note

      • If you think you have a sound card installed but you don't see it under Sound, video and game controllers, double-click Other devices to check for any audio devices listed there.

    To make sure that your sound card is working properly

    If there's a yellow question mark next to the name of the sound card, there might be a problem.

    1. Open Device Manager by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then, under System, clicking Device Manager. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    2. Double-click Sound, video and game controllers to expand that category, right-click the name of the sound card, and then click Properties.

    3. Click the General tab, and then check the Device status box to identify problems with the sound card.

      If there's a problem, you might need a new driver for your sound card. For more information, see Update a driver for hardware that isn't working properly

If these actions don’t solve the problem, there might be a problem with the hardware for your sound card, although in most cases sound problems are caused by missing or out-of-date drivers, or a problem with your speakers. If you suspect you have a hardware problem, contact the manufacturer of your computer or sound card.

How do I turn a sound card on or off?

You must be logged on as an administrator to perform these steps.

  1. Open Device Manager by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Security, and then, under System, clicking Device Manager. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

  2. Double-click Sound, video, and game controllers to expand that category.

  3. Right-click the sound card or sound processor that you want to turn on or off, and then click Enable or Disable. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

How do I test my sound card?

Many sound cards or sound processors come with software that you can use to configure and test sound card settings. Check the information that came with your sound card or computer.

How do I test my speaker configuration?

To test your speaker configuration and make sure that you're getting the best sound from your computer, follow these steps:

  1. Open Sound by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type sound, and then click Sound.

  2. Click the Playback tab, select your speakers, and then click Configure.

  3. Select your speaker configuration, and then click Test. You should hear a tone coming through each speaker.

    To perform more speaker tests, click Next, and then follow the steps in the wizard.

    Picture of Speaker Setup wizard
    The Speaker Setup wizard can help you get the best sound from your computer

Note

  • Your sound card or sound processor determines the options you see during the speaker configuration process. You might see different options when configuring speakers on different computers.

Can I upgrade the sound in my laptop?

Yes, although it's relatively uncommon to do this. You can't remove and replace the sound processor in a laptop the way you can remove and replace the sound card in a desktop PC. To upgrade the sound on a laptop, you have to plug an external audio device into a USB port or external card slot on the laptop.