Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

Troubleshooting Laptop Sound Problems - No Audio Output

Symptom:

Can't hear any sound out of my laptop.


Diagnosis & Solution:

If you can't get any sound out of your laptop, the most likely cause is the volume being turned down or muted. Newer laptops monitor the external sound control so when the volume is turned up or down manually, the volume control in the operating system tracks right along with it. But with some laptops, especially those with external dial volume controls rather than toggles, the volume dials are independent of the software volume control and can't be monitored in software. In this case, if the volume dial is turned down on the outside of the laptop, the sound is turned off and nothing can be done in the operating system to change that. The only way to get the sound back is to turn up the external volume dial control.

If you have checked the external volume control on the laptop and the standard laptop volume slider in the operating system (the little speaker icon in Windows system tray) & you still can't get any sound out of the laptop, then the next step would be to check for any other software volume controls. Depending on the software installed and what you are trying to do, there may still be multiple volume controls and mixer panels scattered about the operating system. If the wrong channel is muted or turned down all the way in one of these independent controls, the laptop will not produce sound.

Most of the time, the first sign most laptop users get that their audio isn't working is the absence of operating system sounds, like the Windows rush on start up, or chimes with e-mail activity. Of course, these sounds can be turned off by design as well, through the Sounds option in Windows Control Panel. So, before looking at hardware problems, make sure these sounds are not turned off.

If you try to play an audio CD and the media player shows that the song is progressing but you can't get any sound out of the laptop speakers, odds are that the volume is turned down or muted. But it could also be due to an onboard sound hardware failure. If you are confident the volume is turned on in all possible locations and you've checked Windows Device Manager for a report of a hardware failure, try listening through headphones. If the headphones work, the wiring to the internal speakers has broken or come loose. Wiring failure is only likely if the speakers are in the lid and therefore wired through the hinges.

If you don't get any sound out of the headphones & you haven't missed a "mute" being checked off somewhere in software controls, then it really is a hardware failure. If the problem is with all sounds, including Windows chimes, internet radio, etc, then the problem is that the integrated sound processor has failed. In this case, unless the sound system is on a daughter card, it means the fix would require replacing the motherboard. But if the only thing you can't do is play audio CD's, then the problem is that the output from the DVD/CD player is muted or not getting to the amplification stage.

In modern laptops the DVD/CD players feature Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) which means that music CDs can be read digitally & the data passed to the built-in sound card or an external sound card replacement for processing, amplification then output. If there's a problem with the DVD/CD connector or if the wiring has been damaged, the music CD may get spun around without the sound making it to the sound card. The DAE output chip rarely fails on the CD/DVD drive, but the connector can fail. Make sure that digital playback is enabled in the properties tab of the drive in Device Manager.

You can replace your built-in laptop sound card with a PC card, with a USB sound card or USB speakers. These replacements make good workarounds if the integrated audio system fails. They also bring with them a whole new level of software with more volume controls, which are integrated with the existing operating system software. When shopping for replacement sound cards, keep in mind that USB solutions are much cheaper than PC cards. Also, when purchasing USB speakers to replace the laptop's sound system, don't buy speakers advertised as "USB powered". The "USB powered" speakers only draw their power from the USB port, they still need to be plugged into a regular audio jack to output any sound.

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M. Omran

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