Hardware Problem Troubleshooting Example

You have just downloaded a hot new music file and when you go to play it, to your horror, you can’t hear any sound.


  1. Take a quick glance over at your speakers. Is the green light on, indicating that the speakers are getting power? Is the volume control knob (if you have one) turned up high enough?
  2. Take a look at your media player program, is the sound muted in the program? Is the volume slider in the correct position?
  3. Try to play a different sound file, perhaps one of your desktop sounds that you know are valid files. Do you hear any sound? Yes? Sigh with relief – you just downloaded a bad file, or an incompatible format. No? Then it’s time for more troubleshooting.
  4. Now, check the Windows volume control applet and any other sound mixer programs that you have installed. Is the volume muted in any of them? Wave volume turned down? A setting in another volume mixer program may override system defaults. Still can’t hear any sounds?
  5. Now we’re in trouble. We’ve tried all the easy, obvious steps to resolve this problem. The next step is to open Device Manager and see if there are any problems or conflicts reported. Look for any yellow highlighted exclamation marks beside hardware devices. If you see any, highlight the entry and view its properties. It should give you clues as to what the problem might be, like a resource conflict. Remove any devices in conflict, along with similar devices. For example, if there is a problem indicated beside your serial mouse and the sound card, remove the Mouse, the COM port, the sound card and everything under sound and game controllers in the hardware tree. Restart Windows, and let it detect and install drivers for the devices. Now would be a great time to dig out your CD that has your sound card drivers on it (if applicable). It might also be that Device Manager won’t report any problems whatsoever, with any device. Viewing properties of your sound card might show that the device is working properly. We now must look deeper for the problem.
  6. Boot Windows in Safe Mode and have a look in Device Manager. Are there any duplicate devices? Expand the + signs and if duplicate devices are found, remove both instances and restart Windows normally. If no problems are found here, remove everything under Sound and Game Controllers and restart Windows normally. Windows should detect your sound card and either apply default drivers or prompt you for the opportunity to install them. If Windows doesn’t detect it, you may have to go to Add New Hardware in Control Panel and have it search for new hardware. You might as well let it search for devices, and then, if it doesn’t detect anything, choose to manually install the device. Choose from the Sound and Game Controller category, and either click Have Disk to supply drivers, or choose it from a list of devices. Since it was installed before, there should already be an .inf file, and an entry to choose from in the list. If trying to manually force the drivers to install is successful, it will tell you. This still doesn’t mean it’s going to work, it may just put you back right where you started: With no sound, and in Device Manager it will tell you “This device is working properly”. If that’s the case, remove the device from Device Manager and shut down the PC.
  7. Well we’ve pretty much ruled out incorrect settings, resource conflicts and driver problems (hopefully, you’ve downloaded the latest drivers from the manufacturer). The next step is to suspect a problem with the hardware itself. Time to get out the screwdriver, shut down the PC and take the cover off the computer. Try reseating the card in its slot. Restart Windows and attempt to detect and install drivers for the card. Didn’t work? Shut down again and try the card in a different slot. Still won’t work?
  8. Now it’s time to dig that spare sound card out of the closet that’s known to work, or borrow one from another PC in your home. Try installing the seemingly defunct sound card in another PC, just to be certain something is indeed wrong with it.

There is an example of isolating and replacing. We tried the easiest steps in diagnosing the problem first, and then methodically proceeded to isolate the faulty device and replace it with a known functioning sound card.


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