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Author Topic: Sound problems  (Read 3065 times)
oblivion
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« on: May 14, 2011, 01:50:38 PM »

I have a problem, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

My desktop PC isn't exactly new -- just over 4 years old, AMD Athlon 64 2.2GHz 3500+ cpu, not exactly storming but okay, 4Gb RAM, running Vista.

The hard disk it came with was 160Gb and, armed with an Amazon voucher I got for my birthday back in February, I replaced it with a WD Green 1Tb drive.

I THINK that might be where things started going wrong. It's a big drive, but it's not the fastest.

Nothing I do sound-wise that involves any sort of processing at all (eg games, playing MP3s) plays the sound smoothly. My netbook (Win7 Starter, 1.6GHz cpu half the RAM) plays everything fine, in comparison.

I've done everything I can think of. I checked the drive was UDMA, I've tweaked all the caches I could find, no difference.

I've even disabled the onboard audio and installed a (admittedly oldish) sound card, to take some of the load off the CPU. Things improved slightly, but only slightly, and the improvement might even be in my imagination.

So... any suggestions? If I upgrade the soundcard to something vaguely respectable (maybe something by Creative, not too expensive but not dirt cheap) might that help? Do the external USB audio processors do a similar job to PCI, or do I need PCI with dedicated hardware to make the difference? Or am I wasting my time and I should either replace the hard disk with something faster (maybe put the original back with the terabyte drive as a secondary unit), or bite the bullet and ditch Vista, or...

Any and all suggestions welcome!
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mouser
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« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2011, 02:24:45 PM »

Playing an mp3 file puts almost no load on the hard disk or cpu.

There is absolutely no reason that you should have any trouble whatsoever playing an mp3 file on that computer with that hard disk, with built in sound on your motherboard or a sound card.

So don't even *think* about upgrading any hardware.



So that still leaves the question about what is going wrong for you.

I think it would help to just pick one test case and focus on that.  So take playing an mp3 file, using windows media player.

When you say it doesn't play the sound smoothly, what exactly do you mean?
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Renegade
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« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2011, 10:25:07 PM »

Make sure to have the correct drivers and update them.

A while back I had encountered some issues with a sound card driver that caused bad audio.

Just one thing to look at. Not sure if it will help in your case...
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40hz
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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2011, 07:41:34 AM »

It sounds like something is maxing out your CPU, or excessively polling an interrupt, whenever you try to play MP3s. Switching to a separate audio card (which took some of the load off the CPU) and getting a slight improvement seems to reinforce that suspicion. This points to a driver issue, as Renegade mentioned earlier

There's a few things that could be at play here.

1. Audio Drivers

Audio drivers are the most likely suspect. There's the possibility that a driver has somehow been updated or changed (without your knowledge) which is causing the problem. A lot of Athlon-based boards use RealTek audio chips and drivers, which can act very flaky. These same mobos also often use the NVidia nForce drivers, which are known to sometimes conflict with the RealTek audio susbsystem. I've seen situations where adding a component forced a change to the nForce drivers, which in turn caused a problem downstream.

Use Device Manager to see if the audio driver has been updated and if there's an older RealTek driver available. If there is, do a roll-back and see if the problem goes away. If that doesn't help, check your PC's manufacturer's website and see if there are updated audio drivers available. If there are, download the most current set available for your model and and try reinstalling them.

2. BIOS

Check and see if there's a BIOS update available from your PC manufacturer. Sometimes older boards have trouble dealing with today's larger/faster hardware, which results in high CPU usage and erratic performance. A BIOS update will often fix that. Two points regarding BIOS updates:

  • Only use a BIOS update supplied by the manufacturer of your PC. DO NOT use any other BIOS updates, such as might be available from the maker of your actual motherboard, even if you know who the maker is.
      
  • Follow the instructions that come with the software exactly. And under no circumstance ever try to stop the update process once it begins. If it's interrupted before it finishes (or you otherwise screw up your BIOS update) you could be left with a completely inoperable machine that can't be repaired without major hassles. Flashing the BIOS is not a difficult thing to do. But this is one of those very few times when things have to be done in a very specific order and fashion.

3. Chipset Drivers (or "board" drivers)

Depending on what hardware is in you machine, you might be experiencing a chipset issue. Diagnosing that can get a little hairy so it would be helpful to know the manufacturer of your PC and what chipset is being used. Piriform's Speccy (or any one of a dozen other freeware sysinfo utilities) can provide that information if it's not listed in the documentation that came with your machine.

Let us know how you make out. Thmbsup

« Last Edit: May 15, 2011, 07:48:25 AM by 40hz » Logged

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mouser
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2011, 08:41:15 AM »

a first step might be to bring up task manager and see if any application is using up your cpu.. or install a program like my Process Tamer to detect high cpu processes and reduce their cpu use.
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oblivion
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2011, 11:31:42 AM »

Playing an mp3 file puts almost no load on the hard disk or cpu.

There is absolutely no reason that you should have any trouble whatsoever playing an mp3 file on that computer with that hard disk, with built in sound on your motherboard or a sound card.

So don't even *think* about upgrading any hardware.

Oh. Okay!

So it's going to be complicated, then.

I've tried a number of things -- killing various background processes (I shut down my firewall -- Outpost -- and let Windows Firewall take over. I stopped Process Lasso (bought before I knew about Process Tamer, I'm afraid!), Zentimo, WinPatrol... not my AV, though, which is NOD32... and put a few other settings back to default (I was loading the entire Windows core to RAM, for instance)

Still didn't make much difference. Maybe some...

Quote
I think it would help to just pick one test case and focus on that.  So take playing an mp3 file, using windows media player.

When you say it doesn't play the sound smoothly, what exactly do you mean?

Every so often, it stutters slightly. The smallest hesitation, but -- I guess because it's music -- it's very noticeable.

If I do anything else while the music's playing, anything that increases cpu load at all, it'll get much worse instantly.

If I watch the process in task manager, the mp3 will be taking between 2-6% cpu mostly, with an occasional spike for no good reason. Nothing else seems to be occupying cpu time to any extent.

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40hz
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2011, 11:52:40 AM »

What app are you using to play MP3 files?

There's been some recent reports of VLC Media Player 'spiking' and using abnormally large amounts of memory and/or CPU on some machines although what I saw was reported under Windows 7 as opposed to Vista.

Does this happen with every media player on your system, or just a specific one? huh

« Last Edit: May 15, 2011, 11:58:38 AM by 40hz » Logged

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worstje
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2011, 12:22:18 PM »

I'd say, look into your drivers, your motherboard drivers in particular. In the meanwhile, does it help if you turn down/off hardware acceleration for various devices? Sound most prominently, but also video and the likes. You can generally turn that stuff down somewhere in case of problems. Technically, it means you get less performance, but both software and hardware aren't as demanding/cut-throat in their implementation, meaning it tends to be more dependable.

I occasionally get weird hiccups like that, and it usually happens when something hardware-related struggles a bit. Sticking in or removing USB drives, or my mouse fussing, stuff like that throws it off its rocker for a brief moment sometimes.
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oblivion
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2011, 03:12:47 AM »

Audio drivers are the most likely suspect. There's the possibility that a driver has somehow been updated or changed (without your knowledge) which is causing the problem. A lot of Athlon-based boards use RealTek audio chips and drivers, which can act very flaky.

Yes, that's what the motherboard has. I saw some issues online with Realtek drivers and tried both updates and rollbacks (before I installed the PCI card) to no obvious effect.

The biggest problems, I should say, occur when video's very busy. Maybe that's just what should be expected.

Quote
Check and see if there's a BIOS update available from your PC manufacturer.
The PC's a (Compaq-badged) HP, and both HP Update and manual searches online don't give me anything newer than I have installed. I generally try to keep my systems as updated as possible, sometimes to the point of paranoia...  Wink

Quote
Depending on what hardware is in you machine, you might be experiencing a chipset issue. Diagnosing that can get a little hairy so it would be helpful to know the manufacturer of your PC and what chipset is being used. Piriform's Speccy (or any one of a dozen other freeware sysinfo utilities) can provide that information if it's not listed in the documentation that came with your machine.

I'll see what I can dig out, but I because the PC's a major oem I'd be surprised if the update program had missed something that it shouldn't. (I never liked HP PCs but Compaq were another story. I had a hard time when the former bought the latter, and I still haven't quite made my mind up. Printers, now... HP can definitely do printers.  smiley )

Quote
Let us know how you make out. Thmbsup

I'm getting close to deciding I should just live with it. The desktop isn't the machine I use most anyway -- I'm on the netbook now, while my wife surfs on the desktop  Grin
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oblivion
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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2011, 03:22:51 AM »

What app are you using to play MP3 files?

Mostly MediaMonkey if I'm using it to play quantities of music, but whatever comes to hand. Obviously if there's games going on, they do their own thing.

I've been playing with Jaangle on the netbook. I like its fetching of artist and album info -- I can be a bit of a music geek sometimes -- but I haven't tried it on the desktop, figuring that all the network activity can only make things worse.

Quote
There's been some recent reports of VLC Media Player 'spiking' and using abnormally large amounts of memory and/or CPU on some machines although what I saw was reported under Windows 7 as opposed to Vista.

I use VLC Portable when I'm elsewhere, but I don't like it enough to use it as my player of choice.

Quote
Does this happen with every media player on your system, or just a specific one? huh

Everything I've tried that produces sound. Oh, unless it's .wavs, which don't seem to need so much processing.

Thanks for everyone's help with this, by the way, even if it's not getting me a solution it's helping me narrow down the possibilities and probably saving me spending money unnecessarily!
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oblivion
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« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2011, 03:27:59 AM »

In the meanwhile, does it help if you turn down/off hardware acceleration for various devices?
Er, not quite sure where to look for that. I'll see if I can find anything relevant. Not something that I'd thought of, though, so thanks!
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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2011, 04:06:42 AM »

One other option would be to run a version of Linux from a CD (making sure it is one that has the required sound/video codecs etc). That would exclude Windows specific issues and change nothing on your system.

If you think it might be something to do with your hard drive, then run a portable player + mp3 from a memory stick (or just load both into RAM if you have a RAM disk). That would also make sure they are using a local codec, so no issues from any that are already installed.
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oblivion
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2011, 11:49:05 AM »

One other option would be to run a version of Linux from a CD.
I don't know why I didn't think of that -- I've got a few Live CDs lying around.

Going away for a few days now, though, so more testing will have to wait for a bit.
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« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2011, 12:24:53 PM »

Very good ideas from Dormouse  thumbs up
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oblivion
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« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2011, 10:57:44 AM »

I think I may have found the problem. (Yes, it took ages. Mostly because I stopped worrying about it and lived with it.)

I switched off the performance monitor on the PC ages ago, and promptly forgot I'd done it.

Fast forward a bit... I put Process Tamer on my netbook, found it didn't work, eventually discovered that it needed the performance monitor service to be enabled in order to function, switched it back on, PT worked, all was well with the world. Well, the netbook, anyway.

I remembered this, randomly, while I was watching Process Lasso updating itself on my desktop machine last weekend. PL seemed to work (on Vista) but in the early days of my ownership of my netbook, I tried PL and it actually crashed at install time. Tried it several times, consulted with PL's author, couldn't fix it, gave up. Found myself wondering if that was also something to do with the performance monitor service, even though PL seemed okay on the desktop box.

So I switched the service back on. No obvious difference. Except that Mediamonkey now plays MP3s perfectly.

I still get occasional stutters in games, but it's only when the system's VERY (graphically) busy and nothing that's particularly unusual -- particularly in a nearly 5-year-old machine.

So I think that was it. File it away: whatever they tell you, the performance monitor service does stuff that helps everything else work better. And the odd bits of advice out there on the net that say that if you don't use it, you don't need it are just plain misguided. smiley
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« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2011, 11:14:48 AM »

You could try uninstalling the sound card from device manager (sometimes something corrupts a driver/setting whatnot) and reboot. Windows should automatically detect and reinstall the drivers.
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oblivion
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« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2011, 01:04:14 PM »

You could try uninstalling the sound card from device manager (sometimes something corrupts a driver/setting whatnot) and reboot. Windows should automatically detect and reinstall the drivers.

Windows did. I tried all that -- reverting to older drivers, updating, reinstalling from source -- to no avail. Updated everything I could find, looked for all the usual problems, nothing. Like I say, it appears to have been related to the performance monitor service: with that running again, it's pretty much perfect. (And if I use Tune-Up Utilities Turbo mode -- a one-click way to temporarily turn off a load of other stuff that eats speed -- that seems to fix even the few in-game sound stutters I had left.)
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