Thursday, January 25, 2007

The weakest links

The ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP is a solid, high-quality, versatile, and overclocking-friendly motherboard. Unfortunately, it has 2 very glaring defects: the JMicron Controller and the SoundMAX Audio device. You don't have to search the Internet far to find complaints about these two on-board devices.

I have already discussed the many problems of the JMicron Controller in an earlier post. I am now going to turn my attention to the on-board SoundMAX audio device.

When I installed Vista Ultimate x64 (RTM Build 6000) on Nighthawk, Vista detected the on-board SoundMAX audio device and loaded its Microsoft audio driver Version 6.0.6000.16386 dated 06/21/2006. And I had sound from the "Speakers" and "Digital Output Device (SPDIF)" but not from my headphones connected via the front panel.

However, Nighthawk is deaf! None of the "Recording" (input) devices work. Not the 2 microphone inputs. Not the 2 "line in" connections. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

I did not expect much from the default driver, so I was not entirely surprised. I knew I could always download the latest SoundMAX driver from ASUS. And ASUS has SoundMAX drivers on their Web site for Vista: "SoundMAX Audio Driver v6.10.01.5110 for 32bit Windows Vista (WHQL) & v6.10.01.6020 for 64bit Vista(beta drivers)"

I downloaded and installed the SoundMAX Vista drivers. The first hint of trouble was a warning message indicating that Vista could not "verify the publisher of this driver software." I've seen this before, so I allowed the driver to be installed.

The Vista Device Manager confirmed that the SoundMax driver Version dated 11/02/2006 was indeed installed. However, note the warning symbol (exclamation mark on a yellow triangular sign) superimposed on the SoundMAX Integrated Digital HD Audio" entry in the device list.

OK. Maybe I just needed to restart as indicated by a message after the driver installation. I restarted and the SoundMAX audio device was still not working. I checked its status in the Vista Device Manager which informed me: "Windows cannot load the device driver for this hardware. The driver may be corrupted or missing. (Code 39)"

So much for that exercise. I used the Vista Device Manager to "Roll back driver" to the previous version - the Microsoft default driver which at least works for audio output.

I was aware of the many SoundMAX-related problems facing owners of the ASUS P5B Deluxe WiFi-AP motherboard before I bought it. That's the reason why I did not even bother with it and installed a SoundBlaster XFi sound card in Blackbird. I will probably do the same for Nighthawk.

However, don't think that the grass is much greener on the other side. It is a little bit greener, but no that much greener. SoundBlaster users including myself have been facing similar challenges with device drivers.

Do you still want to be on the bleeding edge and install Vista when it becomes available to the general public in 5 days?

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