Stupid Motherboard

Ok, this is retarded. About 2 years ago, I bought a DFI K8M800 MLVF motherboard to act as the foundation for my HTPC/PVR box. This was before I had my 6.1-channel sound system, so at the time, I was ok with the onboard VIA 8237 sound chip, which, without buying an extra connector bracket, would more or less just give me 2 channels.

However, after setting stuff up, I had no sound. I was not pleased. I googled and googled, and found that the ALSA driver for that chipset (snd-via82xx) was a little messy, and sometimes you had to pass special parameters to the driver to get it to work for your particular hardware. I tried a bunch of combinations, but had no luck. Eventually I gave up, and bought a cheap Turtle Beach card. By that time, I’d bought my surround sound system, and wanted something that could do digital S/PDIF out (though this card only does coaxial, not optical, but whatever).

Lately I’ve been thinking about reducing power usage on the HTPC, with the possible intent of retiring my desktop machine and moving all the data to the HTPC on a RAID array that I’d build and put in an external box using something like eSATA. I’d also need to free up a PCI slot: even though I’m only using 2 of the 3 slots, the 3rd slot is effectively blocked by the large fan on my AGP video card. So, I thought it would be a good idea to try to get the integrated sound working again.

So, I resumed googling, and messing around, and still, no luck. Tonight, I decided to google my specific motherboard. This led me to the ALSA bug tracker, where I put in a broader search query for all bugs related to the via82xx driver where there was no sound. With a little luck, I came across a post that said something about having disabled the rear outputs in favor of the front outputs on their multimedia-oriented case.

This rang a bell.

I dug out my motherboard’s manual, and, sure enough, connecting the front in/outs on a case to the appropriate header on the motherboard will disable the rear outputs. Of course, I’d never done this, as I hadn’t cared about the front audio jacks. But I thought I’d look anyway. Apparently, two pairs of pins on the header need to be shorted if you don’t intend to use the front outputs. Otherwise the rear outputs still get disabled. You’d think that DFI would ship the motherboard with these pins already shorted, since you’d want to get some sound out of the box if you don’t go and connect anything to the front outputs. But no, I see the header, plainly sitting there with its pins un-shorted. So, I dig out some jumpers, short the pins, boot the box, load the driver, unmute the mixer channels, and… voila… I have sound.

I can’t believe the amount of time I wasted on this, and it turned out to be a hardware problem in the end! I was so afraid that it was a Linux software issue, and it was actually hardware. Sigh.

Time to go order that S/PDIF bracket…