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We have a Windows Vista laptop. On Monday we hooked it up to external speakers, as we always do, and they worked fine. On Tuesday, we did the same but then the speakers did not work. Weirdly, the laptop internal speaker does work. Nothing was changed between Monday and Tuesday. What happened and, more importantly, how can it be fixed?

BTW we tested with other speakers (and cable) and that didn't help. So it seems like a laptop issue.

If I unplug my speakers during playback, the laptop speakers always work!

Also, I've tried the obvious.

Update: We've found out that it also affects sound via USB! So it is definitely not a hardware issue!

Update 2: After the comments below, I tried reinstalling the drivers. This has not helped.

Solved: Details below in my answer. Bounty therefore instead given to vcsjones whose answer tells us how to prevent this happening. (This is an ASUS laptop with Realtek sound driver.)

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Try a Microsoft System Restore, pick a date before the problem started, if this fixes it, it is definitely Not a hardware problem. – Moab Dec 27 '10 at 15:45
@Moab - thanks - tried restore point, did not help. – Wikis Dec 27 '10 at 16:32
Try a bios reset to defaults, if no joy, If you have a way to backup your current installation, I would try a clean install of W7, see if it still borked. Starting to sound like a hardware issue...W7 ISo files… – Moab Dec 27 '10 at 16:41

To stop it, I think what you can do is

  1. right click "Computer", go to "Properties",
  2. Click "Advanced System Settings" - if a UAC dialog appears, click "Continue"
  3. On the "Hardware" tab click "Windows Update Driver Settings"
  4. Check, "Never check for drivers when I connect a device".
  5. Click "OK".
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To go to "Computer", click Start button, then right-click Computer and continue above instructions. – Wikis Dec 29 '10 at 5:32
I can't reproduce this fix in my ASUS U36SG with Realtek HD under Windows 7. However, I can temporarily "solve" the problem by suspending the computer and then waking it up again. – igordcard Sep 3 '13 at 12:59
up vote 2 down vote accepted

As mentioned in the updated question, this is an ASUS laptop using Realtek driver. It appears that Windows Vista updated / changed the driver by itself.

I tried to delete the device driver and then reboot, but it looks like Vista selected a default invalid driver. Eventually I installed a driver from the ASUS site on advice of the ASUS helpdesk. This worked.

So - anyone know how to prevent this happening in future? Automatic updates are off (and there was no update when it suddenly went wrong).

Thanks to everyone for their help so far.

To prevent this happening again, please see vcsjones' answer, on this page.

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To stop it, I think what you can do is right click "Computer", go to "Properties", then "View System Properties", and on the "Hardware" tab click "Device Installation Settings" and check, "No, let me choose", and "Never install driver software from Windows Update". – vcsjones Dec 27 '10 at 23:05
@vcsjones - thanks for that. Some of the things to click did not match my Windows Vista version. If you write complete, correct instructions in an answer I will award you the bounty. – Wikis Dec 28 '10 at 6:09
right click My Computer - select Properties - select Hardware tab - Push the "Device Installation Settings" button select "No , let me choose what to do" – alevenso Dec 28 '10 at 15:07
@alevnso @vcsjones @any one else who wants 50 rep: If you write complete, correct instructions in an answer I will award you the bounty. – Wikis Dec 28 '10 at 18:14
@WikiSpeedia At Area51 - Added answer and corrected text for Vista. – vcsjones Dec 28 '10 at 19:35

Try short way first. If short way does not work then the long way should. Some of these tips are for Win7 but should be close if not same.

Short Way:

Control Panel-System-Advanced System Settings-Hardware Tab-Device Installation Settings-Select "No" let me choose what to do, Then Never Install Driver from Windows Update. then click Save Changes.

Long Way:

1.)  Go to Start–>Search type in gpedit.msc
2.)  Click the file to open the Local Group Policy Editor
3.)  You want to go here: Computer Configuration->Administrative Templates->System->Device Installation. Click on the subfolder Device Installation on the left and on the right side you will see the possible restrictions.
4.)  Right Click on Prevent Installation of Devices not described by other policy settings and edit this option, set it on ENABLED.
5.)  Reboot Windows and it shouldnt have ability to load your system with its standard driver, open gpedit.msc again and revert the change so you will be able to install your driver.
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Since the second set of speakers also don't work, and the laptop is routing sound to the onboard speaker even when something is plugged into the port, I think the port itself has failed.

If that's the case, it would need to be replaced. Depending on your hardware that can be done by a shop or the manufacturer.

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But can we rule out that it is a software problem? Sometimes software problems turn up when apparently "nothing" has been changed... or the problem only showed up after reboot, a long time after the change? – Cerberus Dec 22 '10 at 22:16
Well, maybe. But the onboard speaker's working, correct? And Windows can't tell when something's connected to the port? (If Windows knows when you've plugged something in, the onboard speaker should go silent.) Did you dig around in the Control Panel for your Sound settings? – goblinbox Dec 22 '10 at 22:29
Trying reinstalling the drivers, cant hurt. – silent Dec 24 '10 at 17:00
Hmm. Windows knows when something's phyisically connected, but can't use the speakers. I'm still thinking it's a hardware problem, but it's hard to tell. Did you try reinstalling the drivers as @sil3nt suggested? – goblinbox Dec 25 '10 at 3:38
I would rule out the hardware/windows by booting from a Linux Live CD and seeing if you can get it to play sound. If it exhibits the same problem, then it's hardware. – vcsjones Dec 26 '10 at 23:06

there is a "short" on your port - if no external speakers work and the built in speakers dont work when external speakers are plugged in , then you most likely have a short on that port . You will need to have the port fixed or do it yourself if you have that skill set (soldering, etc...) - do headphones work? most often the headphone and external audio port are on the same board - if its a hardware board issue then headphones would exhibit the same behavior - if not then you still just may have a bad port -

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No, it is not a hardware issue because it also occurs via USB port as well as via the speaker jack. – Wikis Dec 27 '10 at 13:48

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