Manufacturers strive to create innovative products and we as consumers work day and night to afford them. We exit our vehicles and are greeted by the open arms of big box retailers housing shelf after shelf of electronic excess.

We fork over handfuls of hard earned cash for microscopic phones and wafer thin laptops. Each item is priced, each price must be met, and it is instilled in our minds that we get what we pay for … but do we really?

As a blogger you are expected to offer up your opinion and provide your readers with a unique perspective. The more successful outlets do this in a timely and creative fashion on a daily basis. Staying on top means getting every ounce of capability out of everything you have at your disposal … including your hardware.

I bought a Dell laptop months ago with the intention of using it as a command center both at home and on the road. I wanted something powerful enough to run all the image and video editing software that I would need to keep Ripten rocking day and night. I hit the ground running, and everything seemed to be working great, until I decided to record some on-screen video.

Time and time again I tried to record audio and video feeds that displayed on my screen with no luck. I would get the video to record no problem, but the audio just wouldn’t record. I searched for alternative drivers on Dell’ site and consulted Dell’s support page to no avail.

Fully frustrated with my semi new purchase, I opened my wallet and switched my focus to software. I began to look at different types of software in the hopes that one would work. I tried Camtasia, Super Screen Recorder, WM Recorder, and a few others I can’t even remember — most trials, but a few required purchase. None remedied the situation. Thoroughly exhausted I gave up for a while, but eventually found myself needing to do it again.

As I began my prep work for this years E3, I thought I would give it one last go before scrapping my laptop (HULK SMASH) and buying a new one. At this point I was convinced that it was a hardware issue, and that the manufacturer of the video card built it with their head up their ass. In what I promised myself would be my final attempt, I searched the web for software yet again.

Being that my problem was audio, I limited my search to “record on screen audio”. The suggested software Google spit back was the ACA Screen Recorder. I installed the trial version, but was met by the same unsuccessful result. The software did however display a link that claimed to address the issue, so I clicked through and discovered that my sound card should have three audio recording options (listed below).

  • Microphone/Mic – The audio will be captured from the microphone port
  • Line-in/Line In – The audio will be captured from the Line-in port
  • Stereo Mix/Mono Mix/WAVE Out – The audio will be captured from the sound card’s speakers port

What? Stereo Mix? Where the fuck is my stereo mix? I only see two options, Mic and Line-in. Perplexed, I refocused my efforts on Google and began to search for the missing third option.

It was not long before I encountered multiple threads started by equally frustrated and confused consumers suffering from the same misfortune. Oddly enough they were all Dell owners with the same SigmaTel brand audio card that I had.

As I dug deeper into the various threads, I soon discovered that the issue had nothing to do with the hardware itself, and everything to do with the restrictions placed on it by the PC manufacturers.

Some believe that Dell, and several other computer manufacturers such as Gateway and Pac Bell, were pressured by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) into disabling the stereo mix functionality. If true, I find it disturbing that at no time did any of the aforementioned manufacturers see it fit to explain the restrictions they were imposing on our hardware.

One blogger explained that he contacted Dell seeking a solution for his stereo mix woes, and they offered him one — for a $99 fee.

“Since my desktop is new, I decided to contact Dell. After a long online chat and a phone call, Dell told me they had the solution, but if I wanted to know it would cost me $99.00.”

So that we are all clear, the evidence points to Dell appeasing the RIAA by disabling hardware, only to have their customer service reps turn around and offer a solution to their consumers that reverses the alteration they made in the first place at a premium price. I am no rocket scientist, but that sure as fuck sounds fishy to me.

In the end, I was able to restore my laptop’s stereo mix functionality by following a series of registry edits outlined here. While I am now able to record on-screen audio and video, this solution is not something that I recommend everyone attempt, as those who lack the necessary experience to make registry edits could unintentionally cause more harm than good.

The unfortunate reality here is that prebuilt computers are potentially becoming nothing more than an advertising platform for big time brands and a way for highly influential organizations to impose their will on the unaware masses. In the event I decide to make use of a PC again in the future, I will build it with my own two hands.

Update: A Dell Community Ambassador has responded to this post in the comments section below stating that the outbound links in this article are specific to laptops (as was the issue I was having). He has provided a link he claims will rectify the issue, however it is unclear if this will work for all Dell computers that have had the sound card feature disabled by the company.

Also, this does not explain why it was disabled in the first place. If you have a Dell desktop computer with this issue, or the link below simply does not work for your Dell laptop, please let me know in the comment section below or email me at


  1. You could of course install drivers from another hardware manufacturer, i think i have drivers from a toshiba laptop installed on my dell inspiron which enable the missing options, although the need to do this shouldn’t exist in the first place, although i have my doubts as to whether this is due to the RIAA.

  2. The first thing I do when buying a computer from Dell/Sony/et al is format the hard drive (deleting all their goofy recovery partitions) and install a fresh copy of Windows. Given you found a registry solution, this would almost certainly have prevented your problem.

  3. Hello Chad:

    My name is Chris and I’m a Community Ambassador for Dell computers.

    You didn’t state in your post, but the links you forwarded to indicated you were dealing with a laptop with Windows XP.

    If this is the case, our Sigmatel R171789.exe XP drivers unlock the “Stereo Mix” feature. Refer to the following link:


    Please let me know if you have any additional questions regarding this feature.

    Chris Byrd
    Dell Digital Life Liaison

  4. Chris,

    The fact that your company now has a link to rectify the issue is great, however from what I have read this link does not work for all Dell computers that have had this feature disabled.

    Furthermore, simply providing a link does not explain why the feature was disabled in the first place.

    Any clarification you would be willing to offer would be much appreciated.


  5. That sure has hell does sound fishy.

    What’s scary is that it’s now conceivable. To explain, it’s easy for some apologists to dismiss any accusation that the RIAA is perpetuating conspiracies, but the problem is that the RIAA (and its cousin the MPAA) has gotten so big and has been acting so evil in the recent past that it’s now a reasonable null position to assume the RIAA has its hands in every till.

    Sounds like it’d be a good reason to just buy a third party sound card – if only it weren’t a laptop.

    Big box manufacturers are doing more and more of this stuff. I don’t trust them anymore (as if I ever did).

  6. Chad, have you heard about ocz’s do it your self laptops?

    The first ones are now available, it’s sorta bare bones laptop, you have to provide the cpu, memory, os.

    An interesting concept, one that I hope is successful and becomes a valued alternative to pre-built machines.

    I fully support building pc’s (and laptops) yourself, you choose better quality components and generally do not have to deal with the hassle involved in buying cheap overpriced pre-built machines and all the crap that comes with them.

    any way, check them out (ocz diy) and see if that may be an option for you.

  7. I thought Stereo Mix problems were old hat and not confined to laptops. I remember building machines years ago and working through issues with soundcards that didn’t support stereo mix. This was long before the music industry came up with the brilliant idea of suing customers. That said, I think it sucks hard if the suspicions of the current trend are true, but I have no doubt that if it becomes widespread, innovative solutions will be forthcoming.

  8. Our company was having similar issues with a brand new Dell Latitude 620 with the Sigma chipset. We needed to perform video/audio capture (using Fraps) during play sessions, while our research participants were located inside an fMRI machine at Stanford Hospital (for real-time brain mapping), and we could not find a software-based solution to the problem of no audio being recorded.

    I tried loading a variety of non-Dell Sigma drivers and even attempted (unsuccessfully) some recommended registry edits, all to no avail (except for a cheesy headphone-out-to-Line-In hardware workaround).

    We ended up having a local shop custom-build us a laptop, which worked flawlessly from the very get-go.

    On paper, purchasing our systems from Dell would appear to be cost effective. But when we add in the hidden cost of performing this pointless “troubleshooting”, due in large part to the apparent influence of the RIAA’s and MPAA’a paranoid IP protection schemes, we’ve quickly learned to save money by either building them ourselves, or ordering from smaller, non-Dell companies.

    Thanks LC for the link for ocz’s custom-built laptops. I’ll be checking that out for our next purchase.

  9. Fundamental fault – Why would some one buy a high end computer from some company (as they are rip-offs) esp. since you mentioned that you are an advanced user?

    For lees price, I think one can build a better computer than those “dell gaming” systems.

  10. There are plenty of options for building desktops, laptops on the other hand, not so much, that’s why I linked the ocz.

  11. fdsfdfgfd!!! i just tried recording something with my computer and it doesnt have a stereo mix option!!!! WTH!

  12. Hmm, that $99 sounds alot like the Dell On Call service I used to work for. Basically it’s basically additional software support not covered by your hardware warranty.

    They probably figured that since you could hear sound, the sound card and related hardware must be functioning fine, ergo this would be a software problem/configuration error somewhere that you would need the advance DOC plan to fix.

    Yeah, I agree it seems really sneaky, thats why I left the company.

  13. By no means I would like to sound like a fan boy, which I am not, but… why did you buy Dell in a first place, especially if you “wanted something powerful enough to run all the image and video editing software”? Why didn’t you buy a Mac? :)

    I have been using Windows (since 3.11) and Linux (since Slackware 2.4, which is ancient) but switched to Mac OS X (running on MacBook Pro) completely about a year ago.

    No intention to start any kind of argument which platform is better – this topic is worthless – but having substantial experience with all three, I would suggest that you would keep your options open and take a closer look at Mac. Mac OS X is very stable, fast, secure, and overall very capable system.

    Check it out :)

  14. Hey Mortum,

    Thanks for the comment. I am actually considering the purchase of a Mac, however to be clear, this has nothing to do with the issues I experienced above.


  15. Oh, I totally get your rather eloquent attempt to expose this two-faced nature of corporate greed… but, every time I read something about either Dell or Windows, I feel compelled to stick my 25c :)

  16. Thanks for this.

    I have a fairly new Dell XPS 1330 (came with Vista)

    I removed Vista, formatted the drive and installed XP on it and then installed the standard Dell XP drivers (eg chipset, broadcom, but also including the one for the Sigmatel sound card – R158235).

    Went to control panel/sounds – no Stereo Mix!

    Downloaded the new audio Dell driver from the link above (driver R171789) and lo and behold I now have stereo mix

  17. Unfortunately, defective audio-in capability is not a new issue for dell laptop users. A quick google search will demonstrate a number of different Dell models with problematic sound. I purchased a Dell 700m back in ’04, and audio-in functionality was essentially non-existent. The 700m caused quite a bit of discussion back then, and there was even a website dedicated to the issue, which itself no longer exists (

    No sufficient fixes were ever offered by Dell, and there was speculation as to whether the issue was a driver or a hardware defect. After months of driver tweaking, most of us agreed that it was a sound card defect, and a few users claimed to have found a hardware fix involving a soldering iron.

    I pestered Dell for a few weeks, they replaced my motherboard to no avail, and they eventually sent me a creative audigy2 PCMCIA sound card for free. Other users moved on to USB headset/microphones and USB audio dongles, and still others went the bluetooth headset route.

    It’s sad to see that Dell still doesn’t care. I’m on a Macbook now, and I’d rather go without than switch back.

    Here are a few threads concerning the 700m audio issue:

  18. Hey ChrisBatDell,

    I bought a E520 desktop (and downgraded to XP pro) about a year ago and the lack of “what-u-hear” has annoyed me since. I even paid for the “SoundBlaster HD Sound” option (which I thought was a hardware thing, but turn out to be just a different driver). I tried messing with different types of drivers and almost went as far as to buy an old sound card, but I ran out of pci slots.

    I have used freecorder with some success to grab from sites like myspace. But I’d still like to have the option of the wave out. What do you suggest for Desktops with the SigmaTel chips?

  19. Hey Iceman. I just thought I’d point out that it is *never* a company’s goal to “look out for what’s best for consumers.” A company’s only goal is to make as much money as possible, which means providing only as much customer “service” as necessary to create the illusion that they care.

  20. Hey skylinkdave. I guess that’s why Dell houses their sales team in the states, but has all their customer support routed to India.

    Apparently sale related calls go smoother when you speak to someone you can understand, and support calls end faster if you are forced to speak to someone you can’t.

  21. Hey Chad!

    I just wanted to stop by and let you know that we *are* listening. We are currently working through a few details and will be able to share more information about this issue shortly. =)

    Chris Byrd
    Dell Digital Life Liaison

  22. Chad, I found this on another site. Its a user comment that claims Dell has done this with other cards too…..

    “My company bought a bunch of Dell optiplex desktops with realtek HD integrated sound a year ago and they’ve all got the stereo mix disabled. I did some searching on google for a solution and found what you need to do.

    1. Download the SoundMax driver from Dell’s website and extract it somewhere. Then open up ADIHDAUD.INF located in SMAXWDM folder in the driver folder.
    2. Find the line HKR,AD1984\\Disable, OutR, 1, 01 ;; Disable Stereo Mix Capture Node
    3. Change the “01” to 00 and save it
    4. Run “setup” and select “uninstall” existing driver – reboot
    5. Run “setup” and select “install” new driver – ignore the Windows XP auto install setting and ignore the “non certified” driver warning – reboot
    6. Go to start menu > run > type: “regedit” [enter] (without quotes)
    7. Click on “edit > search” and look for AD1984.
    8. For each registry key/folder of AD1984, find the subfolder/key that says MicBP and OutR and change their associated binary values from 01 to 00. For some people, re-installing the driver in this fashion already produces a 00 while for others, the change must be made manually.
    9. Reboot

    That should allow you to use Stereo Mix like normal.”

  23. I’d say it’s pretty foolish to expect anything but the utmost bare minimum of functionality from an OEM laptop audio interface. I’m honestly surprised to hear you ultimately did get your stereo mix feature at all.

    I’m surprised you’re not also complaining, for instance, about the quality of the DACs, or about the lack of lush bass on the built-in speakers, etc… There are reasonable expectations, and then there are unreasonable ones. Try to keep things in perspective.

    If you’re doing any kind of professional audio production on a laptop, you’ll want an external soundcard. Any pro or hobbyist grade outboard interface will offer you a feature to record what other applications play.

  24. Hey jw,

    Thanks for the comment. As nice as it sounds, I don’t need “lush” sound. I am running a blog, not editing audio for a feature film. The term “pro” is relative.

    In terms of perspective, I do not find it unreasonable to expect a card to perform as it was intended to by the manufacturer.

    The card is working now and I am happy with it. It may not be on par with that of an external card, but that was not the nature of my complaint in the first place.


  25. Just another spin of the crazy wheel from Dell. But it’s like you said yourself, PC? Build it yourself. :-) (oh, or buy an Levno, duh…) haha

    Cheers, great article.

  26. format the hard drive, install ubuntu. done. in fact Dell sells laptops with Linux preinstalled so it could be even easier…

  27. just seconding the Mac option… as far as recording anything at all, the Mac is an easier, more user friendly option all the way around. Since each Mac ships with the iLife suite, which includes Garageband, you have a built-in Podcast creation studio shipping with every new Mac.

    Actually, you could even pick up a cheaper used G4 Powerbook if you wanted to, and still run the iLife ’08 apps with very little performance difference from running them on a shiny new MacBook or MacBook Pro.

    Add in the fact that you can dual or triple boot between Windows, Linux and MacOSX on a MacBook, or even run Parallels and run Mac and Windows at the same time, and the reasons to get a Mac laptop over a PC laptop become more compelling.

    Like the other guy, I am not trying to argue the merits of one OS over the other, just that you have a more complete out of the box solution for this kind of content creation with a Mac.

  28. Even Creative is now disabling this in their Audigy drivers (see below). Now why would a maker of discrete, premium sounds cards want to hobble thier products by disabling such basic funtionality? To me the only reasonable explanation is that someone, somewhere doesn’t want us to have this capability on our PCs. Sure sounds like RIAA to me.

    The “What U Hear” feature for Sound Blaster Audigy SE/LS/Live!24 bit cards had changed since the latest driver update. The previous version of Windows Vista driver (SB24_VTDRV_LB_1_04_0065A.exe) for Sound Blaster Audigy SE/LS/Live!24 bit has an option for recording with “What U Hear”;

    The latest version (SB24_VTDRV_LB_1_04_0077.exe) no longer has the option for “What U Hear” recording with Sound Blaster Audigy SE/LS/Live!24bit.

    Both drivers are currently available for download. The only way to get the “What U Hear” back is to reinstall the previous drivers, or roll back drivers.

  29. Uggh,

    I own 2 Dells as present (XPS 410, and Dimension E520) both running Vista Ultimate, both with the same internal audio chipset (Sigmatel HD).. None of the solutions here are capable of enabling “stereo mix” Quite frustrating indeed. Needless to say, this and other decisions will likely steer me away from Dell for future purposes.

  30. This is not the first and probably not the last issue with Dell and audio:

    A vast majority of 2008 Dell laptop models are having a problem with crackling audio/mp3 and video playback. The actual reason for this is a bad DPC latency behavior, causing the CPU to halt for milliseconds. On Vista this is so bad that even the mouse is freezing in motion and games suffer from microstutter. Since it’s only milliseconds, the effects are rather subtle and apparently not all are affected but musicians who tried to run recording software (which relies on a good DPC behavior) on those Dells identified the DPC problem as the reason why this is completely impossible. On some models, turning off the WLAN helps the normal non-musician customers but most of them are bent over by Dell again. They give you the same lame workarounds over and over again and noone really cares about the problem.

    Lenovo is the next one in the “don’t try to play music on this thing”-line: Some of their new “Thinkpad SL” laptops have just the same unfixable problem with DPC latency and Lenovo is ignoring this just like Dell. Other than Dell, at Lenovo you don’t even have a chance to complain about that at a relevant address, all you get is shrugging shoulders from their outsourced support and there’s no way to return it, get it repaired or even acknowledged.

    Most customers are not able to understand the moment of the technical cause for these issues and see this as a neglectable flaw and just ignore it (“meh noo I don’t want to send it in and I dont hear so much music on it and all the hassle…”). They don’t understand that this is not only affecting audio playback but practically all entertainment applications. If you’re putting more emphasis on these applications than the average guy and you’re not satisfied with this, you’re genuinely effed in the a-dot.

  31. I have just bought a Precision M4400, got none of these audio problems with Vista bussiness.
    I’m using the default Dell install

    @Donald Dhell
    crackling audio is caused by the external Sata deviced (also a little by the 1394 interface), users who had disable it have “solved”
    the problem.

    You wrote : “Just another reason to get linux.
    Unfortunately the only audio problem I have both with Dell Precision M4400 and Inspiron 9400 is that there is absolutely no way to record from the output of audio card, I spent more than 20 hours to try to solve the problem but nothing work.

    With vista I was able to record with standard MS “sound recorder” the output of the audio card.
    So it do not seems that with M4400 Precision there is any audio recording limitation

    @ Dell laptops audio cards
    IMHO the quality of Dell audio devices is very poor, the SIGMATEL STAC 92X is garbage!
    It is a shame that Sigmatel audio is on such nice laptops.
    With Dell 9400 I had bought a USB external audio device (10$) for having Dragon Natural speaking software to work with the Sigmatel there was simply no way, the microphone input had not enough quality !

  32. My new Dell Studio 1537 laptop arrived today.

    The sound is barely audible even with maximum volume. The headphone jack provides weak sound too. Something is wrong with Dell Sound after looking at all the complaints.

  33. Problem solved! using 'freecorder' or 'audacity'

    Go to

    'Control Panel'
    'Recording' tab
    Right Click on any blank white area, tick 'show disabled devices' and 'show
    disconnected devices'.
    Right Click on Microphone and 'Disable'
    Right Click on WaveOut Mix and 'Enable'
    Still on 'WaveOut Mix' click 'Properties' then the 'Levels' tab.
    Set WaveOut Mix to 50% and 'Apply' (If highlighted).

    Still got the will to live? Then we will continue……

    Open your browser with the 'Freecorder Toolbar'
    On the freecorder toolbar click 'Settings'
    Tick only the 'Record From Windows Input Device'(do not tick anything else)
    The only device showing should be 'WaveOut Mix' which is OK!

    Job done! Works for me 100% even using Windows Vista, no matter what type of music!
    Tried at least 20 tracks without a glitch!

    These settings also allow you to use 'Audacity' software (Freeware) to record live
    streaming stuff!

  34. If you are frustrated like me about getting nowhere with the overseas customer service department of Dell try contacting someone higher up the chain. In Australia call 13 33 55, choose option 4 and put in 5553. A lovely man named Charles should be able to help.

  35. It looks like Dell isn’t the only ones bending us over – I have a Creative Sound Blaster Live! card that I bought a while back – best they had at the time, and I am now trying to get it to work with Vista / Windows 7. I go to Creative’s web-site and do they mention the SB24_VTDRV_LB_1_04_0065A or the SB24_VTDRV_LB_1_04_0077 drivers as possibilities for Vista / Windows 7 users? Can you say “Not only ‘no way’, but ‘no effing way’!!”? Ahhh! I *KNEW* you could!!

    According to Creative’s web-site, “no further development” is planned – and the only option is to shell out massive bux for their X-FI series cards.

    You’d think that companies like Dell, Creative, would start putting tubes of Preperation H in the box with their stuff, makes giving us the screws easier. . . .


    What say ye?


  36. hey guys, im a Computer Engg. student and need to buy a laptop for programming and media purposes like music n movies. I might do animatrion later. suggest me a good Dell laptop please…….