Karmic upgrade, broken sound. Workaround.

Upgrading to Karmic on a Dell Optiplex 755 desktop resulted in broken sound.

It’s a very basic and extremely common card:
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 82801I (ICH9 Family) HD Audio Controller (rev 02)

GNOME has no sound, but opening up the mixer shows the device (analogue stereo output) and indeed when I play a sound I can see it come up on the “applications” section of the mixer.

The problem is that not only does no sound come out, but any application (from Totem to aplay) which tries to play audio hangs.

In Jaunty the sound preferences utility was much more powerful. You could choose between Pulseaudio, Alsa, ESD and OSS for various types of sound, everything was much more configurable. Now in Karmic, that’s replaced entirely and no longer possible – it appears to be Pulseaudio or nothing.

So, the “fix” is to purge pulseaudio and utils, leaving only Alsa. Reboot and magically sound works, but we’re not out of the woods yet!

Problem now is that we have no mixer under GNOME because unlike in Jaunty, it can only talk to Pulseaudio. Starting up the mixer from the command line shows it “waiting for server.” Not only that, but Totem still can’t play sound, presumably because it too is waiting for Pulseaudio.

So, what to do next? Install VLC.

This isn’t even a fix, in fact it’s hardly a decent workaround, but it is sufficient for now. How the average user is supposed to deal with this is beyond me. It’s a pity there is no longer the ability to switch between sound servers..

Update: Looks like this has been an unresolved problem for the last three months.

9 thoughts on “Karmic upgrade, broken sound. Workaround.

  1. Chris Samuel

    Yeah, at some point with Jaunty I decided to try Pulseaudio with KDE and forgot about it, once I upgraded to Karmic my sound was completely stuffed until I aptitude purge’d pulseaudio etc.

    Fortunately KDE isn’t tied to PA so no mixer issues there.

  2. Bill Farrow

    There are a number of serious breakages happening on Ubuntu 9.10. I was bitten by the Intel 855GM freezing issue. It sucks, and a non-techie would give up.

    How did this happen ? The technical advances that that they are incorporating into the time based releases are really needed to move forward. The problem is we need more testing on a wider range of hardware. If we don’t push the envelope, the development cycle slows down and we risk stagnation. If Ubuntu users don’t install and run the Alpha and Beta releases then how will stuff get fixed before the main release ?

    BTW, I am not an Ubuntu developer. Maybe it’s time I started.

  3. Chris Post author

    Hey Bill,

    That’s true, you need users to test things to discover bugs and fix them to make everything work. Problem is most users don’t upgrade until the “stable” version is out, it’s then that we find masses of issues. The problem for me is that Ubuntu is “for noobs” and these are the kinds of people who need a machine that won’t break when they upgrade. My suggestion is to simply put a delay on the upgrading from Update Manager, so that by default users don’t upgrade for a month. This should make the release more stable by the time average users upgrade as more advanced users will still upgrade at the time of release and find the problems.

    We need technical people to run the latest version to discover and fix major bugs, but they aren’t doing that until the “stable” release is actually out. We do not want that happening to n00bs because that just means a poor user experience and it gives Ubuntu (and more widely, Linux) a bad name. New users only upgrade because the update manager tells them to. So why not just delay that? They will still get their updates for the previous version anyway, and what’s a month or two delay if it’s going to be better quality overall?

    On the other hand, there were also lots of known bugs at the time of release..


  4. Che Mätzke

    Hi Christopher,

    I’m ab big Linux-fan and been on and of trying out different distros for the last 7 or 8 years. But switched to Linux when Ubuntu bacame a grafical and working alternative for Win. Have been working dozens of hours fixing probems (even I am a newbe) and have succeded to convert my parents (75 years) to switch to Ubuntu – even they don’t alvays seem to undestand the difference between Application and Plases… 🙂

    Now I have been reading your articles in Linux Magazine with high interest. Thans to them – and looked your blog up.

    Unfortionally did red your article one day too late about the troubles with upgrading to Karmic…

    Still, won’t give up… and am convinced that Linux rocks.

    keep up the good work and keep us “averige Joe’s” informed what you discover.


  5. Mauricio Nuñez

    Hi Chris,

    I have an Optiplex 755, an to get the sound at Karmic, I’ve installed alsamixer, then with de left arrow, go to the mono channel, and then, with the up arrow, you change the volume from 0 to 100.
    With key ‘M’ turn off Mute if is necesary.
    Quit with key Q, and save your changes with sudo alsactl 0.


  6. Chris Post author

    Hey Mauricio,
    Thanks for the suggestion. If I need to re-install for someone, I’ll give that a try instead.


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