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3. Supported Hardware

This section lists the sound cards and interfaces that are currently supported under Linux. The information here is based on the latest Linux kernel, which at time of writing was version 2.4.4. This document only applies to the sound drivers included with the standard Linux kernel source distribution. There are other sound drivers available for Linux (see the later section entitled Alternate Sound Drivers).

For the latest information on supported sound cards and features see the files included with the Linux kernel source code, usually installed in the directory /usr/src/linux/Documentation/sound.

3.1. Platform Notes

The information in this HOWTO is valid for Linux on the Intel x86 platform.

The sound driver should also work with most sound cards on the Alpha platform. However, some cards may conflict with I/O ports of other devices on Alpha systems even though they work perfectly on i386 machines, so in general it's not possible to tell if a given card will work or not without actually trying it.

Users have reported that the sound driver was not yet working on the PowerPC version of Linux, but it should be supported in future.

Sound can be configured into the kernel under the MIPs port of Linux, and some MIPs machines have EISA slots and/or built in sound hardware. I'm told the Linux-MIPs group is interested in adding sound support in the future.

The Linux kernel includes a separate driver for the Atari and Amiga versions of Linux that implements a compatible subset of the sound driver on the Intel platform using the built-in sound hardware on these machines.

The SPARC port of Linux currently has sound support for some models of Sun workstations. I've been told that the on-board sound hardware works but the external DSP audio box is not supported because Sun has not released the specifications for it.

3.2. Sound Card Types

A number of different types of sound cards exist, reflecting the different bus architectures available. Here is a brief overview of the more common types and their distinguishing features.

ISA bus cards are among the oldest sound cards using the original (non Plug and Play) ISA bus. These typically use jumpers to select hardware settings for I/O addresses, IRQ, and DMA channel. You are unlikely to find any of this type manufactured today.

ISA Plug and Play cards use the extended version of the ISA bus that supports software identification and configuration of card settings. Few of these, if any, are still being manufactured.

PCI bus cards use the higher bandwidth PCI bus which provides identification and configuration of cards in software. The majority of sound cards manufactured today now use PCI. Most motherboards that provide on-board sound hardware also make use of the PCI bus.

USB is a newer bus architecture for external hot-pluggable devices. In theory USB bus sound cards could be developed, but I am only aware of USB-bus speakers being sold currently.

3.3. Sound Cards

The following sound cards are supported by the Linux kernel sound driver. Some of the items listed are audio chip sets rather than models of sound cards. The list is incomplete because there are many sound cards compatible with these that will work under Linux. To add further to the confusion, some manufacturers periodically change the design of their cards causing incompatibilities and continue to sell them as the same model.

6850 UART MIDI Interface AD1816/AD1816A based cards AD1816/AD1816A sound chip AD1848 sound chip
ADSP-2115 ALS-007 based cards (Avance Logic) ALS-1x0 sound chip ATARI onboard sound
ATI Stereo F/X Acer FX-3D AdLib Amiga onboard sound
Audio Excel DSP 16 AudioDrive Aztech Sound Galaxy Washington 16 Aztech Sound Galaxy WaveRider 3D
Aztech Sound Galaxy WaveRider Pro32 Beethoven ADSP-16 CMI8330 sound chip CMI8338/8378 sound chip
Cardinal DSP16 Compaq Deskpro XL onboard sound Corel Netwinder WaveArtist Crystal CS423x
Crystal CS4280 Crystal CS46xx ES1370 sound chip ES1371 sound chip
ESC614 sound chip ESS Maestro 1/2/2E sound ship ESS Solo1 sound chip ESS1688 sound chip
ESS1788 sound chip ESS1868 sound chip ESS1869 sound chip ESS1887 sound chip
ESS1888 sound chip ESS688 sound chip Ensoniq AudioPCI (ES1370) Ensoniq AudioPCI 97 (ES1371)
Ensoniq/Reveal/Spea SoundScape Gallant SC-6000 Gallant SC-6600 Gravis Ultrasound
Gravis Ultrasound ACE Gravis Ultrasound Max Gravis Ultrasound with 16 bit option HP Kayak
Highscreen Sound-Booster32 Wave3D IBM MWAVE Jazz 16 Logitech Sound Man 16
Logitech SoundMan Games Logitech SoundMan Wave MAD16 Pro (OpTi 82C9xx chipsets) Media Vision Jazz16
MediaTriX AudioTriX Pro Microsoft Windows Sound System MiroSOUND PCM12 Mozart (OAK OTI-601)
NeoMagic 256AV/256ZX OpTi 82C931 Orchid SW32 Personal Sound System (PSS)
Pinnacle MultiSound Power Mac onboard sound Pro Audio Spectrum 16 Pro Audio Studio 16
Pro Sonic 16 Q40 onboard sound Roland MPU-401 MIDI interface S3 SonicVibes
SGI Visual Workstation SM Games SY-1816 SoundBlaster 1.0
SoundBlaster 16 SoundBlaster 16ASP SoundBlaster 2.0 SoundBlaster 32
SoundBlaster 64 SoundBlaster AWE32 SoundBlaster AWE64 SoundBlaster Live!
SoundBlaster PCI 128 SoundBlaster PCI 512 SoundBlaster Pro SoundBlaster Vibra16
SoundBlaster Vibra16X TI TM4000M notebook Terratec Base 1 Terratec Base 64
ThunderBoard Trident 4DWave DX/NX Trident Ali 5451 Trident SiS 7018
Turtle Beach Maui Turtle Beach MultiSound Classic Turtle Beach MultiSound Fiji Turtle Beach MultiSound Hurricane
Turtle Beach MultiSound Monterey Turtle Beach MultiSound Pinnacle Turtle Beach MultiSound Tahiti Turtle Beach WaveFront Maui
Turtle Beach WaveFront Tropez Turtle Beach WaveFront Tropez+ VIA 82Cxxx chip set VIDC 16-bit sound
Yamaha OPL2 sound chip Yamaha OPL3 sound chip Yamaha OPL3-SA1 sound chip Yamaha OPL3-SA2 sound chip
Yamaha OPL3-SA3 sound chip Yamaha OPL3-SAx sound chip Yamaha OPL4 sound chip Yamaha YM3812 sound chip

A word about compatibility: even though most sound cards are claimed to be SoundBlaster compatible, very few currently sold cards are compatible enough to work with the Linux SoundBlaster driver. These cards usually work better using the MSS/WSS or MAD16 driver. Only real SoundBlaster cards made by Creative Labs, which use Creative's custom chips (e.g. SoundBlaster16 Vibra), MV Jazz16 and ESS688/1688 based cards generally work with the SoundBlaster driver. Trying to use a SoundBlaster Pro compatible 16 bit sound card with the SoundBlaster driver is usually just a waste of time.

The Linux kernel supports the SCSI port provided on some sound cards (e.g. ProAudioSpectrum 16) and the proprietary interface for some CD-ROM drives (e.g. SoundBlaster Pro). See the Linux SCSI HOWTO and CDROM HOWTO documents for more information.

A kernel driver to support joystick ports, including those provided on some sound cards, is included as part of the 2.2 and later kernels.

Note that the kernel SCSI, CD-ROM, joystick, and sound drivers are completely independent of each other.

3.4. Alternate Sound Drivers

3.4.1. OSS/4Front

Sound support in the Linux kernel was originally written by Hannu Savolainen. Hannu then went on to develop the Open Sound system, a commercial set of sound drivers sold by 4Front Technologies that is supported on a number of Unix systems. Red Hat Software sponsored Alan Cox to enhance the kernel sound drivers to make them fully modular. Various other people also contributed bug fixes and developed additional drivers for new sound cards. These modified drivers were shipped by Red Hat in their 5.0 through 5.2 releases. These changes have now been integrated into the standard kernel as of version 2.0. Alan Cox is now the maintainer of the standard kernel sound drivers, although Hannu still periodically contributes code taken from the commercial driver.

The commercial Open Sound System driver from 4Front Technologies tends to be easier to configure and support more sound cards, particularly the newer models. It is also compatible with applications written for the standard kernel sound drivers. The disadvantage is that you need to pay for it, and you do not get source code. You can download a free evaluation copy of the product before deciding whether to purchase it. For more information see the 4Front Technologies web page at http://www.opensound.com.

3.4.2. ALSA

Jaroslav Kysela and others started writing an alternate sound driver for the Gravis UltraSound Card. The project was renamed Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) and has resulted in what they believe is a more generally usable sound driver that can be used as a replacement for the built-in kernel drivers. The ALSA drivers support a number of popular sound cards, are full duplex, fully modularized, and compatible with the sound architecture in the kernel. The main web site of the ALSA project is http://www.alsa-project.org. A separate "Alsa-sound-mini-HOWTO" is available which deals with compiling and installing these drivers. The ALSA drivers may move into the standard Linux kernel as part of the 2.5 kernel development.

3.4.3. Turtle Beach

Markus Mummert (mum@mmk.e-technik.tu-muenchen.de) has written a driver package for the Turtle Beach MultiSound (classic), Tahiti, and Monterey sound cards. The documentation states:

It is designed for high quality hard disk recording/playback without losing sync even on a busy system. Other features such as wave synthesis, MIDI and digital signal processor (DSP) cannot be used. Also, recording and playback at the same time is not possible. It currently replaces VoxWare and was tested on several kernel versions ranging from 1.0.9 to 1.2.1. Also, it is installable on UN*X SysV386R3.2 systems.

It can be found at http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~mccreary/tbeach.

3.4.4. Roland MPU-401

Kim Burgaard (burgaard@daimi.aau.dk) has written a device driver and utilities for the Roland MPU-401 MIDI interface. The Linux software map entry gives this description:

A device driver for true Roland MPU-401 compatible MIDI interfaces (including Roland SCC-1 and RAP-10/ATW-10). Comes with a useful collection of utilities including a Standard MIDI File player and recorder.

Numerous improvements have been made since version 0.11a. Among other things, the driver now features IRQ sharing policy and complies with the new kernel module interface. Metronome functionality, possibility for synchronizing e.g. graphics on a per beat basis without losing precision, advanced replay/record/overdub interface and much, much more.

It can be found at ftp://www.ibiblio.org/pub/Linux/kernel/sound/mpu401-0.2.tar.gz.

3.4.5. SoundBlaster Live!

Creative Labs has Linux drivers for several cards, including the SoundBlaster Live!, at http://opensource.creative.com.

3.4.6. Packet Radio

Another novel use for a sound card under Linux is as a modem for amateur packet radio. The 2.1 and later kernels include a driver that works with SoundBlaster and Windows Sound System compatible sound cards to implement 1200 bps AFSK and 9600 bps FSK packet protocols. See the Linux AX25 HOWTO for details (I'm a ham myself, by the way -- callsign VE3ICH).

3.4.7. PC Speaker

An alternate sound driver is available that requires no additional sound hardware; it uses the internal PC speaker. It is software compatible with the sound card driver, but, as might be expected, provides much lower quality output and has much more CPU overhead. The results seem to vary, being dependent on the characteristics of the individual loudspeaker. For more information, see the documentation provided with the release.

The latest version of the PC speaker driver can be found at ftp://ftp.infradead.org/pub/pcsp/.

3.4.8. Parallel Port

Another option is to build a digital to analog converter using a parallel printer port and some additional components. This provides better sound quality than the PC speaker but still has a lot of CPU overhead. The PC sound driver package mentioned above supports this, and includes instructions for building the necessary hardware.