How To Fix Sound Distortion When PC Is Active

One of our readers named Mike submitted the following problem to us:

Basically, I seem to have an issue where my sound will skip/distort any time my processor is busy. And it doesn’t have to be anything significant, this can happen just when I’m opening up Firefox. Now, I can understand something like this happening on an old PC, but I don’t see why this would be a problem given the specs of this build. It doesn’t matter what program is playing an audio file, and the skipping/distorting is more pronounced if I have multiple programs/more memory-intensive programs running. I have tried a clean install, wiping everything and starting over, to no avail. As far as I can tell all of the parts I have work fine, but I still have this sound issue.

This problem is actually somewhat common. I have experienced it in the past myself. The usual solution is anything but obvious, though.

The short answer is that the problem lies in the modes specified for your primary and secondary IDE controllers. You usually have a hard drive and an optical drive. You need to have the modes set to DMA and not PIO.

First an explanation of the two:

  • DMA (Direct memory access) mode is a high performance mode for transferring data to and from devices, in particular, to CD and DVD burner devices. DMA mode allows the processor to transfer large pieces of data with very little software overhead – therefore requiring low CPU utilization. In this mode, high speed burning can be performed in background with other programs running.
  • Short for Programmed Input/Output, a method of transferring data between two devices that uses the computer’s main processor as part of the data path.

We need to be using DMA mode so that the processor can work on things like proper sound output and less on simple data transfer.

Windows will revert to PIO mode on the drives if it has any problems using DMA. And if the problem persists, Windows will just make it permanent and will continue to use PIO mode even if you specify DMA. So, there are two ways to tackle it.

Go to your device manager in the Control Panel, find your primary IDE channel, right-click and select Properties. Go to the Advanced tab and find the device you are configuring. Make sure “DMA if available” is selected. If you have anything connected to your secondary IDE channel, do the same for that one. You will need to reboot Windows for the change to take effect.

If that doesn’t fix it, it may be because Windows is forcing PIO. In this case, you actually want to uninstall the controller from the device manager. It may seem overkill, but on reboot, Windows will simply re-detect the controller and set it up.

Comments

  1. very concise answer to a very common problem.

  2. When you said “uninstall the controller” do you mean ALL the controllers or only those that states “PIO” as mode of transfer although DMA is made available.

  3. This site Rocks! I had to talk to people in India and get ridiculous emails from Intel tech support. They actually told me to take my motherboard out and place it on a non static surface and see if the problem goes away… even though I told them the audio works fine when the drive is not accessed. This solution fixed the problem. Thank Google for finding this site on my search!!!

    Why wouldn’t a company like Intel know this as a first step to the solution rather than have someone take there computer apart? Idiots!

    Thank you for the solution. The sound quality is back in action.

  4. I have the same problem but my hard drives are sata. any advice in that case?

    • I’m in the same boat as you Eli. I have the distortion problem and I’m not running anything in IDE. My HDD and DVD drives are SATA. I have been pulling my hair out with this problem.

  5. Hello thanks for the fix (i uninstalled Primary IDE Channel and its fixed now)

    What is the cause of this problem? It happens first time for me and yesterday all worked ok and today this. What it triggers it?

  6. this is brilliant dude !!! it took me endless time to rectify this issue in my laptop..but now everything is alright !! thanks alot for posting this !!!

  7. Amazing, I finally fix the problem!

    I uninstall the controller from the device manager and now everything work fine.

    My computer also boot faster!

    Thanks.

  8. hi, tis might sound stupit, but i dont really know were
    to do this stuff, i’ve been in my control panel but mmm
    i dint know hou and were to change the settings. is it possible if you can please email me step by step instructions?

    • Jus right click on the Mycomputer icon and select manage……now in the computer managament window,jus click on the device manager icon on the left side pane and search for the primary IDE controllers….jus uninstall it and restar ur pc…it should work!!

      • wow. thanks. this worked.
        i was beginning to think it was time to get a new computer or pay $100 to get it looked at by some geek.
        thanks again

  9. OMG!!! That acually worked I had no Idea I had been messing with this for about a month THANK YOU!!! All I did was uninstall and restart worked like a charm!!!

  10. thanks so much, this has totally fixed the problem! and so simple!

  11. Had this problem for months.

    Morons at PC World had not got a clue

    Did the uninstall and Hey Presto we have normal sound back

    Thanks

  12. Thank you for the solution to an aggravating problem. General marked improvement in speed of operation of the computer. I think this might have arisen during change of disk burning software.
    I notice that on the Primary IDE channel in Device Manager, the Device 0 has changed from PIO to Ultra DMA Mode 5 but Device 1 remains showing PIO even though set for DMA if available. Repeated uninstall of Primary IDE Channel does not change the setting. Any reason? Performance remains greatly enhanced, so this is not a practical problem.

  13. Zulfi Khan says:

    Thank you for your assistance, worked like a dream. May God Bless you!

  14. It works now!!!!!! I’m so happy. So many times I wanted to take my computer outside and kill it with a blunt object. What good is a home computer if you cant listen to music or watch a movie?? But now its all working well again and with the easiest fix. thanks you!!!!

  15. Crikey!! You’ve no idea what (or how many dvds/players) we’ve been through to fix this.. I’m a little sad I found this so late, but none the less, thank you!

  16. F*uckin brilliant fix!!!!!

    used disabling the primary. great job….

    Any idea what causes this distortion?

  17. brilliant post dude, awesome work,
    it works like never before.
    God bless u

  18. Richard D says:

    Un-installing and re-installing the drivers worked. I was a little hesitant to try this but it is a simple solution to a painful problem.

    Thanks

  19. Rahul Banerji says:

    I would call my problem voice distortion more than sound distortion. The voice on songs as well as movies sound high pitched and squeaky. This is a recent development. Everything was working fine earlier. Uninstalling the Primary IDE channel controller and re-booting has not helped. It does not matter if I play the mp3, mp4 or movies on Windows Media Player 11 or on Nero Showtime the voice is coming high pitched and squeaky. The same is true for songs played on Youtube. I had this problem on my previous computer a little over a year and it corrected itself by disconnecting the audio cables and rebooting. This time – No luck. HELP!

    • I have the same problem-that voice is microsoft sam-if you go to contol panel and to speeech you will see the problem-i can’t fix it or get rid of it if you have found a slution let me know J

  20. WOW…i’ve been looking for this solution for months. Tried everything. Works great and overall performance of the pc is much better. Thanx for the great advice.

  21. justintime1977 says:

    Beautiful!!!! It does actually work!!!!!!! Genius!!!!

  22. OKay I am not very good at all his technical stuff . I went into device manager and I went into IDE/ATA/ATAPI controllers and I just ininstalled everything under that heading. This didnt work unfortunately. Can someone tell me if I did this wrong. There doesnt seem to be anything that says PIO in my device manager.
    Thanks

    • I’m in the same situation, MiMi, and have been frustrated with the problem for two months. I suspect it’s something in the drivers that got whamooed by a download or update.

  23. Have being trying to fix this problem for months, and this has finally sorted it, and it;s such an easy fix to!! Thanks very much, you are a legend, and I can now listen to my tunes uninterrupted!!

  24. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! I too have been struggling with this problem for months and just fixed it. I was ready to give up on my laptop, but now it seems almost like new!

    Thank you.

    Thanks also to Varsha for the step by step instructions.

    Amazing.

  25. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you – I have been having this problem for months and was ready to give up on my lap top, but then I tried this and voila! Now the computer sounds like new and goes much faster. Thanks to both David and Varsha for the step by step instructions.

  26. Thank you for your support worked really fine.

  27. many thanks!…completely cured the problem which has been bugging me for months!….only wish i had looked here earlier!!!

  28. I’m crossing my fingers and I won’t thank you too much :-) but this same stupid problem was also bugging me for months now !!!!!!

    THANK YOU !!!!!!!!!

  29. i’m having the same problem, but i tried to do the steps but i can’t go past the IDE stage, i don’t know a lot about computers but either which doesn’t help.

    I can’t find DMA avaliable on the IDE Channel.

    PLEASE HELP, i gave it for repair twice and they failed to fix it.

  30. i’m having the same problem with Sarah. there’s an IDE ATA/ATAPI controller selection in device manager, and under it Intel(R) PCHM SATA AHCI Controller 4 port. When i right click and select properities, there are 4 tabs; general, driver, details and references.

    what shall i do now?

  31. Julie Burch says:

    Try a different music player….worked for me. Had horrible distortion with Windows Media Player.

  32. Dominique Laffan says:

    I had the same problem and tried everything you said but it didn’t work. Now I know very little technical stuff about PCs but suddenly when I saw the “Sound, video and game controllers” link it dawned on me what I needed to do…. I disabled the Intel(R) High Definition Audio HDMI and now my laptop is working perfectly well. Hurrah for the novice, lol

  33. i think it may be it’s the hardware problem, fix it is not easy

  34. Very helpful post!

    Sometimes fixing sound problems on your computer may be less challenging if you follow certain guidelines. First of all look at the most likely cause of the horrible sound, then gradually move up to defining what the next most likely cause could be. Listing the simplest of the possible causes to the ones that may be more difficult to solve. This will help to save potential time in fixing sound issues.

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