As recently as ten years ago a great many PCs were virtually silent, apart that is from the whine from the cooling fan, an occasional bleep from the internal speaker during boot up and a not so occasional screeching sound when programs crashed… For a surprisingly long time sound cards and external speakers were considered frivolous optional extras but Windows and the burgeoning games market changed all that.


A stereo sound system is now an integral part of the modern multimedia PC but few users realise just how good the audio quality of their computers can be, thanks to the sound mangling properties of the cheap and nasty speakers supplied with most systems. Most PC owners know that that they can play audio CDs in their computer’s CD-ROM drive but those who bother to try are usually disappointed because it sounds so awful, fewer still go on to explore the many other possibilities, that can turn an ordinary PC into a versatile and accomplished audio system.


We’re not about to suggest that the average home PC is a serious alternative to a top-end hi-fi set up, it’s not, but if you’re sat in front of a computer all day, and you enjoy listening to reasonable quality music then there’s no sense in installing a separate sound system or hi-fi, make use of your PC.


This week we’ll be taking a broad look at what your PC can do and some simple steps you can take to improve its sonic performance; next week we’ll delve deeper into the controversial area of music and sounds on the Internet.


Playing audio CDs on the CD-ROM drive is only the beginning, in fact PCs make excellent recording devices. Sounds are stored as digital data on the hard disc drive which makes it much more versatile and flexible than magnetic tape. Sound files can be accessed more or less instantaneously and with the right software, sounds can be edited, mixed and manipulated faster and more easily than is possible using conventional analogue tape recorders and sound mixing equipment. However, on a more basic level, you can record music from any external source to playback on your PC, and that includes a microphone, vinyl record deck, cassette tape CD or MiniDisc player, even a radio, VCR or TV. The only proviso is that your PC has to have an audio or ‘Line’ and microphone input sockets. Virtually all models do – including most laptops -- usually on the back panel, close to the socket for the external speakers.


All versions of Windows come with a Sound Recorder utility (Start > Programs > Accessories > Entertainment) but it is very basic and you have to mess around with the filing system to get it to record for more than a minute or so.  Fortunately there are plenty of very well equipped freeware and shareware sound recorder programs available from the Internet, and we’ll be looking at some of them next week. In the meantime if you want to carry out a few experiments and see what your PC is capable of, have a play with Sound Recorder, or better still, download a small program called Total Recorder 2.2 from shareware sites like Tucows ( This makes high quality recordings in standard Windows sound format (*.wav files) from internal sources, such as your CD-ROM, or any external device, it can also be programmed to record or playback sound files at specified times. All you need is the appropriate connecting lead (usually stereo minijack to stereo minijack), which you can obtain from most video, hi-fi or PC accessory dealers.


If you have the radio on when you’re working at your PC then why not fit an FM radio card or adaptor module? There used to be quite a few of them on the market though nowadays they’re harder to find but several TV tuner cards have built-in FM radios. Tuner cards – if you can track one down -- cost from around £20, combined TV and radio tuner cards sell for £46 upwards (see Magic TV Tuner,


Installing extra software or hardware devices won’t do a thing for actual sound quality, which is determined by the PC’s loudspeakers you’re using with your PC. You can instantly improve the sound of your PC by replacing the speakers, either with higher quality PC sound systems with built-in amplifiers speakers and a sub-woofer; you can expect to pay to the region of £200 for something approaching hi-fi quality. Alternatively you could resurrect a pair of bookshelf speakers from a redundant hi-fi system. The sound card/adaptors in most PCs have an amplified output, enough to drive a small speaker directly; you can obtain a suitable lead from most video and audio dealers. It probably won’t be very loud but this doesn’t usually matter, as they’ll normally be sited quite close to you, either side of the screen. Incidentally, avoid putting hi-fi speakers right next to the monitor as the magnets inside can cause colour ‘staining’ on the screen, which the monitor’s ‘degauss’ system may have trouble removing.


Next week – Music while you work, part 2





De-magnetise. A coil around the outside of the monitor screen induces a collapsing magnetic field that eradicates any magnetic build up on metal components inside the picture tube



Loudspeaker designed specifically to reproduce low frequency bass sounds, used extensively in ‘shoot-em-up’ PC games to produce gut-rumbling effects and explosions



Short for waveform; the file extension .wav denotes digital sound files used by Windows and most Windows games and applications.




This week’s tip is for advanced Windows users with troublesome PCs. Scanreg.ini is an undocumented utility in Windows 98 that automatically makes a backup of the Registry every time the PC boot up successfully. Up to five known good copies (  - are stored in a Windows folder called Sysbckup, which Windows will use to replace a corrupted or damaged Registry.


Scanreg.ini lets you can change the number of Registry backups and it can also be set to backup other vital system files in the Windows directory or the Windows System folder.


Go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘Scanreg.ini’, which will open as a text file in Windows Notepad. The command line that sets the number of Registry backups is:


Unless you have a compelling reason to do so – such as persistent Registry problems -- it’s best left on the default value of 5.


To backup other system files you need to add the command line ‘Files=’, (without the inverted commas of course) to the end of scanreg.ini, followed by a folder code. For example, to backup the Windows System directory the line would read:



You can add extra folder codes, separated by commas, and even the names of system files, so if you also wanted to backup config.sys, for example, the line would read:

‘Files=11, config.sys

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