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December 1999

Crystal Clear: A PCI Sound Card for OS/2

Brad Kell - bkell@jymis.com
OS/2 Rules Website http://www.jymis.com/~bkell/

Let me start out by expressing my thanks to Crystal Semiconductor for their audio chips as well as their support for OS/2 in the form of drivers that work.

Finding a PCI sound card that would not only work under OS/2 but that had WIN/OS2 support has been a challenge. My current Warp box has only two ISA slots and they were dedicated before I built it. I had thought   that the promised Crystalizer Tidalwave128 PCI sound card would be my solution but it has not yet come to market.

While surfing my list of computer vendors recently, I came across a sound card simply labeled "Crystal PCI sound card." A quick check at Crystal's site revealed only one PCI audio chipset (CS4280) and there were OS/2 drivers.  So, with a listed price of $12.00 U.S., I ordered it. Upon arrival, its small physical size amazed me.

The box states that it is an ONSpeed CS4280 Advanced PCI, Wavetable, Directsound Accelerator.  This is a full-duplex, 64 voice polyphonic wavetable card.  A CD-ROM, with Windows and OS/2 Warp3 drivers, came with the card but no hard copy documentation was enclosed.  I had downloaded the most current OS/2 driver on my initial inspection of the Crystal site and had familiarized myself with the readme file.

My OS/2 (aka merlin) system consists of:

Installation was very straight forward (in my opinion). Turn off the computer, remove the side panel, insert the sound card into an empty PCI slot, connect an audio cable from the CD-ROM drive to the sound card (not included with the card), put the panel back on, and bootup OS/2. (PCI BIOS configuration was already set to "auto" for the PCI slots.)

The driver file was unzipped to a "temporary" directory (it will also fit on a floppy disc) and, as stated in the readme, MINSTAL (Multimedia Install) was run pointing to the "temp" directory.

Up to this point, everything had gone well, maybe too well. Upon rebooting, I was presented with the ominous TRAP 0008. For those that have not ever seen this, it is one of those black screen "system halted, call your service rep" type of errors. I performed the ol' Vulcan Nerve Pinch (Ctrl-Alt-Del) and booted to my BootOS2 utility partition. From there I "rem'd" (remarked) out the lines to the Warp config.sys file that the Crystal installation had added, ran chkdsk /f on that partition, and rebooted.

The Crystal readme file states:

It is not normally necessary, but should it become necessary to start from the beginning, the OS/2 Multimedia subsystem MMPM/2) can be deleted and reinstalled without impacting the rest of the installed system.

    a) ERASE \MMOS2 and all subdirectories (this
       removes OS/2 multimedia support) Some files
       won't delete, this is okay.

    b) Use OS/2 selective install to re-install OS/2
       multimedia support. It may auto-detect an
       audio device. You should override the
       auto-detection to remove the detected device.
       When correct, the installation panel will have
       no audio devices listed.

    c) Complete selective installation and reboot

    d) You are now prepared to use this diskette to
       install Crystal drivers.

After rebooting, I repeated the procedure for installing the drivers. So far, so good. Time to reboot and see if this sucker works. Shutdown... BAM! Trap0008 AGAIN! I thought, "this is weird... never had a Trap anything at shutdown. Oh well, what the heck, let's see what happens." Hard reset. Normal bootup... YES, system startup sound! My grin filled the room.

Can I listen to CD's? Slapped in some Tangerine Dream... YES, and it sounds KILLER with those Altec's!

But what about WIN/OS2 support? The readme says I'll get it. Time to open a Full-screen WIN/OS2 session... YES, Windows startup audio!

Now, can I get RealAudio5 to work? After all, that is primarily why the WIN/OS2 support is needed.  The Windows Video 1.1e run-time (required by RA) had already been installed so all I should have to do is install RA from a WIN/OS2 window.  After installation of RA5 all of the test samples play but it seems that most RA capable sites are now requiring G2.  The only platforms that are supported by G2 are WindowsXX and Mac.  Also, Netscape 2.02 and Communicator 4.61 seem to be having a problem with running RA as a helper application but I am trying to exterminate that bug.

Conclusion: While I have not put this card through any kind of exhaustive testing, I am very pleased so far. A PCI sound card with WIN/OS2 support for $27.00 ($12.00 for the card and $15.00 s/h & insurance) seemed almost too good to be true. All the vendors that I had talked to about the Tidalwave128 wanted about $140.00 plus s/h!  Now I can listen to CD's, wave & midi files - both from within the system and in Netscape, as well as all the other formats that they both support.  My confidence also runs high that I will be able to use most, if not all, of the audio plug-ins successfully too.  Overall, I would give this card an A-.  Additionally, no sooner than the card had been installed than Lesha Bogdanowthe released the LBMixer, as free software distributed under GNU General Public License.  This also works with this card (I installed it into the MMOS2 directory).  So now there is a level mixer for Crystal sound cards using the 2.x and up drivers.  Here is a screenshot taken with PMView 1.05:


As you can see, there are several controls on the screen.  Each has one or two sliders and up to three checkboxes.

Sliders set volume (left/right channels if there are two sliders).  If "Both" is checked, moving one slider changes both channels.  The "Mute" checkbox kills input/output control for that device.  The "Lock" checkbox allows the LBMixer to override MMOS2 per stream controls, telling MMOS2 that audio control is done by the mixer rather than applications.  Lesha suggests keeping all the unused inputs muted to minimize the noise level.

A Paradise Aureal Vortex1 PCI sound card was my old sound card.  While Aureal's OS/2 drivers worked, there was no WIN/OS2 support. As an aside, this same Crystal CS4280 chip is used in some other PCI sound cards. I do not know if they work under OS/2 or not, and Crystal is quick to tell you to check the manufacturers site for drivers first.

Where the card was purchased:  PCBroker - http://www.pcbroker.com/ 
Crystal Semiconductor - http://www.crystal.com/ 
Crystal Audio Drivers - http://www.cirrus.com/drivers/audiodrv/:
Info from Crystal on the CS4280 chipset - http://www.cirrus.com/products/overviews/cs4280.html 
Aureal's site - http://www.aureal.com/
LBMix - http://freebyte.ml.org/~boga/OS2Programs.html:    (site may be down; file is also on hobbes - ftp://hobbes.nmsu.edu/pub/os2/apps/mmedia/util/mixers/lbcsmix100.zip)
PMView - http://www.pmview.com/

Note:  I can find no website for ONSpeed.

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