Sneaker sleuth is on the case. Got a baffling bug? Lab Manager Michael Cheek will
sniff out an answer. 
Send an e-mail to [email protected]
with your problem. If your question appears, you'll get a GCN T-shirt.

Q: I have a 66-MHz 486DX PC with Microsoft Windows 95 and a four-speed CD-ROM drive.
It will load applications and such but won't play music CDs. The on-screen controls work,
but no sound comes from the speakers.

 Technical support told me to reinstall the 
CD-ROM software. It still didn't work. After another call, I was told this was a common
problem and there's no fix.


-Leon E. Luck III
Army National Guard

A: Turns out your problem is hardware, not software. You're missing a tiny wire inside
your PC.

 Audio CDs are a little different from CD-ROMs. They look the same, but the sound in
CD-ROM applications is specially encoded to be interpreted by your CPU chip and sound

 Your PC can't interpret the data on audio CDs, so the digital tunes bypass the CPU
and sound card and head to the speakers to pump out the jams. 

This happens over a wire that links 
the CD-ROM drive and sound card, known as "line-out" on the drive and
"line-in" on the card. It's very small but essential and should have come
installed on your PC.

 As it turns out, your particular sound card (which is no longer available) does not
have a line-in jack, so you'll have to consider an upgrade to hear music.

 An alternative is a new, faster CD-ROM-8X drives can be found for less than $100.
Make sure the disk-spinner has a headphone jack on the front where you can plug in and
listen directly to the audio CD.

Q: I went to buy a printer cable and found three at different prices: a parallel
cable for $4, a bidirectional parallel cable for $7 and an IEEE 1284 parallel for $12.
What exactly is the difference?

-Jim Lawrence 
Retired Defense Department employee

A: The standard parallel cable sends data one way, from your PC to the printer, at 150
kilobytes/sec. The bidirectional parallel cable can send information back and forth
between devices at that speed to inform you about paper jams and toner and ink levels.

 The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 1284 standard supports an
Enhanced Parallel Port or an Extended Capabilities Port on your PC. Both port types allow
bidirectional communications at speeds up to 2 megabytes/sec. The ECP is supposed to be a
little better because it buffers and offloads some of the printer processing to the PC.

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