Manufacturers strive to create innovative products and we as consumers work day and night to afford them. We exit our vehicles and are greeted by the open arms of big box retailers housing shelf after shelf of electronic excess.

We fork over handfuls of hard earned cash for microscopic phones and wafer thin laptops. Each item is priced, each price must be met, and it is instilled in our minds that we get what we pay for … but do we really?

As a blogger you are expected to offer up your opinion and provide your readers with a unique perspective. The more successful outlets do this in a timely and creative fashion on a daily basis. Staying on top means getting every ounce of capability out of everything you have at your disposal … including your hardware.

I bought a Dell laptop months ago with the intention of using it as a command center both at home and on the road. I wanted something powerful enough to run all the image and video editing software that I would need to keep Ripten rocking day and night. I hit the ground running, and everything seemed to be working great, until I decided to record some on-screen video.

Time and time again I tried to record audio and video feeds that displayed on my screen with no luck. I would get the video to record no problem, but the audio just wouldn’t record. I searched for alternative drivers on Dell’ site and consulted Dell’s support page to no avail.

Fully frustrated with my semi new purchase, I opened my wallet and switched my focus to software. I began to look at different types of software in the hopes that one would work. I tried Camtasia, Super Screen Recorder, WM Recorder, and a few others I can’t even remember — most trials, but a few required purchase. None remedied the situation. Thoroughly exhausted I gave up for a while, but eventually found myself needing to do it again.

As I began my prep work for this years E3, I thought I would give it one last go before scrapping my laptop (HULK SMASH) and buying a new one. At this point I was convinced that it was a hardware issue, and that the manufacturer of the video card built it with their head up their ass. In what I promised myself would be my final attempt, I searched the web for software yet again.

Being that my problem was audio, I limited my search to “record on screen audio”. The suggested software Google spit back was the ACA Screen Recorder. I installed the trial version, but was met by the same unsuccessful result. The software did however display a link that claimed to address the issue, so I clicked through and discovered that my sound card should have three audio recording options (listed below).

  • Microphone/Mic – The audio will be captured from the microphone port
  • Line-in/Line In – The audio will be captured from the Line-in port
  • Stereo Mix/Mono Mix/WAVE Out – The audio will be captured from the sound card’s speakers port

What? Stereo Mix? Where the fuck is my stereo mix? I only see two options, Mic and Line-in. Perplexed, I refocused my efforts on Google and began to search for the missing third option.

It was not long before I encountered multiple threads started by equally frustrated and confused consumers suffering from the same misfortune. Oddly enough they were all Dell owners with the same SigmaTel brand audio card that I had.

As I dug deeper into the various threads, I soon discovered that the issue had nothing to do with the hardware itself, and everything to do with the restrictions placed on it by the PC manufacturers.

Some believe that Dell, and several other computer manufacturers such as Gateway and Pac Bell, were pressured by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) into disabling the stereo mix functionality. If true, I find it disturbing that at no time did any of the aforementioned manufacturers see it fit to explain the restrictions they were imposing on our hardware.

One blogger explained that he contacted Dell seeking a solution for his stereo mix woes, and they offered him one — for a $99 fee.

“Since my desktop is new, I decided to contact Dell. After a long online chat and a phone call, Dell told me they had the solution, but if I wanted to know it would cost me $99.00.”

So that we are all clear, the evidence points to Dell appeasing the RIAA by disabling hardware, only to have their customer service reps turn around and offer a solution to their consumers that reverses the alteration they made in the first place at a premium price. I am no rocket scientist, but that sure as fuck sounds fishy to me.

In the end, I was able to restore my laptop’s stereo mix functionality by following a series of registry edits outlined here. While I am now able to record on-screen audio and video, this solution is not something that I recommend everyone attempt, as those who lack the necessary experience to make registry edits could unintentionally cause more harm than good.

The unfortunate reality here is that prebuilt computers are potentially becoming nothing more than an advertising platform for big time brands and a way for highly influential organizations to impose their will on the unaware masses. In the event I decide to make use of a PC again in the future, I will build it with my own two hands.

Update: A Dell Community Ambassador has responded to this post in the comments section below stating that the outbound links in this article are specific to laptops (as was the issue I was having). He has provided a link he claims will rectify the issue, however it is unclear if this will work for all Dell computers that have had the sound card feature disabled by the company.

Also, this does not explain why it was disabled in the first place. If you have a Dell desktop computer with this issue, or the link below simply does not work for your Dell laptop, please let me know in the comment section below or email me at chad@ripten.com.