Creative SB X-Fi broken under Vista

Okay, this isn’t strictly in-keeping with the theme of the blog, but I’ve found random posts like this can be very helpful in diagnosing and fixing problems. Google is your friend, and makes it easy to fine articles that describe your issue. My issue – that my Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi stopped working at some point last week (start of September 2009), didn’t come up in too many searches, and the answers that did come up weren’t very helpful. So here goes with my experience, and a fix.


You’ve got a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi card, and you’re running Windows Vista. It’s got the latest drivers installed. Probably it was working just fine up until the end of August. Windows Update prompted you with an update to your sound card, or maybe it just got installed automatically. Now the sound card is producing no output. Windows Media Player fails to play movies and audio with cryptic errors that basically boil down to “can’t play file”. If you right-click on the Speakers or Microphone in the Sound control panel, and select Test, it pops up a message box saying “Failed to play test tone”, and stays resolutely silent.

Annoying, huh? So you go searching on the web, and find a bunch of posts talking about Audigy cards, and “failed to play test tone”, which recommend that you disable this or that setting in the Creative volume panel, or in the sounds control panel. None of this helps your problem at all. And that’s probably right – because the “failed to play test tone” message could happen for a bunch of reasons – all it really means is that Vista can’t talk to your sound card properly.

As far as I can tell, this is some specific problem with the Windows Update to the sound card. Not sure what, or how, but we have two similarly configured machines at the office, and they both went in the same way, over the same period. Thankfully the fix is a straightforward one, and it’s to re-install the drivers.


First off you’d probably just uninstall the drivers and then reinstall, this you can do quickly. We found it didn’t help. Then you think “oh, I’ll go to the Creative site and download the drivers manually”. Great. Except there’s like a dozen versions of the SB X-Fi, all with different connectors at the back, all with slightly different names, and all of which have different drivers. And here’s you looking at device manager which just says “SB X-Fi”. But which one!

So after trying two different versions and getting it wrong (it tells you it can’t find a device of that type on your system), I decided to try a different tack, and this worked right off the bat. Here are the steps:

  1. Start Menu -> Computer, right-click and select Manage
  2. Select Device Manager from the left hand side
  3. Go to Audio devices in the right hand tree
  4. Right click on the X-Fi device that should live there, and select Uninstall Drivers
  5. It should ask for confirmation – tick the check box that says “delete drivers” – you don’t want the same old drivers to be reinstalled (this is the key step)
  6. This should take away your X-Fi, and leave you with no audio device (or even if you had onboard audio like we did, shouldn’t make a difference).
  7. In the device manager, right-click on your computer and select “Scan for hardware changes”
  8. This should bring up the usual hardware detected icon in the task area in the bottom right. Let it do it’s thing
  9. When it prompts you about drivers – let Windows find the drivers for you. It should either download fresh drivers, or download a slightly older driver which comes with Creative’s auto-update software. But basically follow through with the driver install process, and you shouldn’t need to do anything special
  10. It’ll probably prompt you to restart your machine. If it doesn’t, restart anyway.
  11. It should reboot and finish up the driver installation when it restarts – now you should have your sound back just as before.

Hope this helps people (and if the solution works for people, feel free to link it elsewhere).

One Response to “Creative SB X-Fi broken under Vista”

  1. seagreenTurtle Says:

    Thanks very much, this was exactly what I was looking for. Fixed my sudden lack of sound in September. It’s true, all the other Google results I tried had me changing this or fiddling with that and nothing worked. Your solution was exactly right. Thanks again!

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