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I currently enjoy using a Windows 98 PC I built using parts I got either for free or very cheap. One of those parts is a sligthtly modern case - the cheapest one I could find that has a 5.25" and 3.5" bay (although it turns out the 3.5" bay was not meant for a floppy drive but that's besides the point...). The case has front audio via AC'97, but I can never use that, because while the motherboard can support it, I can't use its onboard sound (and I have tried. If anyone is curious, the sound chip is a Realtek ALC655). Instead, I use a Sound Blaster Live!, which is shown off in this video. That card doesn't have an AC'97 connector (go figure...) so I have a 6 foot aux cable that goes to the card that allows me to plug in headphones while not having the PC on the desk. The cable solution works...fine, but I'd really like to use that front panel audio. I don't even care about the microphone port, I'd just like audio.

Is there a safe way to convert AC'97 to any of the standards used on the card? I'd prefer not to use the Soundblaster interface because it's not convienent, but I will if I have to. If I can get the onboard sound working, or if I can get a card that supports Windows 98 and AC'97, that would also be an acceptable solution

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    If you mean using front audio just for plugging in a headphone jack to listen to music coming from Sound Blaster, then I recall the front audio sockets have an analog connector going to the motherboard. You can actually find the schematics and all the relevant technical details here: web.archive.org/web/20060131215147if_/http://… (pay attention to Figure 2 on p. 20). In a nutshell, your task would be to make a DIY analog cable connecting the front panel to SB analog input / output instead of the AC97 chip on the motherboard.
    – DmytroL
    Feb 5, 2021 at 9:28
  • And if you mean to connect Sound Blaster to AC97 digitally, then I guess it would be much more convoluted. You'd have to break the link between the south bridge chip and the AC97 chip, and "hook" the AC Link by converting Sound Blaster digital output to AC Link data frames (which would require a dedciated microcontroller and some convoluted programming of the microcontroller chip to upscale the audio to 48 KHz and "pack" it into AC Link frames)
    – DmytroL
    Feb 5, 2021 at 9:36
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    Also, there seem to be ALC655 drivers for Windows 98 (at least, Gold / SE releases seem to be supported): realtek.com/en/component/zoo/category/…
    – DmytroL
    Feb 6, 2021 at 10:02
  • You should also check your BIOS for audio settings. On mine I can choose between ac97 and soundblaster. You could try different settings.
    – zomega
    Jan 10, 2023 at 15:46

2 Answers 2

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The "AC-97" and "HDA" front panel audio connectors use analog audio lines. They differ in how plug-in detection is handled. With "AC-97" cases, plugging a cable in to the front audio output electrically disconnected the rear output. With "HDA" cases there was a digital signal to tell the sound chip that something had been plugged in to the front port.

You can find the pinouts at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_High_Definition_Audio#Front_panel_connector

Note that many newer cases, had both "AC-97" and "HDA" connectors but only supported plug-in detection with HDA motherboards. When used with an AC-97 motherboard both front and rear outputs would always be active.

If you don't mind having a cable looping out the back of your case and don't care about plug-in detection, it should be easy to build an adapter with a mini-jack connector to plug into the back of your sound card and a header into which to plug your cases front panel audio connector.

The soundblaster live had it's own custom front panel, the "Live Drive" unfortunately from some searching it seems that the links to this front panel were digitial, so they can't easilly be connected to a standard PC front panel.

It appears that some OEM models of the sound blaster live had a white front panel audio connector, which can be adapted to a HDA connector but this was not present on standard retail cards. https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?t=46939

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I would just splice the cables. Cut that 6 foot cable and run it inside the case. Then cut the wires to your front port and connect the two together.

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    Why splice the cables while you can make an adapter and leave the original cables intact for future use?
    – Justme
    Aug 12, 2022 at 16:53
  • What would you make the adapter out of? Spliced cables? Isn't that what I'm suggesting?
    – HackSlash
    Aug 12, 2022 at 22:32
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    @HackSlash I think Justme is objecting to the omission of a "buy some new cables so you don't have to cut up what could be hard-wired or vintage ones" in your answer.
    – ssokolow
    Aug 13, 2022 at 11:33

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