Inside my computer desktop, I have a piece of hardware that has been transplanted across multiple desktops. It’s the E-MU 1820M digital audio interface card with external audio dock which I bought sometime in mid-2000s. It supports 24-bit 192kHz audio, 18 inputs and 20 outputs, 2 MIDI ports, 2 TFPro mic preamps with 40dB gain and 48V phantom power. I don’t really use half of the professional features, but what I really love is the clean audio production and expandability of both analogue and digital connections.
The card survived several OS and desktop upgrades, from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 and even Windows 10, though the official drivers only support up to Windows 7. But now that new mainboards no longer come with the old 32-bit PCI slots, I had to hold on to my 6-year-old desktop that ran on first-generation Intel Core i5 CPU. Often, I had searched for alternatives to replace the audio interface but none is as worthy for my budget. It just couldn’t bear to write off something that still works wonderfully just because the new-generation desktop components have turned obsolete.
Then, 2 coincidences occurred.
First, I spotted a pre-loved desktop with great casing for a reasonable price. I love how the parts are assembled, including the provision of SSD and HDDs. It would cost at least 50% more if I had assembled brand new.
Then I came across this brilliant hardware adapter that converts a PCI-express x1 slot into 2 old-school PCI slots. The issue is that there was no space to fit the audio card with the adapter into the existing horizontal slot against the existing mainboard. And most people would buy a casing that fit the mainboard with no spare room.
The amazing thing about this particular pre-owned desktop is that it had one vertical slot perpendicular to the regular horizontal slots (see earlier pic with the new desktop, notice the white slot covers). And I was like: what are the odds of me finding a desktop that I fancy with a special slot that I could make use to fit my precious audio card with the adapter?
I bought the desktop off the current owner in a flash.
After I completed the OS installation and data migration (post here), the next step was to wait patiently for the adapter to arrive. The order from AliExpress took 3 weeks, and I had to buy 2 components from separate sellers. One was the main PCI converter adapter, and the other was a special L-shaped SATA cable to power up the adapter. The L-shaped connector is important because normal SATA cable would stick out and block the PCI board.
In preparation of a worse-case scenario, I thought of a few options if the adaptor failed to work, one of which was to keep the old desktop and use it only when I needed to create audio projects. I could live with that, since I had few music projects these days. The other option was to abandon my old audio box and get a new USB audio interface, plus USB-MIDI cables to plug my existing synths.
The components finally arrived. I installed the parts, connected the cable to the power supply unit, and turned on the PC. No display? Oh, the cable came lose which I was moving the desktop around. Restart.
OK, boot success into Windows 10, but no sign of hardware auto-detect, and the audio box had no light. I clicked into System -> Device Manager and identified that a certain “Digital Audio Interface” was detected but not installed. I promptly installed the E-MU 1820 PCI driver, followed by the audio software. Then I rebooted.
The first sign of success is when the audio box started initialising with flashing lights. Then the E-MU audio software started up. The final verification: I opened up an audio file, and saw the peak meter moving. I then turned up the volume knob gradually, until I heard a familiar sound from the speaker.
Welcome back, old friend! You’re working all over again in a fifth-generation Intel i5 desktop!