Tech Support Gets Creative

I am going to share with everyone a huge fiasco I found myself in with the folks at Creative Labs. If you remember, I reviewed a Compaq GX5000Z gaming system last November. This is a desktop system developed by Compaq that uses standard retail computer parts; the very same parts you can purchase at your local computer store. Nothing is integrated, and the system uses an MSI motherboard (K8N Neo 2 Platinum) which you could purchase yourself should you so desire.

This Compaq system impressed us so much that we decided to make this one of our test systems for use with testing and benchmarking other computer hardware and peripherals. However once SLI enabled video cards started hitting the market, it was time for a system upgrade. This meant replacing the internal MSI motherboard with a new one; the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI to be exact. Moving all of the current hardware over to the motherboard was a piece of cake, with one exception, and that was the sound card.

Creative?s new Audigy 2 ZS soundcard is arguably one of the better gaming sound cards on the market (at least in November 2004 when the Compaq system was reviewed). Most of the high-end gaming systems use this card due to its phenomenal sound quality and support for digital surround sound. So we took this card out of the old system and plugged it into the new motherboard. Unfortunately the new motherboard did not recognize the Audigy 2 ZS, meaning this particular card was not truly Plug and Play compatible. So I headed over to Creative?s website to download the new driver; easier said than done.

We quickly found that Creative does not really host a complete original driver for this sound card on their website, at least not upon first inspection. All of the drivers listed mentioned an ?update? in their title meaning you needed to have the original driver installed before you could install the ?update?. Well, the Compaq system came with a full system restore CD (how typical of computer manufacturers eh?) so there is no separate driver for this sound card available with the Compaq system. But that?s ok right, because this system uses retail parts, just like you can get at your local store ? at least in theory. Not true. I e-mailed Creative labs tech support and was told the following:

Dear Ian,

Thank you for reaching us at Creative Technical Support; we appreciate the opportunity to assist you.

With regards to your enquiry, I’m sorry to inform you that currently there are no standalone driver / application available for download from our website. The website downloads are only updates and requires a previous version installed. If you have lost or misplaced the CD, perhaps you can consider purchasing a replacement CD from us.

With regards to getting a copy of the installation cd, you may contact our personnel via the phone to place an order.

Contacting our Customer Service Team toll-free at:

1-800-998-1000

9AM – 6PM CT, Monday – Friday

Closed Public Holidays

Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I went to HP?s/Compaq?s website and searched for a standalone Audigy 2 ZS driver. You plug in the system name and information and Compaq returns a list of drivers available. The Audigy 2 ZS driver was not there.

At this point I am out of luck and banging my head against the wall. What is the problem!? Ah, Creative Labs has a forum with tech support answers. It came as no surprise that most of the people posting on the support forums simply wanted a driver that worked, and I was now joining the ranks of frustrated users.

The moderators quickly pointed me to the Creative Labs download page where I could find a standalone driver from the version titled ?EAX 4.0 ADVANCED HD Driver Update for Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2/Audigy 2 ZS?. You see the title says ?update? so I assumed you needed to have the original driver installed, since the other updates require this. But after reading the details I soon found out that this is a standalone driver and should work. So I downloaded it, and ran the installation program. It told me it could not find the Audigy 2 ZS sound card on my system. So I posted asking for more help.

It turns out that this is an OEM version of the Audigy 2 ZS card made specifically for HP or Compaq computer systems (this Compaq system is supposed to use retail parts). The Creative Labs moderators, while very friendly, told me it is out of their hands since this is an OEM card and I needed to work with Compaq. Compaq phone support on the other hand told me that the drivers are not listed on their site because Creative prohibits this (I have no idea why).

So at this point I am flaming mad. I have spent a lot of time and energy to get this card to work, and I did not want to fork out money to pay for another one. So I posted a rant on the Creative Labs tech support forums once again hoping to get an answer. In my mind there was some sort of a conspiracy going on (on a playful level of course). Why would Creative create separate drivers for a sound card that is identical to the retail version?

In the end, a Creative Labs moderator was able to find the correct driver on Compaq?s website which worked (although it was found under an HP Workstation product). I still want to know why Creative?s e-mail support wanted to sell me a new driver disc and why Compaq told me there are no Creative drivers available on their site, when their clearly are.

There really is no clear moral to the story other than tech support just plain sucks in most instances – across the board. They would rather hand you off to another manufacturer than give you clear concise answers. But I guess if they knew the answers, they would have told me, so that makes me assume they are either not trained correctly (I am sure I will get a lot of responses on that one ha-ha) or the line of communication is broken between tech support and product managers/engineers.

I am VERY grateful for the Creative Labs forum moderator that pointed me to the driver download on Compaq?s website, it’s unfortunate that he decided to close the forum thread before I could thank him (I guess he had enough of me at that point).

What?s sad is that there is a lot of money being wasted on tech support that simply does not have the capacity or knowledge to do their job. They would rather sell you something than solve the problem.

What Creative needs to do is offer standalone drivers on their website that are clearly marked as such. And Compaq/HP needs to make sure that all of the drivers for their systems are categorized correctly and listed in the right sections of their site.

Have a horror tech support story? Post it below, I would love to hear about it.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.