Today, many machines (especially portable ones) are equipped with simplified sound chips directly built onto the mainboard. These are often branded with the name of the board or system manufacturer rather than the manufacturer of the chip itself, and the chip manufacturer typically denies direct customer support by providing apropriate drivers but rather points to the system manufacturer instead.
However, most manufacturers keep hardly up to date with driver updates or do not support all operating systems possible. Instead of giving up and getting an add-on card instead, you might first try to use a different driver. This might be done in two possible ways:
Although many cards (e.g., SB AWE, SB Live! and Audigy) and operating systems (any Windows with DirectX 7 or later) ship with a soft- or hardware General MIDI wavetable, they still do not sound that good. Thus, if you often use MIDI playback, a separate MIDI wavetable or expander is a good idea. A simple solution is using an external expander which can be connected to the soundcards MIDI output (might need a MIDI/Gameport adapter cable or an extra MIDI bay) or by using an USB MIDI adapter. A cheap solution is using a wavetable add-on card using the Yamaha XG or Dream chipsets (often found on Terratec hardware) with 4MB or more sample ROM. If your sound device does not provide a wavetable connector, you may turn the add-on card into an external expander by adding some extra circuits as described in MIDImal, c't 1/97, S. 328
In any case, do not forget to switch the audio settings from the default synth to the new one afterwards - this is a quite common error.
It is not unusual that the joystick or the MIDI functionality of the sound devices combined MIDI-gameport connector does not work. Multiple issues might apply:
A good test to check whether MIDI out works on the card is to put a LED, preferably a red low-current type one, into the port between hole 12 (MIDI OUT) and hole 1 (+5V). It should flicker as long as MIDI data is transfered to this port. Note that using hole 8 or 9 instead of hole 1 would work as well but hole 15 might not, though.
This is a common pitfall of all SB AWE ISA cards: The output of the OPL3 chip is routed through the EMU chip of the AWE cards as well, causing it to be inaudible as long as the AWE part of an AWE SB 32 or 64 is not initialized properly.
Under DOS, running aweutil.com /s does the job. There are additional parameters of AWEutil regarding AdLib functionality as well, namely /r:XX and /c:XX which set reverb and chorus FX strength for the AdLib output to the given decimal number XX
Under 32bit Windows, this small tool should do the job: MIDI Passthrough Program from tom7.