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I got a new computer at work, installed Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat and the sound didn't work. The fix was actually quite simple so I thought I'd share it with you in case you have a similar issue.

The computer has an HDA Intel chip (Realtek ALC887) and I couldn't open alsamixer (this error was displayed: "load hw:0 error: Invalid argument"), although the sound seemed to be working in various applications (no error there) except I couldn't hear anything.

The fix:

Edit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf as root:
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf

And add the following line at the end of the file:
options snd-hda-intel model=generic

Save, reboot (a logout might be enough too) and try to play some audio file - the sound should work. If this generic fix doesn't work for you, try "auto" instead or see THIS post.

Update: this solution continues to work with newer Ubuntu versions, tested with te same sound card under Ubuntu 11.10, 12.04 and 12.10 (yes, I still get no sound by default in Ubuntu unless I apply this fix).