Using alsactl to preserve volume state
From the ALSA wiki
Kernel 2.2 and 2.4
If you include the following lines in your /etc/modules.conf file (or equivalent /etc/modutils/<driver-name> for Debian users) your volume settings will be saved when the module unloads and restored when the module loads. No more channels muted by default!
It requires the alsactl program, from alsa-utils, and the below text assumes this program is installed in /usr/sbin. Don't forget to replace snd-driver-name with the name of your sound driver.
# load/unload the volume settings on startup/shutdown post-install snd-driver-name /usr/sbin/alsactl restore pre-remove snd-driver-name /usr/sbin/alsactl store
This is simply using the modules.conf commands post-install and pre-remove to run alsactl and load/save the configuration from the default file. If you want to use a different file from the default, use the -f option to alsactl (type alsactl -h for help). If you don't have the pre-remove line, it will always load whatever settings are in the configuration file (default /etc/asound.state) when the module loads. This is handy if you often fiddle with the volume and other controls but wish to always have a certain setup when you reboot or load alsa.
The 2.6 Linux kernel uses the module-init-package which is configured in /etc/modprobe.conf instead of /etc/modules.conf. In addition, the module-init-package does not understand the post-install and pre-remove commands. Use the following lines in /etc/modprobe.conf (again, this assumes alsactl is installed in /usr/bin; change snd-driver-name to the name of your sound driver):
# load/unload the volume settings on startup/shutdown install snd-driver-name /sbin/modprobe \ --ignore-install snd-driver-name;/usr/sbin/alsactl restore remove snd-driver-name /usr/sbin/alsactl \ store;/sbin/modprobe --ignore-remove -r snd-driver-name
If you want to use a different file from the default, see above (2.4 kernel section).
A hint for Mandrake 9.1
This stumps most people in Mandrake 9.1 - the sound is muted by default (!). In KDE, go through the K->Multimedia->Sound menu and select KMix. Configure the slider settings and then save the settings (File->Save Current Volumes as Default) and then exit by using the dialog close widget in the top right corner of the dialog, not File->Quit. You should then see a speaker icon in the system tray with a cross on it. Right-click the icon and select 'Mute' to toggle the cross off. You should then have sound. If you select File->Quit, KMix will close completely with no icon in the system tray, and you will not see that the sound has been muted - a real gotcha. Selecting File->Quit seems to dump your mixer settings. By closing with the close widget the speaker icon and mixer settings re-appear when you next boot.