I am also a noob, so this answer could easily be wrong
However, I have sound working with an AC97 card (actually integrated on the mb).
Run lspci as root - it should show your AC97 to be present
Run alsaconfig as root - it should find your soundcard
Run alsamixer as normal user - the sound may be muted - if so unmute it!
There are those who say run alsactl store as root but I never found it made any difference ....
Make sure you have the sound system enabled in Control Panel/Sound & Multimedia/Sound System
If you're trying to use Amarok make sure it is using the xine engine