For today’s museum post we have my old Sound Blaster 2.0 sound card.
My first PC had only a tiny 2.25-inch speaker, capable of single beeps only. At the memory test during POST, the speaker would make a click sound after each block was checked. If you skipped the memory test, it would click really fast as the memory count sped up. Then, the floppy drives would do their thing. I used to always get a kick out of that.
Games had “music” that was just a bunch of beeps strung together. When I first heard Wing Commander played with a Sound Blaster, I was blown away by the bass and actual music. Computer sound was no longer limited to a little tiny speaker. I wanted a Sound Blaster!
I don’t remember how I got the money to buy one, but I do remember buying it from a store on 3rd Street in downtown San Francisco. There used to be a Software Etc. or Egghead Software there (can’t remember which one, probably Egghead). I was super excited to bring it home and install it in my 386.
Of course, applications were not limited to games. Windows now had sound (some ATMs still use the Windows chimes.wav from that period), and I could download MIDIs and MODs from BBSes to listen to music. The card came with a software suite that included a talking parrot, a piano, and a text-to-speech synthesizer. We had hours of fun playing with Dr. SBAITSO, making him say perverted things and setting up the computer to say things on boot-up.
Although the sound was much improved with the Sound Blaster, sometimes I’d still choose “PC Speaker” when setting up a game. It definitely had its own distinctive style that appealed to me. One of my favorites was 4D Boxing. It actually had voices that you could make out, and after I heard the Sound Blaster version, I realized just what a good approximation the PC Speaker sound was. Some games, like A-Train, used the Sound Blaster to play music and the PC speaker to make little clicks as the trains moved.
Looking back at some of these museum posts, I wonder if my decision in 2012 to throw out a bunch of old things was the wrong one. On one side, it would be nice to be able to pick these up and look at them, to feel and touch them (i.e. I’d like to thumb through the Sound Blaster manual above). On another, would I even think to do so if I hadn’t taken photos that would occasionally pop up on my desktop slideshow? And on yet another, is there a point to storing something for years or decades at a time just to be able to touch it once before putting it back in storage again? At this moment, I feel that the answer is yes. Perhaps I’ll change my mind once again when I go home and find that my closet is full of stuff that I never use. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post.
Further reading: Nerdly Pleasures: The Sound Blaster 2.0 and the C/MS Upgrade