Sound Card - History of Sound Cards For The IBM PC Architecture

History of Sound Cards For The IBM PC Architecture

Sound cards for computers compatible with the IBM PC were very uncommon until 1988, which left the single internal PC speaker as the only way early PC software could produce sound and music. The speaker hardware was typically limited to square waves, which fit the common nickname of "beeper". The resulting sound was generally described as "beeps and boops". Several companies, most notably Access Software, developed techniques for digital sound reproduction over the PC speaker; the resulting audio, while baldly functional, suffered from distorted output and low volume, and usually required all other processing to be stopped while sounds were played. Other home computer models of the 1980s included hardware support for digital sound playback, or music synthesis (or both), leaving the IBM PC at a disadvantage to them when it came to multimedia applications such as music composition or gaming.

It is important to note that the initial design and marketing focuses of sound cards for the IBM PC platform were not based on gaming, but rather on specific audio applications such as music composition (AdLib Personal Music System, Creative Music System, IBM Music Feature Card) or on speech synthesis (Digispeech DS201, Covox Speech Thing, Street Electronics Echo). Not until Sierra and other game companies became involved in 1988 was there a switch toward gaming.

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