In the '90s, there were distinct sounds associated with computers that we don't think about today, but they're lodged deep in our memories. Let's go back to some computer sounds you probably haven't heard in decades.
1. 56k Modem Connection
Modem connection sounds varied based on speed, modem brand, the quality of the connection, and so on. But today, the 56k modem (the pinnacle of modem technology in the '90s) is the best-remembered "modem screech." According to Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic, the frequencies in the modem screech indicated different parts of data being transmitted across the phone line. “The frequencies of the modem's sounds represent parameters for further communication. In the early going, for example, the modem that's been dialed up will play a note that says, ‘I can go this fast,’” Madrigal writes. “The sounds weren't a sign that data was being transferred: they were the data being transferred. This noise was the analog world being bridged by the digital. If you are old enough to remember it, you still knew a world that was analog-first.”
2. 3.5-Inch Floppy Drive Sound
If you ever installed software or copied a lot of files, you heard this.
3. “You’ve Got Mail” (AOL)
Aside from being a romantic comedy, the "You've got mail" sound was familiar to all AOL users. It was voiced by Elwood Edwards, and recorded on a cassette deck in his living room. “My wife worked for a company called Quantum Computer Services that became AOL,” Edwards told CNBC, “and in 1989 she volunteered my voice to [future CEO] Steve Case. And on a cassette deck in my living room, I recorded [the iconic phrases], it was digitized into the software as a test and has continued to the day.” He’s apparently a fan of standing behind a person’s computer and uttering the iconic phrase.
4. Windows 3.1 Startup Sound
Tada! Just one second long. Because back in the day, we couldn't afford the disk space for fancier sounds.
5. Windows 95 Startup Sound
Microsoft commissioned musician/producer Brian Eno to create the Windows 95 startup sound. The result is a masterpiece.
6. MAC STARTUP/CRASH SOUNDS
If you had a Mac in the '90s, you'd hear a startup chime … and hopefully, you didn't hear the crash sound too often. It's surprising how different the startup sounds were, especially the AV model Macs (which had special audio/video hardware, hence the fancy sound).
7. ICQ MESSAGE SOUND
ICQ is a chat application, first released in 1996, whose letters stand for “I Seek You.” You might be surprised to find out that the program, which had a plethora of fun sounds ranging from an “Uh oh!” for new messages and a frankly terrifying “chatLOL” laugh, is still around today.
8. Windows 98 SE Startup Sound
This is smooth, but we still prefer the Windows 95 startup sound. It's just a classic.
9. QSound Demo
QSound was a 3D-like effect that was used in games and sound production in tons of '90s stuff (for instance, Madonna's Immaculate Collection was "mixed in QSound"). Here's a demo video showing various places QSound showed up—it sounds best with headphones.
10. The Hampster [Sic] Dance
This is best experienced on an archive of the original Hampster Dance website. But if your browser doesn't like that site, the video above is a loose approximation of the late-'90s phenomenon known as Hampster Dance. Let the gates of memory open. (And yes, the spelling "Hampster" is intentionally incorrect.)
11. Dot Matrix Printer
If you had a hand-me-down printer in the ‘90s (or you needed a receipt printed on carbon paper), this is what it sounded like.
12. A 1993 PC and Ink Jet Printer Starting Up
Listen for the POST (Power On Self Test) beep, the chittering of the hard drive, then the horrific clunking noises of the Epson Stylus 440. If you're wondering how a 1993 computer is running Windows 95, it's because this computer is still running today!
13. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Buddy Sounds
AIM, which went offline in 2017, was an off-the-books AOL project designed to let people chat at work. It had a number of sounds—including a door opening when one of your friends came online, and a door closing when they left—that, when heard today, are sure to bring back memories of epic chats and away messages from years gone by.
14. Flying Toasters Screensaver
After Dark offered some of the best screensavers around. "Flying Toasters" had an optional score, complete with lyrics at the bottom. For more, see 10 Screensavers of Yore.
15. Goodbye (AOL)
Along with “You’ve Got Mail!” Elwood Edwards also voiced this soundbite. In 2016, Edwards was working as an Uber driver; surely many of his riders did a double take when they got out of his car and he said “Goodbye!”