15 Old Computer Sounds That Will Take You Back to the '90s

Paul Campbell/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Paul Campbell/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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!”

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

Computers and tablets

Amazon

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet 64GB; $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet 64GB; $84 (save $35)

- HP Pavilion x360 14 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop; $646 (save $114)

- HP Pavilion Desktop, 10th Gen Intel Core i3-10100 Processor; $469 (save $81)

- Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop; $973 (save $177)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones; $200 (save $100)

- Sony Bluetooth Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones; $278 (save $72)

- JBL LIVE Wireless Headphones; $100 (save $30)

- JBL Charge 4 - Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $120 (save $10)

- Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II; $79 (save $50)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $200 (save $50)

Video Games

Sony

- Watch Dogs Legion; $30 (save $30)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- The Last of Us Part II; $30 (save $30)

TECH, GADGETS, AND TVS

Samsung/Amazon

- Amazon Fire TV Stick; $30 (save $20)

- Echo Show 8; $65 (save $65)

- Nixplay Digital Picture Frame; $115 (save $65)

- eufy Smart Doorbell; $90 (save $30)

- Samsung 75-Inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $898 (save $300)

home and Kitchen

Ninja/Amazon

- T-fal 17-Piece Cookware Set; $124 (save $56)

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Curved Round Chef's Oven; $180 (save $136)

- Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 Convection Toaster Oven; $195 (save $105)

- Roborock E4 Robot Vacuum Cleaner; $189 (save $111)

- Instant Pot Max Pressure Cooker 9 in 1; $80 (save $120)

- Shark IZ362H Cordless Anti-Allergen Lightweight Stick Vacuum; $170 (save $110)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

A Hair-Raising History of the Flowbee

The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
The Flowbee revolutionized the highly suspect idea of cutting one's own hair.
I Love Fun, YouTube

Like many great ideas, there is some confusion surrounding how California-based carpenter Rick Hunts was struck by inspiration for the Flowbee. The infomercial sensation of the late 1980s is a vacuum cleaner attachment that straightens hair, munches on it with clippers, and then sucks the trimmings into the canister.

In one version, Hunts is beguiled by a television show he saw in 1979 that demonstrated a person getting their hair cut while hanging upside-down, freeing their locks for clipping. Another has Hunts using a vacuum to get sawdust from his workshop out of his hair and having an epiphany.

The latter sounds more like the kind of mythologizing that accompanies inventors—one questions the wisdom of using a vacuum to remove sawdust from their hair rather than simply showering—but it doesn’t matter much. However he came upon the notion, Hunts’s vision of an at-home substitution for a barber was the Soloflex of hairstyling. It promised convenience, affordability, and the novelty of boasting your hair had been trimmed by a Hoover upright.

Hunts’s device, which he initially dubbed the Vacucut, took six to seven years to develop. By one estimate, he went through four prototypes—the last one involving 50 modifications—before he perfected the vacuum attachment. (Hunts’s children—or, more specifically, their hair—were used for testing.) The Vacucut took hair anywhere from a half-inch to six inches in length and, thanks to the suction of the vacuum, pulled it straight in the same way a stylist holds hair between their fingers. Once extended, clippers inside the attachment trimmed the excess, which wound up in the vacuum.

It required no skill and no additional pairs of hands; the length was adjustable using the included spacers. Owing to the air flow and the fact the device made a buzzing noise similar to a bee, Hunts decided to rename it the Flowbee, with a bumblebee-esque black and yellow color scheme.

Hunts, who raised more than $100,000 from investors and even sold his cabinet shop to obtain additional funds to mass market his creation, clearly felt the Flowbee would be a slam-dunk. He approached major personal grooming companies like Conair, Norelco, and Remington to see if they’d be interested in the Flowbee. He also approached beauty salons to see if they’d consider selling them to customers. He later recalled that all of them said the idea was nuts. In the case of the salons, they were afraid the Flowbee might actually work as advertised and see a reduction in foot traffic from people content to cut their own hair. 

Dismayed, Hunts took to trying to move product out of his garage. He also went to county fairs, where he would have a volunteer come up on stage. One side of the person’s head would be trimmed with scissors, the other side with the Flowbee. The results were comparable, and Hunts began selling a modest amount of inventory at $150 each.

The reaction of the county fair crowd may have been on Hunts’s mind when he saw an infomercial one evening for a food-sealing product. The program-length paid advertisements were really just barker shows broadcast to a mass audience. The Flowbee, Hunts knew, needed to be demonstrated. So Hunts spent $30,000 to produce and buy airtime for a 30-minute spot that began airing in 1988. Soon, the entire country was watching people aim a vacuum nozzle at their heads and clip their own hair.

The Flowbee entered popular culture, getting mentions in films like 1992’s Wayne’s World, where Garth (Dana Carvey) is menaced by a Suck Kut, and on shows like Party of Five. Imitators like the RoboCut and the Hairdini appeared to bite into market share, but the Flowbee enjoyed brand recognition. A Flowbee Pet Groomer was introduced, and Flowbee barbershops were considered. By 1992, the Flowbee was being sold in major retail chains. By 1993, Hunts’s San Diego-based company, Flowbee International, had sold 200,000 units. By 2000, the number was 2 million. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that this was a vacuum cleaner attachment selling for $69.95 to $150 retail that was intended for use on one’s head.

While millions of people enjoyed the Flowbee’s kitsch appeal, some people thought it sucked. Stylists believed it lacked the artistry of a professional, while others complained it wasn’t effective on hair longer than six inches or on curly locks. It was also difficult for the Flowbee to trim the sides or around the ears. George Clooney, however, swears by it; in December 2020, he admitted that he's been using one to cut his own hair for decades.

While they no longer air infomercials, Flowbee International is still in business—and has seen increased interest in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as people avoid salons and look for alternatives to becoming Howard Hughes. Unfortunately, health concerns have prompted a cessation of activity at the Flowbee factory in Kerrville, Texas. They don’t intend to ship new product (which now sells for $99) until things settle down. The RoboCut, however, is still shipping.