Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Using a Sound Blaster in a PC/XT-class system

Posted by Trixter on August 3, 2018


I’m asked this a few times every year: Can you put a Sound Blaster in an IBM PC, PC/XT, or otherwise 8088/8086-class system?  If you can, is there anything that can use it on that class of hardware?

The quick answer is yes and yes:  As long as there are no hardware conflicts, you can put any of these:

  • Sound Blaster 1.0
  • Sound Blaster 1.5
  • Sound Blaster 2.0
  • Sound Blaster Pro
  • Sound Blaster Pro 2.0
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 8
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 8+
  • Pro Audio Spectrum 16
  • Thunderboard

…into any system and it should work fine.  You’ll be able to use the onboard joystick port, and have Adlib/FM sound effects and music.

The longer answer has a caveat: There are less than a hundred sound-enhanced games that will run, and less than 20 of those will use the digital sound channel.  The Sound Blaster was commercially available to consumers in 1989, which was right as the 8088 era was coming to a close.  Only a handful of games were produced around that time period that supported the Sound Blaster and could still run on 8088-class hardware and supported the CGA graphics typical of 8088-class systems.

But, if you have a souped-up NEC V20/NEC V30 XT, you’re feeling adventurous, and you really want to hear some sampled (“digitized”) sound come out of your system, you can try running these:

Commercial games:

Legend:
1) Used the Activision OmniMusic driver. There might be more games compatible with 8088+CGA that use this driver.
2) Need the rare “16-color” version of this game which supports CGA 640×200 2-color mode

Shareware games:

Demos:

 

There might be more than the above, but this is all I can remember personally testing.

For possibly much more comprehensive information on this subject, you can do no better than to check out Great Hierophant’s Nerdly Pleasures blog, which performs deep technical dives into these and other subjects.

8 Responses to “Using a Sound Blaster in a PC/XT-class system”

  1. sledgehv said

    Apart from playing games / demos you can also listen to some MODs with Galaxy Music Player (GLX). Playback is not perfect, but you can play 4 channel MODs even with 8088 CPU :)

  2. Interestingly, on the very original Sound Blaster, smooth playback of digitized sound was practically impossible, because the card’s DSP would trigger a DMA block transfer and only signal an interrupt when (or after?) the transfer has been completed. (You might be aware of that, your readers might not!)

    Here’s an os2museum article mentioning the problem: http://www.os2museum.com/wp/sound-blaster-1-0-or-1-5/ – I could have sworn I saw a more detailed article on this on the same site, but I cannot find it anymore.

    I don’t know the details beyond that, so I would be interested to know whether you could avoid those small playback gaps with some cycle-accurate timing to restart the DMA, unless there is a dead zone that disallows you to send a new transfer command to the DSP in time. And assuming that the DSP has its own clock crystal, having an asynchronous clock source might make this even more challenging…

  3. Lee Seitz said

    My college roommate had an original IBM PC — at least I think it was a PC; maybe it was an XT — with a VGA card and Adlib sound card. Oh, and no hard drive, just two 5-1/4″ floppy drives. He played Eye of the Beholder on it. There was a lot of disk swapping involved.

  4. Brolin Empey said

    Another reason for using a sound card is to connect the speaker output from the motherboard to the sound card instead of to a loudspeaker but I do not know if any model of 8-bit ISA sound card has an input for the PC speaker?

    • Trixter said

      Most true Sound Blaster cards that will work in that class of system have a header on the card for routing the speaker via a custom cable. The Pro Audio Spectrum series (PAS 16, possibly others?) have the ability to route the speaker audio without needing a cable.

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