Computers & Mobile
Boot Beep – The story of the Mac’s boot chime, with source code

Make Pt1645
Boot Beep – The story of the Mac’s boot chime, with source code written in 68000 assembly language… Andy Hertzfeld –

When you powered up an Apple II, it would make a short beep sound to let you know that it was alive. We thought that the Mac should do something similar, once it passed the diagnostics, sort of like an infant’s first cry, letting the world know that you actually made it here.

The 1981 Macintosh just had a square wave sound generator, where the software controlled the frequency by loading a value into the VIA’s timer. I wrote a boot sound routine that gradually incremented the frequency at an accelerating pace, so it had a whooping quality to it that was almost humorous. People generally liked it, but we knew that we’d have to do something better for the real product.

In August 1982, the Mac was redesigned with much better sound quality, so we had the possibility of a better boot sound, since we now had 8-bit samples to play with. I started experimenting a little bit, to see if I could come up with something.

12 thoughts on “Boot Beep – The story of the Mac’s boot chime, with source code

  1. This text gives the idea that the Macintosh computer came out in 1981. I didn’t. It came out in 1984. Recall the Superbowl ad?

    I think the author is making the mistake of using the term Mac and Apple interchangably which isn’t correct.

  2. I clicked to make the same comment. I would add though that the Apple II came out in the 70’s. I still have the Byte magazine from 1977 with the original IIe article.

    I think the author is just confused.

  3. Andy Hertzfeld worked for Apple, doing software. Don’t think he’s the confused one.

    Yes, you’re quite right, the Mac was *released* in 1984. He’s talking about the development process which took several years… it didn’t spring fully-formed from Steve Jobs’ brow, you know :-)

  4. Did they actually call it a Macintosh in 1981? (Just curious, and it’s quite likely since they were already Apple.

  5. The story and link indeed do point to Andy Hertzfeld who was integral in the creation of the Macintosh (and is one of my heroes.) The work on the Mac and the startup sound (among other defining characteristics) was being done by 1981. If you read a few articles on the linked folklore.org you’ll learn more about the Mac, it’s startup sound, and how quickly you can get lost in time on the Internet when you start to read something interesting. It’s a GREAT site.

    And @The Oracle – they did indeed call it the Macintosh very early in its development – another gem you can learn more about at the folklore.org site.

    Disclaimer – I am just a huge fanboy -I have no connection to the folklore site….

  6. The folklore.org site is amazing & always a good read. Yep, the first Macintosh prototype was built in 1981. Mac an Lisa were just internal code names that made it to market.

    What I like about this story is how the software development is different from today. The design goal was to make a small algorithm that sounded good … without a particularly strong idea of exactly how it was supposed to sound. That gave them the flexibility to come up with a novel algorithm.

    These days, a similar algorithm would probably try to generate and mix a bunch of tones together… the code would probably be 5x larger at a minimum.

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