History of Computing: What did the "turbo" button on early 90s PCs do?

If you were born in the '60s, '70s, '80s, or even earlier, you might have been lucky to witness the first generation of computers.

What did the "turbo" button on early 90s PCs do?

If you were born in the '60s, '70s, '80s, or even earlier, you might have been lucky to witness the first generation of computers. But if you're a '90s kid or a Gen-Z, you probably can't help but wonder what the world of computing was like back then. There's no secret that things have changed much. More so, computing technology matters are drastically different from what they were a mere 20 years ago.

So we asked some experts to tell us what it's like - from the perspective of those who lived through these times - to see how technology has evolved over the past 30+ years. Here are the answers to our question: What did the "Turbo" Button on Early 90s PCs Do?

Who Created the Turbo Button in Old PCs?

IBM was the first creator of the Turbo button before other manufacturers copied the idea, cloning the original design. The main reason why IBM came up with this feature was that their engineers wanted to test new technology. They also needed some way for users to get familiar with this new form of power control.

One example of when IBM designed the Turbo button is the Model 50, which featured the button just above the keyboard. This helped users identify the button as soon as they touched the PC with their fingertips.

In addition to IBM, Dell and Acer also produced similar designs. Some companies had multiple versions of the same model, but with slight differences between them. For example, two models of the Compaq Portable Computer might be the same, but a more powerful version would have a faster CPU clock speed and better graphics capability.

The Apple Macintosh Plus was another computer that offered a turbo button option. However, its variation didn't provide the extra hardware features and capabilities of the other machines described here. Hence, it's usually never discussed much when talking about computers that had the Turbo button option.

Please note that when people say they used the Turbo button, they usually mean any PC that had a single button. That is, a model without a Turbo button could still look like it does today. However, in most cases, a laptop or desktop computer will have a small light on the front panel. This light may flash when the computer uses its maximum performance.

Why was the Turbo Button Created on Old Computers?

Four primary factors motivated the creation of the Turbo button on old PCs:

  • Designing a new operating system
  • New technologies
  • Faster processors and RAM
  • Improved graphical displays

Designing a New Operating System

Since IBM designed the first turbo button, the company developed a new OS to make sure the operation of the button was smooth. They then added numerous features to the OS to ensure that all functions worked correctly, enabling users to operate the computers trouble-free.

New Technologies

Another factor that contributed to the development of the Turbo button was the rise of new technologies like SCSI. Because of this, computers became able to store data digitally instead of being limited to storing information only on floppy disks. With the advance of hard discs and removable storage devices, the need for floppy disks dropped sharply. And manufacturers started producing computers that were smaller and lighter than before.

Faster Processors and RAM

The third reason the turbo button was invented is the increase in processing speeds and memory capacity. Processing speeds rose from around 4 MHz to over 10 MHz, and the memory capacities went up from 8 MB to 64 MB. All these enabled manufacturers to create faster computers.

Better Graphics Displays

The fourth reason the turbo button came into existence is the advancement in graphic display technology. Early computers couldn't display images very clearly. They were simply black-and-white text screens. However, with the advent of color graphics, computers became much more user-friendly. In fact, many people found them easier to use than their previous computers.

What did the Turbo button do on old PCs?

The common belief was that the turbo button made the 90s PCs run faster by speeding up the system's clock speed. But it turns out; this was nothing short of a marketing gimmick. Manufacturers gave users the impression that their computers ran faster than it really was.

For example, if you pressed the turbo button while playing a game, the game would appear to run faster than average. Likewise, if you pressed the turbo button when using an application, the program would seem to load more quickly than usual. Doing the same during a boot-up would also cause the BIOS to show the time remaining until Windows loaded.

Why is the Turbo Button No Longer Available in Modern Computing?

As years progressed, many developers started creating new software, with their primary focus being to increase CPU speed. These programs were capable of increasing the system's clock speed as well as causing a delay, if need be, to maintain the perfect pace for the programs.

Soon enough, these programs became mainstream, with the legacy 1980s software becoming less and less popular. And just like that, the need or use of turbo buttons started decreasing gradually.

By the mid-to-late 1990s, most generic PCs and build-your-own PC cases stopped using turbo buttons, which doubled up as a cost-saving strategy. And by 2000, these buttons were practically extinct on new generation machines. That means the only way of slowing down DOS programs was by using software applications like CPUKILLER or Mo'Slo. That marked the end of an era for the turbo button!

Resources: Quora, ITIGIC, How-To Geek,

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