How Did Computers Change During The 1990S

How did computers change during the 1990s? Sounds like a test question, but I’ll bite. I’m willing to say it was the most pivotal decade for computing, rivaled only by the 1980s. Computers made multiple important changes during the 1990s, so let’s talk about them.

The Internet

Any discussion of how computers changed during the 1990s has to start with the Internet. It might as well end with the Internet too. In 1990, the Internet was something you got to use while you were in college, or if you happened to work in the right industry.

To have it at home, you had to be more than a little weird, and rich. By 1999, it was unusual if you didn’t have the Internet at home. Today it’s the main reason some people own computers. We weren’t quite there yet in 1999, but we were on our way.

It was also in the 1990s that the World Wide Web was invented, making the Internet graphical. Prior to the spring of 1993, the Internet was all text-based. Tim Berners-Lee’s idea to put a graphical interface on it was the key to making the Internet commercially viable.

The Internet of 1999 still had a lot of growing up to do. Social networking was still several years away. But many of the big players were active. Ebay was practically a national craze, as people emptied their closets and basements to eager bidders vying for things they hadn’t seen in years or even decades.

You could buy books and music on Amazon. Video streaming was still years off, but you could rent movies from Netflix and mail them back instead of dealing with video rental stores and their late fees. And while not all restaurants had online ordering, you could order pizza.

Telecommunications speed

Telecommunications got much faster during the 90s, which was something else the Internet needed in order to be viable. In 1990, most people who had modems had modems that transmitted 1,200 or 2,400 bits per second.

By 1999, my Internet connection transmitted at 256 kilobits per second. When I went online in 1999, my modem speed was 200 times faster than it had been in 1990.

By today’s standards, that 256-kilobit speed is anemic, but it was fast enough to stream audio. Commercializing streaming audio came later, and connections still had to speed up a bit for streaming video to be practical. But the jump from 56-kilobit dialup to always-on broadband made these things possible.

32-bit computers and operating systems

The first 32-bit computers and operating systems appeared in the 1980s, but 32-bit computing didn’t go mainstream until 1995. That brought numerous benefits, including increased speed and access to up to 4 gigabytes of memory.

The increase in power made it possible to greatly improve reliability and, later, security. It also made full pre-emptive multitasking practical. Prior to 32-bit operating systems, multitasking was rare, or didn’t exist at all.

You could only run one program at a time, so you had to exit one program and load another. Some operating systems let you pause one program to switch to another, or they offered so-called “cooperative” multitasking, where programs would tell the computer when they weren’t busy so another program could have your attention. In some cases this meant a program in the background hogged the computer’s attention while you tried to work in a different one.

3D graphics

Hardware and software improved dramatically in the 1990s, making 3D graphics much more practical. While 3D graphics existed in the 1980s, it was generally wireframe graphics that required you to use a lot of imagination to fill in the gaps.

Then in 1992, id software released a 3D remake of a popular 2D maze shoot-’em-up game from 1981 called Castle Wolfenstein. The timing was good.

In 1992 there were still a lot of aging PCs still hanging around that wouldn’t run Wolfenstein 3D, but Microsoft Windows 3.1 came out that year, and if your PC could run Windows 3.1, it was powerful enough to play Wolfenstein 3D. Even some PCs that were marginal for Windows could still run Wolfenstein 3D.

A year later, id software followed up with the smash hit Doom, which was even more ambitious graphically. And as the decade wore on, ever more ambitious 3D first-person shooter games came out, fueling demand for faster CPUs and graphics cards to make them more realistic.

Today we take 3D gaming from a first-person perspective for granted. But in the 1990s, it was still very new and it advanced very quickly through the decade.

Ever faster CPUs

Mainstream CPU speed accelerated dramatically throughout the 1990s, driven by newer and more demanding software. Although their best days were behind them, in 1990, there was still a market for 8-bit computers running at 1 MHz with 64K of memory, such as the Commodore 64.

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A top-of-the-line PC in 1990 sported a 486 processor running at 33 MHz and had between 2 and 4 megabytes of RAM, expandable to 16 megabytes.

By 1999, a top-of-the-line PC sported a Pentium III CPU running at 600 MHz and 128 megabytes of RAM, expandable to 256 or 386 megabytes. This was a dramatic improvement in 9 years. Today, a top-of-the-line PC from nine years ago feels a bit sluggish at times, but it’s still very useful.

In 1999, that 9-year-old 486 that had cost thousands of dollars when it was new was essentially useless. A mainstream PC in 1999 typically sported an Intel or compatible CPU running at 300-400 MHz and 32-64 megabytes of RAM.

Digital music

In 1990, digital music meant music on CD instead of analog tape or vinyl. By 1999, it meant MP3 files, often of highly questionable legality. Apple hadn’t legitimized the MP3 player yet, and when Diamond Multimedia released its Rio MP3 player in 1998, the music industry saw it as a tool for pirates and nearly sued the company out of business.

Legal digital music distribution was still a few years away, but by 1999, digital music meant something different than it had in 1990. But like the Internet itself, commercializing it took a number of years.


For most of the 1990s, computers were what we now call boring beige boxes. The shade varied but they were invariably a very neutral off-white color, and they tended to be big boxes with lots of drive bays and slots for expansion.

Bold design was the exclusive territory of expensive workstations that ran Unix, from companies like Steve Jobs’ Next, or from Silicon Graphics Inc.

In 1998, Steve Jobs released the Apple iMac, with a streamlined design and translucent plastic. It was bold, and you either loved it or thought it looked like a cheap toy. But it pushed the limits of what people thought a computer could look like.

It took a few years for black to overtake beige as the standard color for computers.


Laptop computers existed well before 1990, notably from Radio Shack. But laptops grew up a lot in the 1990s. By the end of the decade, laptops were expensive, but they had color displays and CD-ROMs and speeds that approached those of desktop PCs.

Portable computing didn’t become mainstream for a few more years, but it certainly became a lot more practical in the 1990s. In the 1980s, you couldn’t dream of a laptop computer replacing a desktop, no matter how much money you were willing to spend. By the end of the 1990s, if you had money, you could do it.


Finally, we have to end any talk of the 1990s with the Y2K problem. The 1990s ended with a crisis. The mainstream view today is that it was overblown and we wasted a lot of money fixing it.

My view, as someone who actually did a lot of Y2K work, was that the people who thought the world was going to end didn’t understand the problem. So yes, it was overblown, but it could have been bad, and because lots of people put in lots of overtime, it wasn’t.

One side effect of the Y2K problem was that a lot of older systems got decommissioned. Some of the systems truly couldn’t be made Y2K compliant. Some wouldn’t have been worth the effort.

Many were broken in other ways and Y2K gave us an excuse to clean house. So there was one last wave of change late in 1999, thanks to Y2K. If 1980s computers are rare today, the Y2K problem bears some of the blame for it.


How Did Computers Change During The 1990s?

During the 1990s computers became faster and more capable of rendering different media. Before the 1990s text was a far more common interface.

How were computers used in the 1990s?

Possibly the most technological and widely-used advancement of computers in the 1990s was the internet. The world wide web (known as the “www” that we type prior to a web address) made the internet popular and simple to use for any personal computer owner.

What was a major technology development in the 1990’s?

1. World Wide Web. The beginning of the decade changed the world forever with the birth of the internet as we know it. In 1990 the World Wide Web sucked us in and America Online raked it in as one of the earliest providers of internet services and email.

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What computers were around in 1990?

In 1990 computing didn’t get any better than this Amiga 3000 with its 25 MHz 68030 CPU and an operating system that took full advantage of it. In 1990 32-bit computers were rather exotic. They existed but they were crazy expensive. If you had a 386 on your desk at work you were pretty important.

What computers were popular in the 90’s?

90s computer brands

  • Acer. Acer computers of the 1990s were decidedly average. …
  • ALR. ALR sold high-end PCs and was a pioneer of dual-CPU systems. …
  • Ambra. In 1992 IBM decided to try out direct sales. …
  • Apple. Apple is the only surviving member of the class of 1977. …
  • AST. …
  • AT&T. …
  • Commodore. …
  • Compaq.

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What computers were available in 1992?

Microsoft released Visual Basic 2.0 in November 1992. Microsoft released Excel 4.0 for PC and MAc in 1992. Microsoft released Word 5.1 for Mac in 1992. Radio Shack released the M2500 XL/2 and M4020 SX personal computers which are the first personal computers based upon the MPC specification.

Did the 90s have computers?

Computers in the 90s. Come the 90s when the computer software and hardware industry really started to take off. In the early 90s 286 and 386 were ruling the hardware industry. During the early 90s Microsoft’s Windows 3.1 coupled with DOS had taken over as the most successful and widely used OS.

How did technology change the 1990s?

Things started to resemble today’s world in the 1990s: People were using cell phones and had computers in their homes. People were exposed to sleek new digital products that foreshadowed many of the gadgets we use today. In 1996 the world said goodbye to VHS and adopted a new technology for watching videos — the DVD.

What new technology came out in the 90s?

1. Adobe Photoshop (1990) Fascinated by technology and art brothers Thomas and John Knoll noticed the lack of photo editing features on computers and decided to code some of their own.

What technology did they have in the 90s?

Iconic gadgets of the 90s: Amazing gadgets and gizmos from yesteryear

  • GameBoy (1989) Ok so technically the GameBoy released in 1989 but it surged in popularity during the 1990s and it’s probably the most iconic gaming gadget of that era. …
  • Apple eMate 300 (1997) …
  • Tamagotchi (1996) …
  • Yak Bak. …
  • Motorola StarTAC (1996)

Were there computers in 1999?

1999. The first computers with Pentium III processors became available in 1999. The Compaq ProSignia Desktop 330 was one of the most popular of the inaugural Pentium III computers.

How many computers existed in 1990?

Number of Personal Computers in the US

Bibliographic EntryStandardized Result
The Americans. 2003: 1969.168.6 million (2000)
“Computers”. Collier’s Encyclopedia. Vol. 7 1992: 114 129.2 000 000 (1983)
54 million (1990)
Rawlins Gregory. Slaves of the Machine Windfall Software 1997.0 (before 1945)

What major events happened in the year 1990?

Important events of 1990 include the Reunification of Germany and the unification of Yemen the formal beginning of the Human Genome Project (finished in 2003) the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope the separation of Namibia from South Africa and the Baltic states declaring independence from the Soviet Union …

Why did personal computers become more popular in the 1990’s?

Microsoft ships Windows 3.0

For the new version Microsoft updated the interface and created a design that allowed PCs to support large graphical applications for the first time. … As a result PC users were exposed to the user-friendly concepts of the Apple Macintosh making the IBM PC more popular. See also what does trophic mean

How much did a PC cost in 1990?

In 1990 personal home computers ranged from $1000-$2000. In 1995 computer prices ranged anyehere from $730 to $3500. The price ranges are generally the result of hard drive sizes CPU speed RAM sizes and whether or not it comes with a monitor.

What was the most powerful computer in 1990?

Massive processing: the 1990s

The SX-3/44R was announced by NEC Corporation in 1989 and a year later earned the fastest in the world title with a 4 processor model.

What new technology came in 1993?

The first web robot World Wide Web Wanderer was created in 1993.

What was the new technology in 1993?

1993: Mosaic web browser.

How much memory did computers have in the 90s?

Faster smaller and more-powerful PCs

The memory capacity of personal computers had increased from 64 kilobytes (64 000 characters) in the late 1970s to 100 megabytes (100 million characters) by the early ’90s to several gigabytes (billions of characters) by the early 2000s.

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How did computers change between 1946 and the 1980s?

How did computers change between 1946 and the 1980s? Computers became smaller in size. In 1946 the first modern computer occupied the entire basement of the research lab. By the 1980s the microchip and the microprocessor made possible the development of small personal computers.

What happened to the Internet in 1990?

The ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990. Limited private connections to parts of the Internet by officially commercial entities emerged in several American cities by late 1989 and 1990. The NSFNET was decommissioned in 1995 removing the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic.

What technology happened in 1997?

Tamagotchi. The hottest tech toy fad of 1997 was the Tamagotchi — a virtual pet on a keychain first popularized in Japan. The toys quickly sold out in stores such as the KB Toys seen here.

What happened in the world in the 1990s?

The 1990s is often remembered as a decade of relative peace and prosperity: The Soviet Union fell ending the decades-long Cold War and the rise of the Internet ushered in a radical new era of communication business and entertainment.

What inventions came out in 1991?

Top 10 tech developments of 1991

  • 1 – The first web site. …
  • 2 – AMD Am386. …
  • 3 – Intel i486SX. …
  • 4 – Notebook introduced by most PC vendors. …
  • 5 – First color image scanner. …
  • 6 – First stereo Creative Labs sound card. …
  • 7 – First multimedia PC standard. …
  • 8 – Symantec releases Norton anti-virus software.

What life was like in 1990?

The 1990s was a decade of extremes and contradictions. Americans built bigger and more elaborate homes and drove more expensive automobiles then worked longer hours to pay for them. Americans spent more borrowed more and went more deeply into debt.

What was technology like 1995?

1995 – Microsoft introduces Windows 95 which gains immediate popularity and makes Windows the standard operating system for most PCs. Windows 98 is even more successful three years later. 1995 – The Java programming language is developed by Sun Microsystems (now Oracle).

What was the 90s best known for?

The 1990s was a decade where pop culture took flight we all made some Friends dance moves were born and fast-food got even bigger. Although they ended more than 20 years ago some of these American icons remain just as relevant today. Iconic shows such as Rugrats (1991) Doug (1991) Hey Arnold! See also what human activity uses the most water worldwide?

What effect did the computer and technological revolution have on American society in the 1990s?

They allowed people to play more realistic games on computers. They allowed people to do more in the way of creating and printing documents. These sorts of changes increased the number of entertainment options and made many tasks (particularly for students) much easier than they had been only a decade earlier.

What new technology came in 1999?

New computer products and services introduced in 1999. Intel released the Celeron 366 MHz and 400 MHz processors on January 4 1999. RIM released the BlackBerry and BlackBerry OS on January 19 1999. The TiVo was introduced at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in January 1999.

Who invented laptop?

Adam Osborne invented the laptop in 1981. Though Osborne 1 was recognized as the first laptop the concept of a portable computer was given in 1968 by Alan Kay.

When did computers become popular?

Computers became affordable for the general public in the 1970s due to the mass production of the microprocessor starting in 1971.

What is the first laptop?

Osborne 1
The Osborne 1 was accepted as the first true mobile computer (laptop notebook) by most historians. Adam Osborne an ex-book publisher founded Osborne Computer and formed the Osborne 1 in 1981. This was a mobile computer (laptop notebook) that weighed close to 11kgs and a cost of $1795.

What major events happened in 1992?

15 things that happened in 1992

  • Olympic games held in Barcelona.
  • Denmark win Euro 92.
  • Norway applies for EC membership.
  • IBM ThinkPad 700C laptop created.
  • Bill Clinton elected president.
  • Microsoft releases Windows 3.1.
  • Sixth Jönssonligan movie.
  • Philips CD-i launced.

What was happening in 1995?

>What happened in 1995 Major News Stories include Windows 95 released Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing Nerve Gas attack Tokyo Subway Barings Bank collapses A Car Bomb devastates Oklahoma City Federal Building on 19th April after a NATO bombing campaign against Serb artillery the Balkans War comes to an end …

Daily Life and Popular Culture in the 1990s

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