back to article Tributes flow as Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo - the mind behind Sound Blaster - passes aged 68

Singapore's tech community is in mourning – along with many around the world – after the sudden passing of Creative Technology co-founder and CEO Sim Wong Hoo. The brand was behind the popular "Sound Blaster" range of PC sound cards and a significant force in the digital media revolution. The company started as a manufacturer …

  1. Auntie Dix
    Facepalm

    SIM-Wrong-Who

    I read the obituary quickly and have been trying to phone the family of SIM-Wrong-Who. Thank goodness, he is fine, but it took them days of chip-swapping to respond.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: SIM-Wrong-Who

      I met the man in person in Egham, where Intel is now designing their mobile graphics cards. Of CEOs that I met, he was one of the most likeable ones, and he was inspiring. A decent man who died much too early at 68.

      No stupid jokes needed.

    2. GraXXoR
      Thumb Down

      Re: SIM-Wrong-Who

      are you 12 or something?

      jeez.

  2. Plest Silver badge
    Happy

    RIP - thanks for the memories!

    Man, I remember buying my first Sound Blaster card, huge box arrived with the card, speakers, headphones, leads, free games and a free sample audio cassette of the SB doing it's thing that you could give to a friend to convince them to buy one. I remember firing up Wing Commander just after I installed it and it was mind blowing how good the sound was coming out of the SB card. Last card I bought was the AWE32 when it came out and then pretty soon you got compatible tech built into motherboards off the bat. All back in the days when true year-on-years innovation was a thing, not like now where every idea is just another rehash.

    It was things like the SB, RealMagic and Voodoo 3DFX cards that lead to PC gaming being what it is today.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      Yeah, the chiptune -> Soundblaster and CGA/Hercules -> Voodoo accelerated graphics were the main two turning points in PC hardware, along with eventually adopting USB as *the* connection standard.

      (There was a lot of connection tech competing with USB, but they didn't play well with others. USB quickly got to the point it did and that saved it.)

      Remember when Bluetooth from company X would only work with company X peripherals? Ugh. USB tried to avoid that pitfall.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

        The VESA-LB vs PCI fight was one of the many "standard" fights that, while they encouraged competition, also held things back. VESA-LB was a horrible kludge but it forced Intel to work on PCI but really the problem was the industry sticking with ISA when it was known to be no longer suitable. If only IBM had been prepared to license MCA at a reasonable price in the early 1980s…

        1. Binraider Silver badge

          Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

          VESA was always a dead end - hard coded to the design of the 486. (A VLB socket is basically a 486 socket in a diff package). It did make for cheap and fast 486 systems that did useful work for a decade.

          MCA was IBMs attempt to take control over the clones, so also a dead end.

          A co-operative standard like was the only way for the PC to differentiate itself over other systems and thus PCI was always going to win the day.

          1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

            Yes, I know the history of MCA. Fact remains that, in the early eighties, it was a significant improvement over the ISA.

            I guess one of the lessons of the battles back then has been the rise of industry bodies that work on these standards, with perhaps surprisingly, GSMA leading the way in demonstrating that cooperation in standards with even the fiercest of competitors make sense over the long term.

    2. Ozan

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      Sound blaster was the card you would buy for years. Still, I don't know if there's other sound cards around anymore other than sound blaster.

      I had sound blaster 16 and I remember the small creative speakers.

      Anyone remember the awful creative cd drives?

      1. ske1fr
        Windows

        Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

        Nothing wrong with the CD-RW drives they sold as the 8432. I think they were LiteOn rebadged: I've still got one. They were cheaper than Plextor and good CD rippers. Urgh, packet-writing CD-RW disks...

    3. gryphon

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      I think I actually got mine in a package with Wing Commander and a joystick.

      Then probably spent far, far too much time playing it.

      Does bring back some nasty memories of trying to find free IRQ's etc. though back in the day for all these add on cards.

    4. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      RIP. Mr Hoo, my thoughts are with your family at this time and how much I loved Soundblaster.

      I remember being taken after school by a mate’s mum to help her buy something off her son’s birthday list. Top of the list was a first generation Soundblaster for his PC. She had no idea what it was despite there being an exploratory note next to it. We spent a while in various shops being offered things that were “as good as a soundblaster” Did eventually find one but it wasn’t smooth sailing.

      She took one of his mates out to do this every year because she had been caught out once before. She had bought a particular computer game on cassette, for his BBC Model B years before. To do so she’d had to travel on a few days to the various larger towns around the village they were living in at the time. Eventually she found one and was so impressed with herself. She presented him the game on his birthday and he said that wasn’t right one - he already had that one. She wasn’t very impressed (understatement of all time) and had told him to swap it with someone else for the correct one.

    5. simonlb Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      I don't think the impact of Creative and the Sound Blaster range of hardware on the early PC industry has ever been fully appreciated. It finally enabled people to get decent sound for all types of multimedia reliably and cheaply.

      What is very telling is the line: 'Even Microsoft acknowledged the Singaporean company's dominance by making its own sound standards align with Sound Blaster's capabilities.' At least MS at that time saw how good Sound Blaster stuff was and decided to align to that, which is something they'd almost certainly never do today.

      RIP Mr. Hoo, you made the whole PC world sound better for years!

    6. sanmigueelbeer

      Re: RIP - thanks for the memories!

      My first PC and the dealer recommended that I get a Sound Blaster card. He said it will transform my PC's tin-can sound to something else. And he was not wrong. I never regretted it.

      Aside from the improve sound, one of the things I like about SB was the CD-ROM drive. Granted it was only a quad-speed, I was able to load CD ripper, like AudioGrabber, and rip my music CDs into MP3. Which I then use WinAMP to blast the music out of SoundBlaster speakers.

      Back then, I was in heaven.

      NOTE:

      (My computer back then was a P100 (Pentium 100 Mhz) core and ripping a music CD takes about 4 hours.)

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Pivot

    Nobody mentions how Creative blew half a mil on a Chinese-language PC with really good multimedia. They salvaged the multimedia part, sold it as a card, and the rest is history, as they say.

    They were also smart enough to hire some good US execs to market things, defend their IP, and steer R&D.

  4. wub

    Erratum?

    "Creative still sells music players today under the Zen brand."

    I was surprised and pleased to hear that Creative music players were still being made and sold. I've done a bit of searching, and although I discovered some links to the usual suspects, none of them actually offered players for sale. Creative's own special placement box at the top of the page of search results says, "ZEN is a series of discontinued portable media players designed and manufactured by Creative Technology Limited."

    I don't think they are actually selling them today...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Erratum?

      I loved my hard disk based Zen mp3 player. It could fit all the music I owned at a decent bitrate and had a user swapable lithium battery, which with a 3rd party battery charger meant that you could just keep listening to music. I almost bought an Iomega "Clik" disk based player instead, which was probably a lucky escape, given the way zip disk drives used to fail....

      Prior to that I had an Intel MP3 player, which was pretty good so long as you didn't mind barely being able to fit any music on to it's tiny on board storage if you encoded it at a decent bitrate.

  5. Binraider Silver badge

    Being an Amiga fan, soundblaster was frankly a bit of a step back to what we were used to.

    First PC I had had an SB16 in it, which did obviously outclasses the hardware from nearly ten years beforehand... But not by that much.

    No denying impact in the industry, and Indeed the creation of standards. Creatives monopoly abuse was however, somewhat legendary and how many businesses did it buy or kill over the years? Not least Ad-lib.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Sound on the PC was hobbled by the ISA architecture and DOS: a lot more processing was required and communication between devices was awful. Anti-competitive behaviour is standard within the industry, especially once external investors get involved.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Indeed. The downvotes above definitely show a tough crowd!

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Yes, of course. That's like saying your Fender guitar is better than my Yamaha toy. The Amiga was designed to a far better standard to start with.

      Creative didn't set out to create a standard, they set out to sell a sound card.

      The fact was that they happened to hit it out of the park with an excellent product, so they actually became a standard and got the dozens of other products claiming "we're just as good as a SoundBlaster" and the "we're compatible with SoundBlaster" when THEY WERE NOT.

      IIRC Ad-Lib wasn't that great.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Original Adlib and Soundblaster FM have a lot in common, music wise more or less the same. SB added digitised sound to it, making it a whole lot more useful and cost effective use case.

        Was it a successful product and standard? Yes. But Amiga was not some pro sound system like Roland and the MT32.

        The AdLib Gold card was delayed repeatedly, because the Creative bosses had final say on when Yamaha could release one of its key chips. The same one on the SB16 in fact, which launched significantly earlier than the Adlib Gold; more or less destroying Adlib in the process.

        Other companies dead/assimilated to reduce competition at creatives hands include Cambridge Soundworks, Aureal and Ensoniq. Tactics Gates or Jobs would be proud of!

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I've had six SB cards from 1995 to 2012

    I've never bought a sound card from any other maker.

    The SB Audigy was really very good, but my first card, the AWE 32, was most impressive.

    SB definitely put its mark on PC gaming.

  7. Outski

    Still using Creative

    I had a Zen for about ten years, bought when I moved overseas and didn't want to take 100+ CDs with me, it was great, and Creative's after-care service was top notch, despatching a new charger gratis to my UK office on a short work trip back to Blighty to cover for the one I'd forgotten to bring with me from Malaysia. When I was on the look out for some PC speakers last year they were my first port of call, and didn't let me down.

    Thank you, Mr Sim.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sound Blaster was also the first means to connect a CD drive.

    I'm old enough to remember that time, and the Sound Blaster was also one of the first means to connect a CD drive to a PC. Later it became easier to rig a CD drive but when it all started your choice was pretty limited to getting a Sound Blaster and hooking it up there.

    I'm pretty sure this was used in many a company to justify the purchase of a Sound Blaster in the first place :).

    One of the things I learned later is that you best do not stick any CD from that era in a newer CD drive. They were not quite designed to handle the centrifugal force of a 40x spin speed, leading to some spectacular deaths of both the CD and the drive they were in as the CDs would simply shatter and often take out the laser or associated position mechanics in the process..

    1. John Riddoch

      Re: The Sound Blaster was also the first means to connect a CD drive.

      Yeah, I remember spending nearly £100 for a sound card/CD-ROM bundle and hooking it all together. Those were also the days when each CD ROM had its own drivers (PC makers hadn't standardised that either) so there was a fair bit of working getting them all working nicely together. Was still worth it, though :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Sound Blaster was also the first means to connect a CD drive.

        Ironically, that CDROM drive was actually my means to avoid Windows altogether as I could now install Slackware from CD (cue a steady stream of orders every time a new version came out :) ).

        If I recall correctly you'd have to boot from floppy first because you needed a kernel that had that support compiled in before it would talk to the drive (yes, kids, in those days you had to compile a kernel with all the bits you needed to work in a machine, it wasn't the luxurious dynamic it-runs-on-just-about-anything facility you have now), but it was a heck of a lot easier than doing it from the 12 or 14 3.5" floppies it all started with.

        Anyway, fun times :).

        1. Ozan

          Re: The Sound Blaster was also the first means to connect a CD drive.

          First boot and then root. Two floppy for install. Packages were on CD thou.

  9. GraXXoR

    Perfect Naming

    I remember laughing at the name of the AWE32 when brought the box back to my flat.

    Me and two mates got to work installing it and hooked it up to an AUX input on my hi-fi, another pricy hobby I had at the time.

    I actually do remember the three of us feeling actual awe at just how good the polyphonic sound was. The included demos were very convincing.

    But it was in game music and sound effects that really did it justice, since this was still before the days of just streaming music from the hard disk.

    Doom II and one of the Wing Commander titles sounded amazing.

    That was the last discrete sound card I ever bought.

    1. ske1fr
      Pint

      Re: Perfect Naming

      My Live Value is outside in the garage, in the old Pentium 3 desktop I built, together with the CD Blaster 8432 drive. I was fooling around with soundfonts on it until it got too cold in Autumn. Sadly the M-Audio USB Midi adapter wouldn't pipe into it, so no Midi fun with a newer keyboard than the old one plugged into the gameport. Good job I have something more modern indoors, but Creative have been good fun over the years. RIP Sim Wong Hoo.

  10. Fading

    RIP

    Didn't get a soundblaster card until I drop a Soundblaster 16 into my 486 DX2 win 3.11 machine (well MSDOS 5 with windows 3.11) - great card. Prior to this I had an Adlib card. Have a soundblaster Katana on my desk as I type this. I think it was the Soundblaster 2 that really made an impact back in the day in the UK though it was Roland that was always considered the pinnacle of sound cards in the 80s.

  11. TaabuTheCat

    Something awesome he also built...

    May I present the "Soundbar of the Gods". https://us.creative.com/soniccarrier/

    Why? Because he could.

  12. Colin Bull 1
    Happy

    Dr Sbaitso

    My kids are in their 40s and they remember Dr Sbaitso text to speech app from SB. Brilliant for its time. I will have to dig my soundblaster T shirt out and wear it for the next week.

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