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Getting Extremely Graphic

A wide world of workhorse pro level graphics cards beckons By Dariush Derakhshani

So I think I remember the first time I got video card envy was playing "Strike Eagle II" at my friend Josh’s  room down the hall, the one wedged in the corner of the building as if someone wanted to forget all about it.  I was living in the middle room in the hall, large and comfortable and only cursed with being in a freshman dorm at a college where there is nothing better to do than be loud all the time.

So I brought with me to school, my Apple IIgs, the last piece of good Apple engineering there was until the lucky and yet frustratingly short of perfection iPod. I worked up to this marvel of computing from a Laser128 which connected to a monitor via a composite cable.  The colors ran like screaming children from a burning school yard.  I did not have an rgb monitor at the time, so there it was, like reading a book through a wet napkin.  The 16 bit IIgs came to me as nothing short of the marvel it was.  Packaged so nicely, and so open to user upgrades, I found it easy to expand and affordable on a teenage pension.

The “g” in gs stood for graphics, and it extolled an impressive (at least to me, at the time) 256 color range at 320x200 resolution or 16 dithered colors at 640x200 pixels. Coupled with the Apple II Finder GUI OS, and this was an exciting PC to have.  But when I saw the 3d display capabilities of Josh’s 286 tower system with, hold on to your hats, VGA with 16 colors at 640x480. Just the clean lines and sharp colors of the game on his PC system, and the fact that I needed to run CADD software, pushed me into my first PC, a home built 286-20Mhz with an Oak Tech 256K SVGA card. 

This card was close to cutting edge, it ran 800x600 resolution, but did not cost an arm and a leg, and it had an amazing 156Kb of memory.  When you compare that to the 2Mb of system RAM I had, it was quite a bit.  It ran AutoCAD rel 9 I think it was, as well as "Strike Eagle II." It was a coup, and my once stunning IIgs was a memory.

Wavy dissolve effect, electric guitar riff, and fade into today.

The PC I am writing this on has 1000x the CPU speed and memory for RAM as well as on my video card. And that’s just my freaking laptop!  Well, truth be told, it’s a workstation laptop with 2Gb RAM and 256Mb on the video card, which is capable of displaying 2048x1536 at 16 bit color on a CRT.  This is nothing to sneeze at portable or not.  Keeping in mind that this 1000x growth happened over the course of about 15 years, and you realize a phenomenal escalation in capacity.  That’s a growth of 6600% a year.  If only my 401(k) returned that.

One of the standout features of the Apple IIgs was that its primary graphics mode offloaded the burden from the CPU to the Video Graphics Chip. These days, with games being probably the major-est driving force behind video graphics on computers, the VPU (Video Processor Unit) is called on to handle so much.  Nvidia’s VPU from a few years ago actually surpassed the number of transistors the Pentium4 CPU had.  That’s just weird.  Next thing you know, Macs will be running off of Intel chips.  D’oh!

Hazy wave effect, the same guitar riff backwards, and fade into those college days.  ISA.  This was the interface for the graphics system to communicate with the CPU via the motherboard.  ISA ran at 8Mhz in 16 bit and provided a good bus bandwidth for the video cards of the day to speak with the rest of the system.  Next came EISA which lasted about as fast as a Democrat wearing a Windows shirt at the MacWorld Expo and Gun Show. VESA Local Bus boosted capacity, but phased out for PCI, which offered a fantastic bus for data transfer. But bus sizes needed more increases to pave the way for even better graphics performance to keep up with 3d gaming and applications. So AGP grew up to allow for a larger bus pathway just for graphics, alongside PCI for other non-graphics expansion cards. 

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Related Keywords:ATI FireGL, Gelato, ATI V5000 , Nvidia FX1400, video card

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