The most iconic, game-changing graphics cards ever made

On occasion it is simple to overlook about the place we got here from in PC gaming, particularly whilst we are observing into our crystal balls for any glimpse of graphics playing cards long run. However there is if truth be told so much that we will be able to glean from the annals of GPU historical past—the colossal leaps in energy and function that GPUs have taken in underneath 25 years is going some technique to explaining why as of late’s absolute best graphics card prices $699.

It’s a must to stroll sooner than you’ll be able to run, and identical to any trepidatious infant there have been many makes an attempt to nail a picture solution of simply 800 x 600 sooner than somebody may dream up rendering the pixel rely required to run the most productive computer video games at 4K (that is 480,000 pixels according to body vs. eight,294,400, through the best way). 

But you’ll even be stunned through simply what number of options so prevalent in trendy GPUs had been first presented again on the daybreak of the trade. Take SLI, as an example. It could be on its manner out at this time however dual-wielding graphics playing cards performed crucial position up to now decade of GPU efficiency. And would you consider it used to be conceivable for a PC person to glue two playing cards in combination for higher efficiency long ago in 1998?

However let’s get started proper at first—when lively cooling used to be non-compulsory and there have been chips aplenty.

3dfx Voodoo

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3dfx Voodoo 3D accelerator

(Symbol credit score: Fritzchens Fritz)
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3dfx Voodoo 3D accelerator

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3dfx Voodoo

Yr: 1996 | Clock velocity: 50MHz | Reminiscence: four/6MB | Procedure node: 500nm

It is March, 1996—England is knocked out of the Cricket International Cup through Sri Lanka, a tender boy celebrates his fourth birthday (that is me), and 3dfx releases the primary of what could be a few game-changing graphics playing cards: the Voodoo.

Clocked at simply 50MHz and fitted with a whopping four/6MB of overall RAM, the Voodoo used to be obviously the awesome card for 3-D acceleration on the time. The highest spec may care for an 800×600 solution, however the decrease spec used to be able to simplest 640×480. In spite of its 2D boundaries, it could end up a extremely a hit mission, and set 3dfx on a trajectory into PC gaming reputation—and sooner or later into Nvidia’s pocket.

Be aware: the 3dfx Voodoo is frequently known as the Voodoo1, even if that identify simplest stuck on after the discharge of the Voodoo2. In a similar way, 3dfx must be formatted as 3DFX, however since maximum generation corporations additionally want to be referred to on this manner, no person will get to do it.

Nvidia Riva 128

Nvidia Riva 128 ZX 3D accelerator

(Symbol credit score: Fritzchens Fritz)

Nvidia Riva 128

Yr: 1997 | Clock velocity: 100MHz | Reminiscence: 4MB | Procedure node: SGS 350nm

Non-public select: Nvidia 8800GT

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Dave James: I have gamed on extra graphics playing cards than I will be able to have in mind. My first Voodoo2 used to be transformative, the Riva TNT used to be ace, and I have since had dual Titans and dual-GPU Radeon playing cards in my house rigs, however none hang so pricey a spot in my middle as the wonderful 8800GT. Omit the monstrous 8800GTX, the straightforward GT mixed stellar efficiency, nice seems to be, and improbable worth. I have nonetheless were given my single-slot, jet-black reference card (pictured above), and can by no means phase with it.

A chipset corporate through the identify of Nvidia would quickly be offering genuine pageant to the 3dfx within the type of the Nvidia Riva 128, or NV3. The identify stood for ‘Actual-time Interactive Video and Animation’, and it built-in each 2D and 3-D acceleration right into a unmarried chip for ease of use. It used to be an incredibly respectable card following the Nvidia NV1, which had attempted (and failed) to introduce quadratic texture mapping.

This 3-D accelerator doubled the preliminary spec of the Voodoo1 at 100MHz core/reminiscence clock, and got here with a half-decent 4MB SGRAM. It used to be the primary to in point of fact achieve traction out there for Nvidia, and for those who check out the more than a few layouts—reminiscence surrounding a unmarried central chip—you’ll be able to nearly make out the beginnings of an extended line of GeForce playing cards, all of which observe go well with.

However whilst it introduced pageant to 3dfx’s Voodoo1, and better resolutions, it wasn’t freed from its personal bugbears—and neither wouldn’t it be on my own out there for lengthy sooner than a 3dfx issued a reaction within the Voodoo2.

Pictured above is the Nvidia Riva 128 ZX, a quite refreshed take at the unique chip.

3dfx Voodoo2

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3dfx Voodoo2 3D accelerator

(Symbol credit score: Fritzchens Fritz)
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3dfx Voodoo2

(Symbol credit score: Fritzchens Fritz)

3dfx Voodoo2

Yr: 1998 | Core clock velocity: 90MHz | Reminiscence: eight/12MB | Procedure node: 350nm

Now this can be a 3-D accelerator that calls for no creation. Recognized all over the place for its excellent efficiency on the time, the Voodoo2 is famed for its lasting have an effect on at the GPU marketplace.

A smorgasbord of chips, the Voodoo2 featured a 90MHz core/reminiscence clock, eight/12MB of RAM, and supported SLI—as soon as hooked up by the use of a port on twinned playing cards, the Voodoo2 can make stronger resolutions as much as 1024 x 768.

3dfx controlled to stick on most sensible with the Voodoo2 for a while, however it wasn’t lengthy till the corporate would make a couple of deficient selections and be out of the graphics recreation fully.

Nvidia GeForce 256

Nvidia GeForce 256 graphics card

(Symbol credit score: Wikimedia – Person: Hyins)

Nvidia GeForce 256

Yr: 1999 | Core clock velocity: 120MHz | Reminiscence: 32MB DDR | Procedure node: TSMC 220nm

The primary bearing the GeForce identify nonetheless in use as of late, the GeForce 256 used to be additionally the “global’s first GPU’. ‘However what concerning the Voodoos and the Rivas?’, I pay attention you ask. Smartly, artful advertising on Nvidia’s phase has the GeForce 256 caught firmly in everybody’s minds because the progenitor of recent graphics playing cards, however it used to be in point of fact simply the identify Nvidia gave its single-chip answer: a graphics processing unit, or GPU. 

Non-public select: Gainward GeForce4 Ti 4200

(Symbol credit score: Gainward)

Paul Lilly: You all the time have in mind your first, and for me, it used to be the Voodoo2, which discovered a house in an overpriced Compaq I purchased from Sears (sooner than I began construction my very own PCs). However it is the Gainward GeForce4 Ti 4200 I purchased a number of years later that stands proud as one my absolute best GPU purchases. It arrived a pair months after Nvidia introduced the Ti 4600 and 4400, and temporarily cemented itself because the transparent bang-for-buck possibility over the ones two pricier fashions. It used to be speedy, relatively reasonably priced, and wearing a vivid pink PCB.

As you’ll be able to most certainly inform, this type of grandiose identify, a near-parallel to the central processing unit (CPU) that were raking in ungodly wads of money because the ’70s, used to be welcomed around the trade.

That isn’t to mention the GeForce 256 wasn’t a worthy namesake, then again, integrating acceleration for turn into and lights into the newly-minted GPU, along a 120MHz clock velocity and 32MB of DDR reminiscence (for the high-end variant). It additionally fully-supported Direct3D 7, which might permit it to revel in an extended lifetime powering one of the crucial absolute best vintage PC video games launched at the moment.

Here is an excerpt from a press unlock on built-in turn into and lights that Nvidia launched that 12 months:

“The builders and end-users have spoken, they are uninterested in poor-quality synthetic intelligence, blocky characters, restricted environments and different unnatural taking a look scenes,” mentioned David Kirk, leader technologist at Nvidia. “This new graphics capacity is step one in opposition to an interactive Toy Tale or Jurassic Park.”

Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX

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Nvidia 8800 GTX graphics card at various angles

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Nvidia 8800 GTX graphics card at various angles

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Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX

Yr: 2006 | Core clock velocity: 575MHz | Reminiscence: 768MB GDDR3 | Transistors: 681 million | Procedure node:  TSMC 90nm

As soon as Nvidia rolled out the GeForce 8800 GTX, there used to be no taking a look again. If you wish to discuss a card that in point of fact were given peoples’ consideration, and threw apart all regard for a compact dimension, it is the GeForce 8800 GTX.

With 128 Tesla cores throughout the much-anticipated G80 GPU, and 768MB of GDDR3 reminiscence, the 8800 is not an unfamiliar sight for a contemporary GPU consumer—even supposing it could be a little underpowered through as of late’s requirements. It dominated over the GPU marketplace at release, and glued round for a while afterwards due to a unified shader fashion presented with the structure and Direct3D 10. And it would run Crysis.

ATI Radeon HD 5970

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AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card from various angles

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AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card from various angles

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ATI Radeon HD 5970

Yr: 2009 | Core clock velocity: 725MHz | Reminiscence: 2,048MB GDDR5 | Transistors: four,308 million | Procedure node: 40nm

And what is AMD been doing all this time? Semiconductor corporate ATI used to be busy construction lots of bespoke console chips proper the best way in the course of the ’90s and early 2000s, and made some superb GPUs in its personal proper, such because the X1900 XTX. It used to be later bought through AMD in 2006 and the Radeon logo gently included underneath the AMD umbrella. After the abortive HD 2000 and 3000 collection, the HD 4870 and 4850 had been high quality playing cards, however the only which made the most important splash after the transfer used to be the Radeon HD 5970.

The Radeon 5970 used to be necessarily a big Cypress GPU, 1,024MB pool of reminiscence, and sizeable 256-bit reminiscence bus… multiplied through two. Yep, this dual-GPU fanatic card used to be doubly excellent because of its doubled element rely, and it used all that energy to lord over the gaming panorama.

The custom of stuffing two chips into one shroud persisted proper the best way as much as the AMD Radeon R9 295X2 and the Nvidia Titan Z. However as soon as multi-GPU make stronger began dwindling, unmarried playing cards changed into the main shape issue. Moreover, with multi-GPU make stronger fully within the builders’ courtroom because of the creation of DirectX 12, they will by no means make a go back.

Nvidia GTX Titan

Nvidia GTX Titan graphics card side on

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Nvidia GTX Titan

Yr: 2013 | Core clock velocity: 837MHz | Reminiscence: 6,144MB GDDR5 | Transistors: 7,zero80 million | Procedure node: TSMC 28nm

Nvidia launched the unique GTX Titan again in 2013, and on the time it used to be meant to take a seat atop of the gaming global as the head of efficiency. And arguably it used to be the primary ultra-enthusiast shopper card to release.

The GTX Titan comes with 2,688 CUDA Cores, and may spice up as much as 876MHz. The reminiscence, a whopping 6GB of GDDR5, stays extra capacious than even one of the crucial absolute best graphics playing cards offered as of late, and with a 384-bit bus it used to be able to maintaining with absolutely anything on the time.

Nvidia threw sense out of the window with the unique GTX Titan, and it used to be sufficient to get somebody’s blood pumping. A unmarried GPU with a state of the art structure that might tear via the newest video games—abruptly two playing cards changed into an useless nuisance.

Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card from multiple angles

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card from multiple angles

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card from multiple angles

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card from multiple angles

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

Yr: 2017 | Core clock velocity: 1,480MHz | Reminiscence: 11GB GDDR5X | Transistors: 12bn | Procedure node: TSMC 16nm

There is not any taking a look over the Pascal structure, and its finishing touch, the GTX 1080 Ti, when discussing essentially the most influential graphics playing cards thus far. Pascal used to be a in reality dominant high-end structure from the fairway crew, and the corporate’s efforts in decreasing efficiency according to watt as much as that time got here in combination to create probably the most greatest playing cards that we are nonetheless enamoured with as of late.

On the time, the 250W GTX 1080 Ti used to be able to dominating the sphere in gaming efficiency. It beaten the Titan X Pascal around the board, and even if Nvidia after all put in combination the quicker $1,200 Titan Xp someday later, the $699 GTX 1080 Ti rattling close to beaten that one, too—in efficiency according to greenback, it used to be the most obvious absolute best select.

AMD RX 580

AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card from side

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AMD Radeon RX 580

Yr: 2017 | Core clock velocity: 1,257MHz | Reminiscence: 4GB/8GB GDDR5 | Transistors: five.7bn | Procedure node: GlobalFoundries 14nm

Non-public select: Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT

(Symbol credit score: Axle)

Alan Dexter: I have all the time had a keenness for price range graphics playing cards, and the discharge that stands proud for me is the GeForce 6600GT. A real price range providing ($200 at release) it had an ace up its sleeve within the form of SLI make stronger. So whilst you should fortunately on the subject of get through with one card, sliding some other an identical card into your machine nearly doubled efficiency (except for when it did not… howdy, SLI used to be by no means highest).

It will be remiss of me to not point out the RX 580, and through extension the RX 480 it used to be constructed on, on this round-up. This highly-affordable Polaris GPU used to be my private go-to advice for somebody taking a look to construct their first PC for 1080p gaming.

Sitting a marginally above the RX 570, which sooner or later helped redefine entry-level desktop gaming efficiency, the RX 580 is the epitome of AMD’s fine-wine method. Yeah, overlook the fake Vega antique, it used to be the Polaris GPUs that simplest ever were given inexpensive and extra performant as time went on.

The RX 580 has accomplished extra for PC gaming affordability that almost all graphics playing cards as of late. Hell, it used to be the sort of excellent card even the crypto-miners could not get sufficient. It is a usual in which all additional AMD and Nvidia mainstream GPUs had been to be when put next towards, and we are the entire higher for it.

Nvidia RTX 3080

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card at various angles

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card at various angles

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card at various angles

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Nvidia RTX 3080

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GeForce RTX 3080

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Nvidia RTX 3080 Founders Edition

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Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080

Yr: 2020 | Core clock velocity: 1,440MHz | Reminiscence: 10GB GDDR6X | Transistors: 28.3bn | Procedure node: Samsung 8nm

The generational bounce the Nvidia RTX 3080 delivered when it used to be launched this 12 months makes it an immediate vintage and a straightforward addition to the record. Because the flagship graphics card of the Ampere era it is if truth be told now not essentially the most tough card within the circle of relatives. However it is so as regards to the efficiency of the Nvidia RTX 3090 that it nearly makes that $1,500 GPU inappropriate. It unquestionably does for avid gamers, a minimum of.

Introduced at $699 it conveniently outperformed the highest GPU of the former GeForce playing cards, the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti and that used to be the definition of graphics efficiency in any respect prices coming in at $1,200. The structure transfer which provides it nearly double the FP32 CUDA cores made it a stellar rasterized graphics chomper, however its 2d Gen RT cores and third Gen Tensor Cores supposed it nearly negated the have an effect on of enabling real-time ray traced results in-game.

AMD RX 6800 XT

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AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

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AMD RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 graphics card on table

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AMD RX 6000-series GPU

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AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

Yr: 2020 | Core clock velocity: 2,015MHz | Reminiscence: 16GB GDDR6 | Transistors: 26.8bn | Procedure node: TSMC 7nm

The AMD RX 6800 XT makes it directly to the record as probably the most greatest Radeon GPUs ever made, and probably the most absolute best graphics playing cards round. From necessarily nowhere within the high-end GPU recreation, AMD controlled to show its Navi structure from mainstream to world-beating in a single era. It is an implausible feat and presentations the have an effect on the Zen engineers have had at the graphics aspect of the corporate.

For not up to the cost of the RTX 3080, the RX 6800 XT most commonly suits the GeForce card in the usual benchmarks and simplest seems to be off the tempo with regards to the still-niche global of ray traced gaming. It is a monster of a card, a monster of a GPU, and proved that AMD used to be again difficult in high-end graphics playing cards over again.

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