GPU Cheatsheet - A History of Modern Consumer Graphics Processorsby Jarred Walton on September 6, 2004 12:00 AM EST
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After the overview of modern Intel and AMD processors, there were many requests for a similar article covering the graphics arena. "Arena" is a great term to describe the market, as few other topics are as likely to raise the ire of the dreaded fanboy as discussing graphics. However, similar to the CPU Guide, this article is not meant as a set of benchmarks or to answer the commonly asked question of "which graphics card is best?" Instead, it is a look at the internal designs, feature sets, and theoretical performance of various graphics chips.
The initial scope of this article is limited to graphics chips manufactured by ATI and NVIDIA. This is not to say that they are the only companies making 3D graphics chips, but honestly, if 3D gaming is your area of interest, there really aren't any other good alternatives. The integrated graphics in VIA, Intel, and SiS chipsets are, at best, disappointing. They're fine for business use, but businesses don't generally worry about graphics performance anyway, as anything made within the past five years is more than sufficient for word processing and spreadsheet manipulation. Matrox is still heralded by many as the best 2D image quality, but again, for gaming - the primary concern of anyone talking about consumer 3D graphics cards - they simply fall short. It's too bad, really, as more competition almost always benefits the consumer, but computer hardware is a very cutthroat market - one seriously botched release, and it may be your last!
However, not all ATI and NVIDIA chips will be covered. If the Volari and DeltaChrome have issues with current games, the same can be said of old Rage and TNT graphics cards, only more so. Even the early GeForce and Radeon chips are too slow for serious gaming, but since they are DirectX 7 parts, they have made the cut. So, similar to the CPU Guide, all GeForce and later chips will be included, and so will all the Radeon and later parts. There are a few speculative parts in the charts, and figures for these can and likely will change before they are released - if they ever do manage to see the light of day.
As far as organization goes, code names and features will be listed first. Next, a look at the potential performance - and why it often isn't realized - will follow. There will also be some general micro processor information and die size estimates later on, which you can skip if such discussions do not hold your interest. Unfortunately, estimates are the best we can do in some areas, as getting details from any of the major graphics card companies is like pulling teeth from a crocodile. With that said, on to the charts.