NVIDIA GeForce 256 Part 1: To buy or not to buyby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 11, 1999 5:07 PM EST
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Hardware Transforming & Lighting - The GPU
NVIDIA broke the silence with the announcement of "The World's First GPU" a short while ago, and while they are entirely honest by saying that they created the world's first 'GPU' the technology is nothing new to the industry. What NVIDIA is boasting with the Single-Chip GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is the idea of having an on-board geometry processor, or hardware transforming and lighting (T&L) as it's been called in recent times.
The migration of the latter steps of the 3D rendering pipeline from the CPU to dedicated graphics hardware is inevitable. Regardless of what the big CPU manufacturers will have you believe, there is no way that CPUs can handle all of the calculations and manipulation that goes into the 3D rendering process for a game. This is where the idea of hardware transforming and lighting comes into play.
The transforming and lighting stages of 3D rendering are two very time consuming and thus CPU intensive stages. Even the fastest desktop CPUs are not capable of driving the amount of polygons necessary to create a realistic environment at a reasonable frame rate and neither are the fastest desktop graphics cards. The solution until the hardware picks up the pace is to use lower polygon counts and make use of more detailed textures to increase realism.
NVIDIA hopes to change that by delivering a graphics chip that can handle more polygons than even the fastest CPUs could handle and, thus, they hope to promote the increase in polygon counts in games. The GeForce 256 itself can drive a peak polygon throughput of 15 Million polygons per second, an amazing feat for a graphics card. There is no arguing that the number of polygons used in games will definitely increase over time as graphics accelerators get more powerful, but it is naïve to say that the GeForce alone will promote this.
The trend towards hardware T&L is obvious; S3 has already announced that their Savage 2000 will feature hardware T&L and over the next year, expect the rest of the industry to follow. It is a step that is definitely necessary, but you're not going to be taking full advantage of the hardware T&L of the GeForce 256 right away. Let's take a look at what is required in order to take advantage of Hardware T&L and what games currently do and do not support it.