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Brief History Of Graphics Cards

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Ever wondered how the chip on your circuit board that converts video data into signals and transmits them to your monitor came to be? Of course, you know that It wasn’t originally designed like that, because just like your computer, there have been series of technological advancements in graphics cards ranging from IBM owned graphics cards, to Intel, Voodoo, API, and to the top 2 graphics cards manufacturers that are currently dominating the market; Nvidia and AMD.

Without wasting time, let’s go back to where it all started with graphics cards otherwise known as video cards.

The 1980s

 1981 witnessed the introduction of a Monochrome Display Adapter by the leading technological innovator IBM. The card was built with a monochrome text mode that allowed high-resolution texts and symbols to display 80 x 25 characters using a memory of 4KB and a resolution of 720 x 250 pixels.  

They also developed a Color Graphics Adapter ( CGA graphics card) that was built with 16KB of data and featured several graphics and text modes. It has 3 different graphical modes that include a  resolution of 640 x 200 pixels ( maximum ), a 320 x 200 resolution, and a 160 x 100 resolution. Its text mode was a 40 x 25 with 8x 8-pixel font using a resolution of 320 x 200 and an 80 x 25 with an 8 x 8 pixel, using a resolution of 640 x 200.


 Another company committed to technological advancement in graphics card technology known as Hercules Computer Technology innovated the Hercules graphics card with 64KB of video memory which was a combination of IBM’s text-only MDA card with a bitmapped graphics card. This feat paved the way for other manufacturers after what seemed like a monopolistic market dominated by IBM. 


 Using their 827720 graphics chip, Intel invented the iSBX 275 video card which displayed 8 colors at a resolution of 256 x 256 pixels, using a video memory of 32KB which made it suitable for drawings. 


This year witnessed the invention of IBM’s first colored graphics card that was designed to display full colors. The card was known as the Professional graphics controller which was an advancement of their previous card and it was built with 16KB memory, 160 X 200-pixel resolution, and 12 text modes. It could also be connected with either a direct drive, a CRT monitor, or an NTSC-compatible TV.

With later development in subsequent years, IBM introduced an enhanced graphics adapter (EGA) that could display 16 colors using a resolution of 640 x 350 pixels. IBM also introduced a graphics card built with a single chip that supported all points addressable ( APA) graphics and alphanumeric text modes. 


ATI produced an OEM color emulation card as an add-on for IBM computers. It was one of the cards in the ATI wonder series that was used for producing monochrome green, amber, or white lead against a black background via a 9-pin connector to a monitor. 


1987 ushered in the innovation of Video Graphics Adapter by ATI. The card was known as the ATI VGA Wonder card. It had 256KB of video memory, 16 colors, and a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and was used as an add-on for Intel 8086 and 8088 and IBM-based Computers. 

ATI developed a graphics chip that supported MDA, CGA, and EGA graphics modes via dip switches.  It had 64kb memory and was also used as IBM’s PC/XT/8A 8-bit bus for Intel 8086/8088 based IBM PCs. 


Wonder graphics solution was manufactured by wonders XL card with VESA 32K color compatibility and a Sierra RAMDAC which boosted maximum display resolution to 640 x 480 at 72Hz and 800 x 600 at 60Hz. 

The 1990s

Although the 1990s depicted the fall of IBM from PC development, it also saw the growth of 3dfx and also ushered in Nvidia, specifically in the year 1993

This same year, Silicon graphics incorporation released Open GL1.0, API ( Application programming interface) for 2D and 3D applications


S3 produced S3 911 and 911 A graphics chips which had up to 256 colors graphics. Later, they sold the graphics chips to OEM due to the low cost and graphics quality to be integrated into their Motherboard.


Silicon Graphics Inc. developed Open GL which was used for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics in video games, virtual reality, computer-aided design, and other applications


This year ushered in the Voodoo line of video graphics by 3dfx called the Voodoo 1. It was programmed to function with a 2D video card to provide 3D video rendering for computer games. The card was suitable for 2D graphics and supported two cards within a single PC and as such led to the revolution of 3D technology. 


After their inception in 1993, Nvidia released their first graphics card in 1997 which was called the RIVA 128 graphics accelerators chip which was capable of combining 3D acceleration with 2D and 3D video acceleration in a single card. 


When everyone thought that the Voodoo graphics card was out of the picture, they came back better with the invention of Voodoo 2 by 3dfx. This card was noted to be the first video card with SLI support that allowed two graphics cards to function in a single PC to offer superior graphics quality with a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels


Nvidia Introduced GeForce 256, an angle chip processor built with an integrated transform and rendering engine that was capable of processing a minimum of 10 million polygons per second. Over time, Nvidia recorded significant improvement in its innovations and to a large extent shaped the future of modern graphics processing and 3D gaming.

The 2000s

  ATI introduced Radeon R100 graphics that preceded the birth of subsequent Radeon cards. It was fully compatible with Direct X7 and featured ATI’s HyperZ technology.


Nvidia released the GeForce 3 series of video cards and it was the first video card to feature programmable pixel shaders.


ATI released Radeon 9700 in October and it was the first 3D 9.0 accelerator video card in the market. 


 Nvidia GeForce Introduced GeForce 6 series 6600 and 6800 which is popular among gamers for overlooking. It synchronizes with SLI to provide support for video technology and multi-video cards. 


Geforce introduced the GTX 8800 that has 129 streaming processors, 575MHz core speed, 768MB of DDR3 memory, and a texture fill rate of 36.8 billion per second.


After ATI was bought over by AMD technology in 2006 and they produced their first graphics card; AMD Radeon HD 5970 dual GPU card that has support for 3D graphics.


2010 witnessed the use of advanced GPUs in cars, and one of such is the Nvidia Tegra GPU used by Audi to power dashboards in their cars. 


Sony released PlayStation 4 and Microsoft released Xbox One. Both gaming consoles used AMD Radeon HD 7790 and 7850 video cards

Later, Nvidia introduced Geforce Titan that is built for virtual reality and it has since been the forerunner of modern graphics technology. 


 Nvidia Geforce introduced the Evga Geforce GTX 750 that consumes low power with exceptional performance. It had 2GB GDDR5, with a speed of 5400MHz, and supported a resolution of 1080p that provided a solution for clear graphics. 


Nvidia introduced GeForce GTX 1060, a VR- ready graphics card with 3GB and 6GB built with a cooling system that permits overclocking.


Ever since they invented their first graphics card, Nvidia has always tried to deliver updated versions of graphics cards to cater to updated graphical versions in games and other graphic-themed applications. The year 2020 witnessed the release of the RTX series graphics card and ARM graphics cards which is the latest graphics card in graphics card technology. 

Favour Etim

Years of hard work, research, and internship in technologically and computer-related fields have helped Etim Favour to produce informative and engaging writings on computers and technology-related products. When Favour is not writing, you’ll find her answering questions to help gamers and office workers to build the best battlestation/workstation.

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