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.
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suryad - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkWhat about the mobility x800 graphics card? I didnt see that thrown into the mix?
coldpower27 - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkThank you Bloodshredder, yeh after reading a little about the Radeon LE, it's almost as good as a Radeon DDR, except with lower working frequencies.
so if it's DDR then the correct no. are 148/296 and 32MB VRAM only.
Bloodshedder - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkFor the Radeon LE, I noticed a question mark next to the amount of RAM. I own one of these cards, and can confirm that 32MB DDR is the only configuration it comes in.
Draven31 - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkYou skipped which OpenGL version and features the various cards support... maybe add that when you add the various workstation cards to the listings...
coldpower27 - Monday, September 6, 2004 - link
Yeh, Nvidia learned it's lesson, last gen, with the 0.13 micron new at the time process delaying the introduction of the NV30, thy learned to play it safe using a tried and tested process is a good idea for such high complexity chips initially, though they of course plan to shift these chips to the 110nm process when the process matures enough, possibly on the NV48 and R480 hopefully allowing higher clocks in the process:D, maybe not for R480 unless low-k is ready for 110nm by that time.
It does make more sense to use the newer manufacturing process to help save costs on the volume shipping GPU, as the cost savings will beaccumulated much better in the mainstream and value arena's thanks to sheer volume.
We also see this with Intel, when Intel yields on the 90nm were only so so, they introduced Prescott up to 3.2GHZ in quanitity, but introduced their Pentium 4 3.4GHZ on the northwood core on 0.13 micron. Though over time Intel is making all efforts to transfer everything to 90nm, with Prescott and Prescott 2M w/1066FSB for EE Edition.
JarredWalton - Monday, September 6, 2004 - link8 - Intel does this as well, testing a new process on their non-flagship parts. For example, after the launch of the P4, Intel piloted their 130 nm copper technology with the Tualatin CPU before releasing the Northwood. It probably has something to do with the amount of extra time a more complex design takes to test and verify.
stephenbrooks - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkInteresting how on the die sizes chart, I notice they're phasing in the 110nm process only for their mid-range-ish cards and sticking to the tried and tested 130nm for the high-end one. I suppose you can't blame them for that really, given it's their flagship product and all, but it could contribute to the huge die sizes.
JarredWalton - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkThank, AtaStrumf - any errors in the numbers are ColdPower's fault. Heheheh. Really, he already caught a bunch of small mistakes, so hopefully the number of remaining errors is very small.
For what it's worth, there are various versions of some of the chips that have different clock speeds and RAM speeds from what is listed. The models in the chart should reflect the most common configurations, though.
BTW, the article text is now tweaked somewhat on the ATI and NVIDIA overview pages. Derek Wilson provided some additional insight on the subject of AA and AF that clarified things a little.
JarredWalton - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkArgon was the name for the .25 micron K7, while Pluto and Orion were .18 micron.
#2 and #4: I realize you're kidding, but in all seriousness we did think about including other architectures. With the broken features on some of the more recent cards and the lack of T&L on 3dfx and older cards, we just decided to stick with the two major players. And hey - it's all fair, as we didn't include Cyrix/Via or Transmeta processors in the CPU cheatsheet! ;)
AtaStrumf - Monday, September 6, 2004 - linkOMFG, this is awsome!!!! You really outdid youself this time! I have been collecting data on GPUs for quite a while and have been planing on making a spreadsheet just like the first two for my, so called, web site, but WAU, this rocks. Thanks for saving me a lot of work :)
When I get the time, I'll check your munbers a bit, just to make sure there aren't any typos in there.