personal technology

An Ode to Graphics Cards

It may come as no surprise that I have been gaming for a very long time. Over 30 years at this point! From sepia-toned Space Invaders on my dad’s old computer, to Super Mario Bros on the NES, all the way to today. Video games are important to me, not just because they’re fun, but because they help me calm down and chill out. When I’m particularly stressed or anxious, video games give me an outlet to vegetate and just work on simple tasks, like puzzles, or follow a story that I am guiding with my choices. They’re good, is what I’m trying to say.

And all along my journey of gaming, one near constant has been graphics cards. See, back in the 90s, 2d gaming was commonplace, but 3d games were becoming more and more popular, thanks to games like Doom and, perhaps more importantly, Quake. Quake was one of the first real 3d games (not just 2d sprites put in a 3d environment). As such, it was very resource heavy and slow. Lots of games were slow back then; FPS wasn’t really a concept because a lot of games couldn’t get up to 30 FPS in the first place.

Then a company came along called 3dfx. They began selling what were basically proto-graphics cards to help boost graphics for intensive games like Quake by allowing the card to process the graphics (known as hardware acceleration), allowing the CPU to process everything else. 3dfx made a graphics card called Voodoo, way back in the late 90s. I had one! Specifically I had the Diamond Monster II (I think), which used the Voodoo graphics chipset that 3dfx created. It changed everything. Suddenly games were running great, with little hiccups, just in time to play classics like Unreal and Quake III Arena.

The box for the Diamond Monster II. Look at that angry car!

3dfx later made the Banshee, which was a cheaper alternative, and then in 2000 the company was bought by Nvidia. Nvidia, by the way, claims to have made the first real GPU, the Geforce 256, but to me, the Diamond Monster II will always be the first GPU, even if it didn’t have all the modern bells and whistles.

The DMII was installed on my father’s computer, but once I started college I bought my first computer: ALBATROSS, aka the Fortress of Consternation. This computer came with an integrated GPU, a S3 ProSavage with a whopping 32MB of RAM. Integrated GPUs still exist but they have fallen out of style, which makes sense when you think about it. I thought I had upgraded the GPU on this one but if I did, I didn’t make a note of it anywhere. (My emails only go back to 2004, sadly.)

So I had that computer for seven or eight years, but it eventually went kaput (I swear I wrote about this somewhere but I can’t find it) and I bought my next computer, called MAGRAGEEVES. This is when I started naming my computers demon names. It’s just … you gotta spice up the little things, you know what I mean? Old Mags was a prebuilt computer and came with this GPU:

I swear I have dust and/or cat hair everywhere. I’m sorry.

I still have this for some reason! The Radeon HD 3650, Over-clocked Edition (guitar riff). This was my first official foray into AMD territory, although this was after AMD bought ATI but before they stopped using the ATI name, so this is technically an ATI Radeon card. This was, as always is with these things, a very good GPU to have at the time.1Fun fact: I still had this computer tower until a friend of mine needed a computer. I repurposed it with an old SSD and sold it to her for, I think, $50. She used it for a few months before rightly thinking, “Why the fuck did I buy this?” It served me well … for a couple of years, before I bought another computer called CABERTOSS in 2011. Cabertoss was a very cheap Chinese prebuilt computer — seriously, it cost $280 at the time. I’m surprised didn’t explode on me. I splurged and spent $70 on an ATI Radeon 4650 with 1gb of ram to go with it. A whole 1000 higher than the last GPU! Wow. I suspect it ran about the same as the 3650.2This computer was given or sold or whatever to my friend Nate many years ago. Again, I would be surprised if it still worked.

At this point I was living in Portland and was getting A) student loans and B) free unemployment checks (thanks Obama!) and so I decided to finally build my own computer. And thus, GARGAROTH was born. Gargaroth had too many fucking fans and in the early 2010s these big fucking heavy as shit computer towers were en vogue so there you go. The GPU I bought with this was the MSI Radeon 6950 Twin Frozr III with 1gb of ram. But then I quickly upgraded it to this, the Radeon 7950 with 3gb of ram:

Twin Frozr III at top, with the VisionTek below for comparison.

For the record, the 3gb and 1gb versions of the Twin Frozr look the same. This was my first real “Jesus Christ, look at the size of that graphics card” GPU. It really is very big, and heavy! This card was nearly top of the line at the time, which isn’t saying much because the line would jump like 50 notches higher every three months. Still, it handled pretty much any game thrown at it and let me watch HD videos with no problem. This card still works; I recently installed it into my HTPC and it would play HD videos up to 4k without a problem.

The Twin Frozr III was my card for nearly ten years, and showed its age about two years into my owning it. The 2010s were like an arms race for GPUs (and computer tech in general), and soon AMD and Nvidia were battling it out for supremacy. I, meanwhile, graduated from Portland State with a nigh-worthless Theatre Arts graduate degree and was broke, and continued to be mostly broke until…

The pandemic! I was lucky to have a job and get stimulus checks, which I used to begin construction on a new PC, the one I currently use: THARGORAD. For this computer I bought a Radeon RX 580 with 8gb of ram. It worked great! And then, like I mentioned earlier, I took the Twin Frozr and added it to some other parts from Gargaroth, bought a old mini-ATX motherboard and a small form case to make my HTPC, known as SMÖLCOMP because it is small.

And that was my setup for the past two years, until recently, when I decided to splurge again and upgrade my GPU, purchasing a Radeon RX 6700 XT (look at all those letters), with 12gb of ram. This is probably the most top of the line card I think I’ve ever bought, as it was released about two years ago. Thus, the RX 580 was moved to Smölcomp, and the Twin Frozr III has now, officially, been decommissioned, because I really have no reason to build another computer. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. The 3gb 7950 is selling on ebay for $80-90, while the 1gb 6950 is going for much lower, around $30-40. Even the 3650 is going for $30. These things aren’t collectors items. I think I’ll just take them to FreeGeek and give them away.

Anyway, this is all just a nostalgic trip through my history with a silly component to a computer. But it’s important to me, because these cards helped me play video games, and video games keep me alive. So thank you, MSI Radeon 7950 with 3gb of ram, for playing all my favorite games over nearly a decade, with maybe a few hiccups and some lowered graphics settings to assuage poor framerates. You did your job well and I hope you and your brethren enjoy retirement.

  • 1
    Fun fact: I still had this computer tower until a friend of mine needed a computer. I repurposed it with an old SSD and sold it to her for, I think, $50. She used it for a few months before rightly thinking, “Why the fuck did I buy this?”
  • 2
    This computer was given or sold or whatever to my friend Nate many years ago. Again, I would be surprised if it still worked.