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The Graphics Cards That Changed Gaming Forever

The Ever Evolving GPU

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PC gaming has come a long way over the last 30 years, with graphics cards now offering unbelievable power. It is sometimes hard to believe where we started but when we take a look back at GPU development we see small leaps forward that have eventually lead to the beautiful graphics we see today.

In this article, we are going to be taking a look back in time to see the graphics cards that truly changed our gaming experiences forever. We couldn’t have dreamed of the resolutions we now play on back in the ’90s and ’00s, so let’s take a closer look at those jumps in graphical power.

Now you are probably thinking where is the 3DFX VooDoo cards? Well, they did offer superb performance at the time and left long-lasting impressions on the market but eventually popped out of existence. Nvidia’s GeForce 256 card back in 1999 was the world’s first “GPU”, well kind of, thanks to some clever marketing on Nvidia’s part. What can’t be argued is that it was the first GeForce card in what would become a long line of incredible successors.

The GeForce 256 offered complex visuals that were previously left to the CPU, such as lighting effects and transformation, which maps 3D images onto a regular 2D monitor. While many games didn’t support its new features, it was in fact, Ahead of its time and set the stage for the Geforce 2.

A card that has stuck in the minds of many avid gamers (including me) was Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTX, a powerful and power-hungry graphics card to say the least. This was, literally, a huge card and came with a load of capacitors, a clock speed of 575MHz, and a whopping 768MB GDDR3.

The 8800 GTX featured a unified shader that could handle a large number of effects at once and run at a faster clock than the processing core. This was the first GPU to utilize this architecture and worked very well thanks to the arrival of Windows DirectX 10.

2006 was a great year for gaming and that is largely down to the Nvidia G80 series, redefining what graphics cards were and what they can do.

AMD launched arguably the most powerful GPU of 2009 with its Radeon HD 5970. This GPU came about two months after launching their HD 5870 and was the first dual GPU. At the time, this was a monstrous card, with 3200 stream processors, a 725MHz core clock, and a lavish 1GB of GDDR5 memory(x2)! 

It is fair to say that even after Nvidia launched its rival to this card a few months later, they would fall short and AMD, along with its customers, had a very prosperous year. This idea of cramming two chips into one shroud continued up until multi GPU support started to slow down and may never return.

The original GTX Titan was released in early 2013 as part of the GeForce 700 series. At the time, and arguably still now, it reigned as the supreme leader amongst the GPU world, with unprecedented performance.

The Titan was the first true ultra-enthusiast card that destroyed gaming benchmarks and multi-monitor setups, coming packed with over 7,000 million transistors. The performance was not to be sniffed out, with the card featuring 2,688 CUDA cores, a core clock speed of 837MHz, and 6GB of GDDR5 memory.

This was a huge milestone in GPUs and showed the true power and potential of running a single card in your system.

The GTX 1080 Ti is now sadly out of production but still holds its own as one of the best graphics cards we have ever seen. This iconic GPU was released back in 2017 as part of Nvidia’s latest Pascal architecture cards. The Ti was the pinnacle of the series, as was the architecture inside.

I currently run my system with one of these beasts inside and why wouldn’t I? It features a core clock speed of 1,480 MHz and 11GB of GDDR5X memory! This card showed is true colors with gaming, blasting through every title with ease. Its performance per dollar was one of the best at the time and Bitcoin miners couldn’t believe their eyes.

The next leap, once again, came from Nvidia with its latest RTX series of cards. The RTX 2080 Ti is the most expensive consumer graphics card to date but that is largely down to is incredible specifications and unrivaled performance.

For many running 1080 Ti SLI setups, there wasn’t any real need to upgrade as the performance was pretty close. That being said, the 30-40% increase in FPS across different titles is not to be sniffed at and shows the true power of the RTX 2080 Ti. This card features over 6 billion transistors more than the 1080 Ti and features 11GB of GDDR6 memory, which when you pair with the 4,352 CUDA cores, you are getting a total of 616GB/s memory bandwidth.

The 2080 Ti is no doubt the current top dog (hence why we call it the big boy in the office) and while it could be considered overkill for a lot of gamers, it is an unbelievable piece of hardware.

Well, GeForce RTX 3080 Ti specs were reportedly leaked ahead of Nvidia’s keynote event earlier this year and this started to excite the PC community once again. The Nvidia 3000-series will potentially launch with three variants, the RTX 3090, 3080 Ti, and Super. If following from the RTX 20-series cards, these could boast a further 20-40% performance increase in our games, paving the way for game developers to give us the best experiences we will have ever seen.

The sky is still the limit, it is quite hard to imagine where we will be in 10 or even 20 years’ time. One thing to note is that the development of these cards has not slowed down and with a bit of luck, they never will in my lifetime.

Product Specialist - Gaming PC, Prebuilt Gaming PC, GPUs, CPUs, AT WEPC

Shaun Conroy

Shaun is a gaming enthusiast and computer science graduate who has been working with computers for the last 15 years. He took a shine to competitive FPS back in the mid-2000s and hasn't looked back since.