Computer Graphics Card History

A graphics card is a piece of hardware that is installed in a computer and responsible for rendering images on display or monitor of the computer. Graphics card are available for different purposes under various price range. It may be interesting to learn history of computer graphics card and the way it has evolved over time.

Early Days

The form of graphics card we use today was first used in 1940s by military of United States. They used it in SAGE computer system that was used as a flight simulator. During this time, computers could only display 256 colors in any graphic. Computer graphics was primarily used in desktop publishing software for creating newsletters, simple images and advertisements.

PC Video Games And VGA

IBM introduced the concept of personal computers and began its selling from 1981. Video game arcade got a boost with spread of personal computers. Serious researches in the field of computer graphics began to support this growing demand and invent new products.

There were attempts to advance computer graphics with programming language like C++. Postscript was developed by Adobe. Animation became popular with stochastic sampling to ray tracing. In later part of 1980s IBM invented Video Graphics Array (VGA).

Eventful ‘90s  

The rise of Microsoft Windows in early 1990s sparked interest in high resolution and high speed 2D bitmap graphics. The dominance of Windows in PC market allowed the developers to focus on a single programming interface known as Graphics Device Interface (GDI). Real time texture mapping was used by Reality Engine introduced by Silicon Graphics in 1994. It paved way for Nintendo 64 game console that was introduced in 1997.


Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology invented by Intel brought a new dimension in advancement of graphics card. This technology allowed direct connection between memory and graphics card with a single slot of motherboard.

Transfer of graphical data was accelerated in this process. Companies like nVIDIA began selling of graphics card for personal computers and by late 1990s 3D video games was a possibility with high end graphics card.

While AGP provided a dedicated video port for graphics card, PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) Express video slots used nowadays in computers allow multiple video card arrangement. This allows a computer to use more than one graphics card for processing. ATI and nVIDIA are two leading graphics card manufacturers. These companies are constantly introducing latest and upgraded versions of graphics card for supporting high end gaming and other technological developments.

3Ds And More

Three dimensional rendering, colossal digital environments and complex visualizations can now be delivered by high end graphic cards. With the arrival of DirectX API (application programming interface) and similar functionality in Open Graphics Library (OpenGL), GPUs (Graphic processing units) started adding programmable shading to their capabilities.

As such, each pixel can now be processed by a short program. nVidia was the first to market such a chip, GeForce 3 that was capable of programmable shading. By October 2002, ATI introduced ATI Radeon 9700, the first Direct 3D 9.0 accelerator capable of implementing looping and lengthy floating point calculations.

The Road Ahead

Evolution of computer graphics card has reached at an interesting stage. Parallel GPUs are now making computational inroads against conventional CPUs. This has given rise to a new field of research dubbed as GPGPU (General Purpose computing on GPU). This is increasingly adapted in diverse fields like scientific image processing, computing of future stock prices and oil exploration. Undoubtedly, computer graphics card has come a long way and poised for a more crucial role in future.