If you have read some of the articles on this page, you might already got bored about the constant mention of “real men hardware” or the notion of some boring technical stuff being “nice”, “sexy” or just “beautiful”… well, I admit you have to be a bit geeky to fully understand that right from the spot but this rant tries to explain this a bit more in detail – especially because I hear the “why?” question a lot.
“Once upon a time…”
If you talk to geek-veterans (born before 1975) it often may happen to you that they start sentences with “Back then…” or “In those days, when everything was much nicer,…“. This is because the computing world wasn’t anything but settled. Many things were in flux, you had to fiddle a lot to make a computer to do more than just print some text on a screen or printer – and there were certainly many roads which led to Rome.
It was not god-given that you could have graphics (i.e. not just text) maybe in color -gasp!- or sound/music beyond a pathetic beep… and even if you had a graphic output, monochrome 280×192 pixels were called high res!
It’s becoming obvious that this page centers around technologies from 1988-1993’ish. So it’s not Commodore 64 or Apple II stuff which you would probably call “stone age hardware”, but still those Workstations, Cray-in-a-Chip or Super-Highresdevices are pathetic compared to todays PDAs or even mobile phones, not to mention current (personal) computers – the simplest things we got used to today are nearly impossible:
Animated 3D Graphics? With some extra CPU(s) I could rotate a wire-frame cube for you.
Playing MP3 files? Well, if you have a fast enough DSP that might work…
Surfing the web? Surfing what?
Burning a 4GB ISO image? Does it fit on my super-macho 5.25″ full-hight 200MB hard-drive?
Use that funky API for doing XYZ? Sure, if you code the driver first…
So what the fuzz?!
Deo in machina
It’s the esprit, the spirit, the ingeniousness which makes those old dogs so fascinating. You had to go the extra mile to reach nearly anything which is daily routine today. And while ASICs weren’t that fast as they’re today, most things were handled by additional general purpose CPU(s) or special coprocessors/chipsets like those used in Commodores AMIGA machines.
For example, the combo of a high-end TIGA graphic card and an additional, full-length accelerator containing a 33MHz MIPS R3000 CPU was able to display 10.000 triangles/s of 100 pixels, flat-shaded.
In 1994 a PlayStation (the first one, using the same MIPS CPU) did 360.000 flat-shaded polygons/s – so you get an idea, how “fast” a supposedly fast graphics card was back then… well, don’t forget that everybody else was still happy with 320×200 256-colors 2D graphics (that’s standard mode 0x13 VGA).
There you have it: Why? Because it’s still fascinating what engineers were doing to reach their goals. Squeezing the last drip out of everything.
Then, if you’re able to revive all this today and have it successfully running, it’s like an old steam train making its first “breath” after years of hiatus: Impressive.