GeForce 256

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The GeForce 256 is the original release in Nvidia's "GeForce" product-line. Released on August 31, 1999, the GeForce 256 improves on its predecessor (RIVA TNT2) by increasing the number of fixed pixel pipelines, offloading host geometry calculations to a hardware transform and lighting (T&L) engine, and adding hardware motion-compensation for MPEG-2 video. It offered a notably large leap in 3D gaming performance and was the first fully Direct3D 7-compliant 3D accelerator.



Upon release, GeForce 256 offered industry-leading real-time 3D rendering performance. It was marketed as "the world's first 'GPU', or Graphics Processing Unit," a term Nvidia defined at the time as "a single-chip processor with integrated transform, lighting, triangle setup/clipping, and rendering engines that is capable of processing a minimum of 10 million polygons per second."

The integration of the transform and lighting hardware into the GPU itself set the GeForce 256 apart from older 3D accelerators that used separate chips for the task. This reduction of 3D graphics solution complexity brought the cost of such hardware to a new low and made it accessible to cheap consumer graphics cards instead of being limited to the previous expensive professionally-oriented niche designed for computer-aided design (CAD). NV10's T&L engine also allowed Nvidia to enter the CAD market for the first time, with a product called Quadro. The Quadro line uses the same silicon chips as the GeForce cards, but has different driver support and certifications tailored to the unique requirements of CAD applications.[1]

Performance and value

GeForce 256 offered exceptional 3D performance that surpassed existing graphics cards. Compared to previous high-end 3D game accelerators, such as 3dfx Voodoo3 3500 and Nvidia RIVA TNT2 Ultra, GeForce provided up to a 50% or greater improvement in frame rate in a number of game titles.[2] Its support of the full Direct3D 7 API also assured the card of a strong future, unlike its initial Direct3D 6 competition. The GeForce 256 was supported in games up until approximately 2006, in games such as Star Wars: Empire at War.

However, without broad application support at the time, critics contended that the T&L technology had little real-world value. Initially, it was only somewhat beneficial in a few OpenGL-based 3D first-person shooter titles, most notably Quake III Arena. 3dfx and other competing graphics card companies pointed out that a fast CPU could make up for the lack of a T&L unit. Only after the GeForce 256 was replaced by the GeForce 2, and ATI's T&L-equipped Radeon was also on the market, did hardware T&L become a widely-utilized feature in games.

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