Lucky Enthusiast Fires Up Legendary Graphics Config to Play Half-Life on 8 GPUs

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If you like seeing the latest and greatest technology the PC industry has to offer, reviewing is a pretty great job. It’s rare that I feel much in the way of jealousy as far as other people’s computers are concerned. Reviewing hardware isn’t the same as owning it but it does provide a consistently refreshed window into the hardware industry.

Today is different. Today, I’m jealous. Specifically, I’m jealous of TheeRaccoon, a [H]ardOCP forum user who managed to get his hands on an incredibly rare “brick” of Quantum3D 200SBI graphics cards. To understand why anyone would care, let’s take a walk down memory lane. All images in this story, including the feature image on top, are TheeRaccoon’s.

In Which I Am a Self-Admitted Fanboy

They say you never forget your first, and mine was a 3dfx-based Voodoo 2-based Diamond Monster 3D II. I owned a fully functional Voodoo 5 6000 and wrote the only full review of that GPU that I’m aware of. The Internet Archive has samples, though I’d have to do some serious digging to find all the visual assets I used back then.

But while 3dfx was largely known for its consumer-focused business, the company had ties to the professional GPU market as well. Quantum3D was spun off of 3dfx to bring the company’s 3D technology to the arcade and training simulator markets. As part of that effort, Quantum built a GPU family known as the 200SBI series of cards. A Mercury “brick” is a set of four cards, connected together via daughter card.

One Quantum3D 200SBI, with 2x Voodoo 2s onboard.

3dfx is the company that invented SLI, though the technology operated on entirely different principles from the tech powering Nvidia’s dual-GPU solution today. Back then, SLI stood for “Scan Line Interleave.” At the consumer level, it connected up to two GPUs. But at the professional level, there was room for things to scale up considerably. Quantum3D sold its 200SBI GPU family in “bricks” of up to four cards, with two Voodoo 2 GPUs per card. Four Quantum3D 200SBI’s = 8 Voodoo 2 GPUs. Rotated-grid 4x FSAA (Full Screen Anti-Aliasing) with no performance loss? 24MB of RAM (per board, 12MB per GPU)?

The entire brick put together. Image by TheeRaccoon.

Sign me up. This kind of “quad” brick was practically legendary at the time. There was no way to deploy this kind of GPU configuration in an ordinary Windows system of the day; the Voodoo 2 didn’t support this type of four-way configuration. Even better, he’s gotten all four GPU boards working, with some extensive repairs required. You can see a video of the rig firing up and playing Half-Life below.

If you weren’t gaming in the late 1990s to early 2000s, it’s going to be difficult to explain why seeing eight GPUs old enough to drink lined up to run a game less well than the graphics solution inside your phone is such a thrill. But these GPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce were, at least for a little while, some of the most powerful solutions you could buy. And 96MB of RAM back in the late 1990s would have left my GPU(s) with more collective RAM than the entire machine I was working with. True, data was still duplicated across SLI buffers, but the sheer size and scope of what cards like this could accomplish made them the killer hardware of their day — that is, if anyone in the consumer market had been able to practically buy them. As far as I know, nobody really did.

I wish I still owned that Voodoo 5 6000. But a brick like this is at least that cool, in my fanboy heart of hearts.

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