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A graphics processing unit (GPU) is a specialized
electronic circuit 200px, A circuit built on a printed circuit board (PCB). An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic component An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect ele ...

electronic circuit
designed to rapidly manipulate and alter
memory Memory is the faculty of the by which or is , stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If s could not be remembered, it would be impossible for language, r ...
to accelerate the creation of
images An image (from la, imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception, such as a photograph or other Two-dimensional space, two-dimensional picture, that resembles a subject—usually a physical physical body, object—and thus provides ...
in a
frame buffer A framebuffer (frame buffer, or sometimes framestore) is a portion of random-access memory 8GB DDR3 RAM stick with a white Heat sink, heatsink Random-access memory (RAM; ) is a form of computer memory that can be read and changed in any or ...
intended for output to a
display device A display device is an output device An output device is any piece of computer hardware Computer hardware includes the physical parts of a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or ...
. GPUs are used in
embedded system An embedded system is a computer system A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out Sequence, sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform generic sets of operations known as Com ...
s,
mobile phone A mobile phone, cellular phone, cell phone, cellphone, handphone, or hand phone, sometimes shortened to simply mobile, cell or just phone, is a portable telephone A telephone is a telecommunications device that permits two or more use ...

mobile phone
s,
personal computer A personal computer (PC) is a multi-purpose computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform generic sets of operations known a ...
s,
workstation A workstation is a special computer designed for technical or computational science, scientific applications. Intended primarily to be used by one person at a time, they are commonly connected to a local area network and run multi-user operating ...

workstation
s, and
game console A video game console is an electronic device that output Output may refer to: * The information produced by a computer, see Input/output In computing, input/output (I/O, or informally io or IO) is the communication between an information proc ...
s. Modern GPUs are very efficient at manipulating
computer graphics Computer graphics deals with generating images with the aid of computers A computer is a machine that can be programmed to Execution (computing), carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can p ...

computer graphics
and
image processing Digital image processing is the use of a digital computer A computer is a machine A machine is a man-made device that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action. Machines can be driven by animals and people ...
. Their highly parallel structure makes them more efficient than general-purpose
central processing unit A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor, main processor or just processor, is the electronic circuit 200px, A circuit built on a printed circuit board (PCB). An electronic circuit is composed of individual electroni ...

central processing unit
s (CPUs) for
algorithm In and , an algorithm () is a finite sequence of , computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation. Algorithms are always and are used as specifications for performing s, , , and other ...

algorithm
s that process large blocks of data in parallel. In a personal computer, a GPU can be present on a
video card A graphics card (also called a video card, display card, graphics adapter, video adapter, or display adapter) is an which generates a feed of output images to a (such as a ). Frequently, these are advertised as discrete or dedicated graphics c ...

video card
or embedded on the
motherboard A motherboard (also called mainboard, main circuit board, or mobo) is the main printed circuit board (PCB) in general-purpose computers and other expandable systems. It holds and allows communication between many of the crucial electronic compone ...

motherboard
. In certain CPUs, they are embedded on the CPU
die Die, as a verb, refers to death, the cessation of life. Die may also refer to: Games * Die, singular of dice, small throwable objects used for producing random numbers Manufacturing * Die (integrated circuit), a rectangular piece of a semiconduct ...
. In the 1970s, the term "GPU" originally stood for ''graphics processor unit'' and described a programmable processing unit independently working from the CPU and responsible for graphics manipulation and output. Later, in 1994,
Sony , commonly known as Sony and stylized as SONY, is a Japanese multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from mult ...

Sony
used the term (now standing for ''graphics processing unit'') in reference to the
PlayStation is a video game brand that consists of five home video game consoles, two Handheld game console, handhelds, a Home theater PC, media center, and a smartphone, as well as an online service and multiple magazines. The brand is produced by Sony ...
console's
Toshiba is a Japanese headquartered in , . Its diversified products and services include power, industrial and social infrastructure systems, elevators and escalators, electronic components, s, s (HDD), printers, batteries, lighting, as well as sol ...
-designed Sony GPU in 1994. The term was popularized by
Nvidia Nvidia CorporationOfficially written as NVIDIA and stylized in its logo as nVIDIA with the lowercase "n" the same height as the uppercase "VIDIA"; formerly stylized as ''n''VIDIA with a large italicized lowercase "n" on products from the mid 199 ...
in 1999, who marketed the
GeForce 256 The GeForce 256 is the original release in 's "" product-line. Announced on September 1, 1999 and released on October 11, 1999, the GeForce 256 improves on its predecessor () by increasing the number of fixed s, offloading host geometry calcula ...
as "the world's first GPU". It was presented as a "single-chip processor with integrated transform, lighting, triangle setup/clipping, and rendering engines". Rival
ATI Technologies ATI Technologies Inc. (commonly called ATI, later known as ) was a Canadian corporation based in , Ontario, that specialized in the development of s and s. Founded in 1985 as Array Technology Inc., the company listed publicly in 1993. (AMD) ac ...
coined the term "visual processing unit" or VPU with the release of the
Radeon 9700 The R300 Graphics Processing Unit, GPU, introduced in August 2002 and developed by ATI Technologies, is its third generation of GPU used in ''Radeon'' graphics cards. This GPU features 3D computer graphics, 3D acceleration based upon Direct3D 9.0 ...
in 2002.


History


1970s

Arcade system board An arcade game or coin-op game is a coin-operated entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and amusement arcades. Most arcade games are presented as primarily games of skill and include arcade ...
s have been using specialized graphics circuits since the 1970s. In early video game hardware, the
RAM Random-access memory (RAM; ) is a form of computer memory In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic proces ...
for frame buffers was expensive, so video chips composited data together as the display was being scanned out on the monitor. A specialized
barrel shifter A barrel shifter is a digital circuit that can shift a data word by a specified number of bits without the use of any sequential logic, only pure combinational logic, i.e. it inherently provides a binary operation In mathematics, a binary ...

barrel shifter
circuit was used to help the CPU animate the
framebuffer A framebuffer (frame buffer, or sometimes framestore) is a portion of (RAM) containing a that drives a video display. It is a containing data representing all the s in a complete . Modern s contain framebuffer circuitry in their cores. This ci ...
graphics for various 1970s
arcade game An arcade game or coin-op game is a entertainment machine typically installed in public businesses such as restaurants, bars and s. Most arcade games are presented as primarily and include s, , electro-mechanical games, s or . Types Broadly ...

arcade game
s from Midway and
Taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It be ...

Taito
, such as ''
Gun Fight ''Gun Fight'', known as in Japan and Europe, is a 1975 multidirectional shooter Shoot 'em up (also known as shmup or STG Davies, Jonti. ''. GameSpy. 30 July 2008. Carless, Simon. Final Form On Jamestown's Origins, Mechanics ''. Game Set ...
'' (1975), '' Sea Wolf'' (1976) and ''
Space Invaders is a 1978 shoot 'em up Shoot 'em up (also known as shmup or STG Davies, Jonti. ''. GameSpy GameSpy was an American provider of online multiplayer and Matchmaking (video games), matchmaking middleware for video games founded in 1996 by ...

Space Invaders
'' (1978). The
Namco Galaxian 250px, right Namco was a Japanese multinational video game developer and publisher headquartered in Ōta, Tokyo. It held several international branches, including Namco America in Santa Clara, California, Namco Europe in London Londo ...
arcade system in 1979 used specialized
graphics hardware Graphics hardware is computer hardware that generates computer graphics and allows them to be shown on a display, usually using a graphics card (video card A graphics card (also called a video card, display card, graphics adapter, video adapte ...
supporting , multi-colored sprites and tilemap backgrounds. The Galaxian hardware was widely used during the
golden age of arcade video games The golden age of arcade video games was the period of rapid growth, technological development and cultural influence of arcade video game An arcade video game takes player input from its controls, processes it through electrical or computeri ...
, by game companies such as
Namco simply known as Namco, was a Japanese multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from multiple countries * Multinatio ...
,
Centuri Centuri, based in Hialeah, Florida, was one of the top six suppliers of coin-op, coin operated video game machinery in the United States in the 1980s. Many of the machines distributed in the US under the Centuri name were licensed from overseas ma ...

Centuri
,
Gremlin A gremlin is a mischievous folkloric creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft An aircraft is a vehicle or machine that is able to fly Flies are insect Insects or Insecta (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language ...
,
Irem is a Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = I ...
,
Konami , is a Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat ...

Konami
, Midway,
Nichibutsu was a Japanese video game developer and publisher headquartered in Kita, Osaka. In the past they had also manufactured and sold yachts. The main video game brand of the company was Nichibutsu (ニチブツ), with adult video games (mainly strip ...
,
Sega is a Japanese multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from multiple countries * Multinational state, a sovereign ...

Sega
and
Taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It be ...
. In the home market, the
Atari 2600 The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) until November 1982, is a home video game console A home video game console is a video game console that is designed to be connected to a display device, suc ...

Atari 2600
in 1977 used a video shifter called the
Television Interface Adaptor The Television Interface Adaptor (TIA) is the custom computer chip An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuit 200px, A circuit built on a pr ...
. The Atari 8-bit computers (1979) had
ANTIC Alphanumeric Television Interface Controller (ANTIC) is an LSI ASIC An application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC ) is an integrated circuit An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a ...
, a video processor which interpreted instructions describing a "display list"—the way the scan lines map to specific bitmapped or character modes and where the memory is stored (so there did not need to be a contiguous frame buffer). 6502
machine code In computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a particular task. Programming involves tasks such as analysis, ge ...
subroutine In computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a particular task. Programming involves tasks such as analysis, generat ...
s could be triggered on
scan line A scan line (also scanline) is one line, or row, in a raster scan A raster scan, or raster scanning, is the rectangular pattern of image capture and reconstruction in television. By analogy, the term is used for raster graphics file:Rgb-raste ...
s by setting a bit on a display list instruction. ANTIC also supported smooth
vertical Vertical may refer to: * Vertical direction In astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects ...
and horizontal scrolling independent of the CPU.


1980s

The NEC µPD7220 was the first implementation of a PC graphics display processor as a single
Large Scale Integration An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuit File:PExdcr01CJC.jpg, 200px, A circuit built on a printed circuit board (PCB). An electronic circuit i ...
(LSI)
integrated circuit An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuit 200px, A circuit built on a printed circuit board (PCB). An electronic circuit is composed of indiv ...

integrated circuit
chip, enabling the design of low-cost, high-performance video graphics cards such as those from Number Nine Visual Technology. It became the best-known GPU up until the mid-1980s. It was the first fully integrated
VLSI Very large-scale integration (VLSI) is the process of creating an integrated circuit An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuit 200px, A ci ...
(very large-scale integration) metal-oxide-semiconductor ( NMOS) graphics display processor for PCs, supported up to 1024x1024 resolution, and laid the foundations for the emerging PC graphics market. It was used in a number of graphics cards, and was licensed for clones such as the Intel 82720, the first of Intel's graphics processing units. The Williams Electronics arcade games ''
Robotron 2084 ''Robotron: 2084'' (also referred to as ''Robotron'') is a multidirectional shooter Shoot 'em up (also known as shmup or STG Davies, Jonti. ''. GameSpy. 30 July 2008. Carless, Simon. Final Form On Jamestown's Origins, Mechanics ''. Game Se ...
'', ''
Joust Jousting is a martial game or ''hastilude Hastilude is a generic term used in the Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted from the 5th to the late 15th century. It began with the fall of the W ...
'', ''
Sinistar ''Sinistar'' is a multidirectional shooter arcade game developed and manufactured by Williams (gaming company), Williams Electronics. The game was released in 1983, though the in-game copyright notice reads 1982. ''Sinistar'' was created by Sam Di ...
'', and '' Bubbles'', all released in 1982, contain custom
blitter A blitter is a circuit, sometimes as a coprocessor A coprocessor is a computer processor used to supplement the functions of the primary processor (the CPU A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor, main processor or ju ...
chips for operating on 16-color bitmaps. In 1984,
Hitachi () is a Japanese multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from multiple countries * Multinational state, a sovereign ...

Hitachi
released ARTC HD63484, the first major
CMOS Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS, pronounced "see-moss"), also known as complementary-symmetry metal–oxide–semiconductor (COS-MOS), is a type of metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor The metal–oxide–se ...
graphics processor for PC. The ARTC was capable of displaying up to
4K resolution 4K resolution refers to a horizontal display resolution Display may refer to: Technology * Display device s, LED display and Vacuum fluorescent display, VF display, top to bottom. A display device is an output device for presentation of informat ...
when in
monochrome A monochromic image is composed of one color (or values In ethics Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existe ...

monochrome
mode, and it was used in a number of PC graphics cards and terminals during the late 1980s. In 1985, the
Commodore Amiga The Amiga is a family of personal computer A personal computer (PC) is a multi-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and price make it feasible for individual use. Personal computers are intended to be operated directly by an end user ...

Commodore Amiga
featured a custom graphics chip, with a blitter unit accelerating bitmap manipulation, line draw, and area fill functions. Also included is a
coprocessor A coprocessor is a computer processor used to supplement the functions of the primary processor (the CPU A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor, main processor or just processor, is the electronic circuit File:PExdc ...
with its own simple instruction set, capable of manipulating graphics hardware registers in sync with the video beam (e.g. for per-scanline palette switches, sprite multiplexing, and hardware windowing), or driving the blitter. In 1986,
Texas Instruments Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) is an America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a ...
released the TMS34010, the first fully programmable graphics processor. It could run general-purpose code, but it had a graphics-oriented instruction set. During 1990–1992, this chip became the basis of the
Texas Instruments Graphics Architecture GSP Texas Instruments TMS34020. Texas Instruments Graphics Architecture (TIGA) is a graphics interface standard created by Texas Instruments that defined the software interface to Graphics processing unit, graphics processors. Using this stand ...
("TIGA") Windows accelerator cards. In 1987, the
IBM 8514 IBM 8514 is an IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founded in Endicott, ...

IBM 8514
graphics system was released as one of the first video cards for
IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC c ...
s to implement
fixed-function Fixed-function is a term canonically used to contrast 3D graphics APIs and earlier GPUs designed prior to the advent of shader-based 3D graphics APIs and GPU architectures. History Historically fixed-function APIs consisted of a set of functi ...
2D primitives in
electronic hardware Electronic hardware consists of interconnected electronic components which perform analog circuit, analog or Digital electronics, logic operations on received and locally stored information to produce as output or store resulting new information o ...
.
Sharp Sharp or SHARP may refer to: Short for *Self Help Addiction Recovery Program, a charitable organisation founded in 1991 by Barbara Bach and Pattie Boyd *Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention, a US Army program dealing with sexual ha ...
's
X68000 The is a home computer created by Sharp Corporation, first released in 1987 and sold only in Japan. The first model features a 10 Megahertz, MHz Motorola 68000 Central processing unit, CPU (hence the name), 1 Megabytes, MB of Random Access ...
, released in 1987, used a custom graphics chipset with a 65,536 color palette and hardware support for sprites, scrolling, and multiple playfields, eventually serving as a development machine for
Capcom is a Japanese video game developer and publisher. It has created a number of List of best-selling video game franchises, multi-million-selling game franchises, with its most commercially successful being ''Resident Evil'', ''Monster Hunter'', ...

Capcom
's
CP System The is an developed by that ran game software stored on removable daughterboards. More than two dozen arcade titles were released for CPS-1, before Capcom shifted game development over to its successor, the . Among the 33 titles released for ...
arcade board. Fujitsu later competed with the
FM Towns The is a Japanese personal computer, built by Fujitsu from February 1989 to the summer of 1997. It started as a proprietary PC variant intended for multimedia applications and Personal computer game, PC games, but later became more compatible wi ...
computer, released in 1989 with support for a full 16,777,216 color palette. In 1988, the first dedicated polygonal 3D graphics boards were introduced in arcades with the
Namco System 21The Namco System 21 "Polygonizer" is an arcade system board unveiled by Namco in 1988 with the game ''Winning Run''. It was the first arcade board specifically designed for 3D computer graphics, 3D polygon processing. The hardware went through signi ...
and
Taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It be ...
Air System.
IBM International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911, founded in Endicott, New York, as the C ...

IBM
's
proprietary {{Short pages monitor