Hardware company Colorful announced this week that they are opening “the first GPU history museum” in China, recording and celebrating decades of circuit boards making pictures on your computer. I was excited! My head filled with thoughts of what I’d put into a GPU museum, everything from tech demos to ghastly box art. Then I saw what they put in their GPU museum. Oh. No, this is no fun at all.
Going by the announcement, Colorful’s museum is real into mounting graphics cards on the wall with placards. They say they’re jaunting across the decades, with cards from the 1980s through to dedicated 3D accelerators like 3dfx’s Voodoo and into the shiny modern age. I think it’s mostly Colorful’s own cards, but other folks are represented too. Also has a fancy racing game setup with several 8K screens. Got a VR station with a walking pad too. Which all seems a bit boring.
What does all that demonstrate, teach, evoke, or capture? It looks mostly like old copper and resin, just products, just stuff. It’s a shame, because I do think the culture which graphics cards fed into and fed off was often fascinating. The games they enabled certainly are. As are the ways they were marketed and puffed up. Their increasing need to create their own relevancy is also wild as hell. Sure, GPUs are hardware, but don’t just treat them as physical objects.
I’d want a giant gallery of graphics card box art. The nineties, noughties, and tensies sold us graphics cards with weird and lurid cyberbabes, robots, monsters, aliens, and technoguff, and I adore it. Just imagine a room with 100 odd graphics card boxes. I was enjoying imagining that, and then I lost an hour looking up old boxes on Amazon.
I’d want a display of the tech demos used to sell the advance of technology. Lots of metal orbs, chess boards, spinning logos, and, again, cyberbabes. Ideally it would have Tupac-style holograms of AMD and Nvidia’s rival mascot babes, Ruby and Dawn. Imagine life-size Ruby and Dawn hovering in space doing their action moves and sexy dances. Unforgettable.
I’d want vintage computers to demonstrate big jumps. Quake running on a PC in software mode next to one running it on a Voodoo card. Heck, if you could hook both up to be controlled by the same keyboard and mouse at the same time, that’d be great (though I know some Quake movement is framerate-dependent so… but anyway). Similarly, a collection of computers across generations answering the eternal question: “Can it run Crysis?”
I’d want something which helps me understand, like, anything about how modern cards work. Hardware and rendering technology have become so complicated that it’s all a mystery to me. Any sort of physical exhibit abstractly demonstrating basics of rendering or whatever could be magic. Love an abstract representation of a complicated ephemeral process.
Look, I know Colorful’s museum is a marketing exercise. But it could have been a cool marketing exercise. Ah well. What else would you want in a graphics card museum, gang?