Typical PCs Each Year

1996

CPUs and Motherboards

1996 was the year in which AMD finally released the 5k86 (aka K5), about a year and a half after announcing it. Superior to the Pentium in integer operations but 25% slower in floating point operations, it was a mixed bag. Due to it arriving so late, it was pitched against the Pentium price-wise instead of the more advanced Pentium Pro (to which it more more comparable). The following year would see AMD redesign the K5 with much better performance results.

Meanwhile, Cyrix launched its Pentium-beater: the 6x86, aka the "M1". It required explicit support from the motherboard, as it wasn't 100% Pentium compatible.

Late this year, Intel launched the P55C Pentium MMX (MultiMedia eXtensions). This CPU was the first to require its motherboard to provide it with two voltages (called split-rail voltage): one for the CPU core, and a second for Input/Output. P55C was available initially in 166 and 200 MHz variants, but later a 233 MHz variant was released.

Typical Front Side Bus speeds still ranged from 60 MHz up to a blistering 83 MHz, which was considered overclocking at this point - 75 MHz was the highest "stable" speed.

Laptops

In 1996

3D Graphics Market Gathers Momentum

1996 was a big year for 3D graphics - 3dfx released their first dedicated 3D card in this year - the Voodoo. Other cards thus far had combined 2D and 3D capabilities into a single card, but the Voodoo1 concentrated solely on 3D and relied upon a secondary 2D card in the PC to handle the day-to-day boring stuff, with the two cards connected internally via a VGA pass-through cable. Of course, any 3D games needed to be specifically written to look for the Voodoo1 to make use of it's awesome capabilities - but when they did, it really worked!

Meanwhile, a new 3D graphics card company entered the fight. Rendition, based in Mountain View, CA, was aiming their sights at the high-end of the market. Their first offering with the Verite 1000 chipset found favour with John Carmack, of Doom/Quake fame, and the first version of VQuake was launched (Verite-accelerated Quake) this year - unfortunately, 2D performance of the card was poor, as was programming for the card. It was followed with the Verite 2100 the same year, which improved matters.

ATI released the Rage II, whose performance was much better than last year's Rage 3D. The new card could support up to 8 MB of SDRAM but was sold in 2 MB and 4 MB variants, and the bus was finally 64-bit. The core ran at 60 MHz. Later in the same year, they followed up with the Rage II+ DVD, which was a true 8 MB card, with the core remaining at 60 MHz, but memory now running at 83 MHz which provided a decent throughput of 480 MB/s.

In direct competition with ATI was S3 with their new offering for 1996 with the 8 MB ViRGE/VX. Despite the fact they clocked the ViRGE/VX a little slower than the original ViRGE of last year (52 MHz instead of 55 MHz), the new card got dual-ported RAM so was able to read from the frame buffer without preventing communication to the graphics chip. The VX was still a slow card, however, with just a 6% average improvement in performance over the standard ViRGE. The ViRGE/GX followed later in the year: a 4 MB card with both GPU and memory running at a more healthy 73 MHz. This put them ahead of ATI in 1996 with memory throughput reaching 584 MB/s. But it's not all about memory performance. ATI's core was more efficient, and in most tests would better the S3.

In 1996, the ViRGE and ViRGE/VX made up about half of all 3D cards on the market !