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The Need for 3D Acceleration
It may be a valid question to ask why it is that special 3D cards are needed today. After all, everything that is displayed on the computer screen is 2D, even 3D images projected to 2D. And 3D graphics have been used on computers for years.
The reason that specialized 3D accelerators are becoming popular is that software today is trying to do more in 3D than has ever been done before. The push for more realism, more finely-detailed graphics, and faster speeds in such programs as action games, flight simulators, graphics programs and CAD applications, means that more 3D work must be done in a shorter period of time.
There is an obvious parallel between today's quandary with 3D and a similar one that occurred in the early 90s when graphical operating systems became popular. At that time, most video cards had no acceleration functions at all. When people started running Windows, their CPU had to do all the work of drawing all the graphics on the screen, which caused everything to slow down tremendously. To combat this problem, accelerators were designed that did much of this work with specialized hardware, instead of forcing the system processor to do it.
Similarly today, it is not necessary to have a 3D graphics card to do 3D graphics, but the large amount of computation work necessary to translate 3D images to 2D in a realistic manner means that without specialized hardware to do this work, it must be done by the processor, using much slower software. Using a 3D accelerator allows programs--especially games, where the screen image must be recomputed many times per second--to display virtual 3D worlds with a level of detail and color that is impossible with a standard 2D video card.
Next: 3D Images and Operations