Graphics cards are, to the average gamer, a kind of sorcery. You plug one into your motherboard and somehow, electronic signals are transformed into your arse getting owned in Counter-Strike. So the thought of making your own sounds like utter madness. Let’s lower the bar a bit — how about making one for an old-school Commodore Amiga? Impossible? Not for Lukas Hartmann.
No, Hartmann didn’t have a burning desire to play Dark Souls III on his Amiga. He just wanted to own one of the super-awesome, late-model Amigas, but after perusing eBay, discovered that they were rather expensive.
Instead, he picked up a more reasonably-priced Amiga 2000 and decided to help it “realise its full potential”:
…in the 90s you could already get, for example, a “Picasso” graphics card that could do VGA (and higher) resolutions at 16 or 24bit color depth. Nowadays, these totally outdated cards are rare and sold for ridiculous prices. My A2000 was stuck with 640×256 PAL resolution, 64 colors (ignoring HAM) or headache-inducing interlaced modes.
Because of my work with microcontrollers, writing an OS for Raspberry Pi (http://interim.mntmn.com/) and my interest in low-level computer architectures in general, I decided in October 2015 in a feat of madness: “I’ll just make my own graphics card. How hard can it be?”
For the technically (and retro) minded, what follows is a harrowing tale of hardware and software engineering.
The good news is Hartmann succeeded. Here is his card running Doom just fine:
So next time you’re looking to upgrade, why not consider making your own GPU? I’m sure I’ve got a spare lithography machine around here somewhere…
Photos: Lukas Hartmann