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Microsoft’s graphics API has evolved from a tricky method to fool Windows into playing games into a sophisticated, industry-standard PC graphics platform. Yes, that Microsoft.
Never mind Wolfenstein 3D, it was Doom that put 3D PC gaming on the map—so to speak. The game is so insanely popular it’s been ported to just about every platform imaginable, from cell phones to workstations.
With 16KB of RAM and up to two internal 5.25-inch floppy drives, the 5150 was the first modern PC. While it was priced out of reach of most consumers, the technology (obviously) endured. Many 5150s are still running today.
Hayes pioneered consumer modems, which let patient PC users speak to other PCs in the pre-broadband days. Though few people use them anymore, they’re still integrated into virtually every desktop and laptop.
Earlier titles like Doom (see #9) and Duke Nukem 3D hinted at what the future of gaming would look like, but Quake finally fulfilled the promise, replacing 2D sprites and maps with real 3D models and environments.
Is XP the best Windows of all time? Windows 95 (#53) and 98 (#41) were both influential, even groundbreaking, but the stability and speed of XP have already made it endure far longer than either of those OSes. XP’s additional features, like Remote Desktop, device driver rollback, ClearType, and better multi-user support make it a must-have upgrade, but the general reaction to XP’s successor, Windows Vista, really pushes XP into classic territory. The widespread rejection of Microsoft’s latest bloated OS will give XP even more life than it might otherwise have had.
If one application had a more profound impact on modern-day computing than any other, it is Mosaic, the first web browser, which was developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Before Mosaic, the closest you could get to a graphical Internet was the occasional spot of ASCII art during your Telnet session. In conjunction with the HTTP protocol, the interconnected, fully graphical World Wide Web was born. Bits of Mosaic code are still found in most major browsers.
With the Pentium II, Intel tried something different, packing the CPU along with a daughterboard and a heatsink inside a slot-based package instead of an exposed-pin socket. The trick let Intel separate the L2 cache from the CPU, which increased cache size, while keeping prices down. The Pentium II significantly outperformed earlier CPUs, particularly when running then-hot “multimedia” functions. The chip cemented Intel’s lead in the CPU market until the rise of the Athlon 64 (see #27).
The PC graphics market used to be even messier than it is today. When it got its start in earnest in 1996, with 3dfx’s Voodoo 1 chipset, getting 3D graphics on your PC meant having an add-in card in addition to your standard VGA board and daisy-chaining them together. But gamers will put up with a lot, and the Voodoo 1 became an instant hit, powering must-have titles like Quake (see #6), which turned gaming from the pseudo-3D Doom era into a new realm of complexity and realism. Without the Voodoo 1, you’d probably still be playing Castlevania.
No connector has proven more useful and reliable than USB, the first step away from the dog-slow legacy of serial and parallel ports. USB offered some unheard-of features for its time: the ability to connect peripherals without turning off the PC first (we call it hotswapping now), daisy-chain up to 127 devices together, and draw power without a separate AC connection. Though USB later upgraded throughput to 480Mb/s, it shrewdly kept the same formfactor, which effectively relegated competitor FireWire exclusively to DV apps and Macintoshes.