Why weren’t “mil-spec” GPUs used for the F-22? That was the very point. Traditionally, the computers that powered aerospace components such as cockpit displays relied on expensive custom graphics technology. When a new fighter jet or vehicle was designed, it wasn’t uncommon for $100 million to be spent on the research and development for a graphics chip created from scratch. In addition to the development costs, the cost to manufacture was also very high due to the small quantities. This may have made sense in the 80’s when consumer PCs were just in their infancy, but this gap continued narrow with time. In 1999, the Department of Defense decided that it was time to change the way graphics chips were being used in armored vehicles and aircraft. Why spend so much money developing your own chip, when you can take advantage of the huge budgets from companies such as 3dfx and NVIDIA, and economies of scale from mass production? Even after making the necessary modifications for military use, the savings would still be more than an order of magnitude per chip.
Quantum3D, a 3dfx spin off, had a wealth of experience with military virtual reality simulators that also gave them the business contacts they needed to expand into embedded graphics. It wasn’t a surprise that avionics companies such as Kaiser Electronics and Honeywell turned to 3dfx and Quantum3D for solutions. Quantum3D
turned to alt.software to write the custom OpenGL drivers, and indeed, while FiringSquad was giving first hand impressions of Voodoo 5 anti-aliasing in Quake3, VSA-100 graphics chips were being incorporated into the AH-64D Apache Longbow to provide pilots with high-resolution color displays of navigation maps, enact weapons guidance and perform other aircraft management functions. The VSA-100 would later earn a spot in the F-18 Super Hornet. These design wins validated the ability of taking modified consumer of the shelf hardware for military use.
On December 15, 2000 NVIDIA announced that it would purchase 3dfx. For a moment, the future looked uncertain. Quantum3D had just begun to build its reputation in the embedded graphics market, but now their graphics chip supplier would disappear. The military had obtained cost savings in the short term by going with consumer technology, but it was clear that gaming-orientated companies were more susceptible to the vagaries of the market. Fortunately, NVIDIA agreed to support Quantum3D’s legacy VSA-100 products as needed, and both companies made plans to mutually explore ways to bring NVIDIA’s technology and Quantum3D’s experience together.
In late 2001, this relationship between the two companies was officially dubbed FARSIGHT nV with the first announced design win being a Quadro2 Go powered Multi-Function Display in the F-22 Raptor. In 2002, Quantum3D now has products that can be used to retrofit the embedded training systems in the M1A1 Abrams tank, Bradley Armored Personnel Carrier, products that are currently being evaluated for use on the Crusader Howitzer and Bradley A3 programs, Quadro4 Go based solutions, and design wins on the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle and Land Warrior Virtual Training System.