Trip Back on Memory Lane – Part 1 – Gravis Ultrasound

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Published on: July 21, 2009

Okay, Here is the first detailed segment of my mini-series “Trip Back on Memory Lane“. 

I thought that I would post that part later, but I was not able to post the intro post or any other post two days ago and yesterday as I intended to, because my AC broke last Sunday and temperature rose in my place to 90 and then 100+ degrees Fahrenheit, which forced me to shut down all my computer equipment, because of overheating.

The AC was just fixed a bit over one hour ago and temperatures are slowly going down to normal :). So here we go now and start with the first segment, which is about the famous PC sound card Gravis Ultrasound (GUS).

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Part 1 – Gravis Ultrasound (GUS) Sound Card by Advanced Gravis

gravis In the year 1993 a small US company with the name “Gravis” introduced a sound card that was beating anything that was available at that time in the same price range.

It was a sound card for consumers and amateurs with semi-professional needs. They called their sound card “Ultrasound” and people would soon call it simply “GUS”. The sound card was the first in it’s class to provide high quality surround sound and programmers on the PC loved the card even more for very different reasons.

The GUS came with an on-board memory of 512KB, which could be extended to 1 MB. This memory could be used to load audio samples that were used in tracker  music files like S3M (Scream Tracker 3) , XM (Fast Tracker 2) or MOD (Commodore Amiga Sound Tracker, a semi-standard for 4CH tracker music files) into its own memory, saving precious memory of the PC’s RAM.

The on-board processors also aided with the playback and playing back music on the GUS used up a lot less main CPU and system resources than the semi-standard PC “Soundblaster” sound cards by Creative Labs., inc.

Gravis used this popularity among coders to promote their products, especially in the European demoscene. They sent their hardware free to some of the members of famous demogroups of that time, sponsored some of the demoparty events and had demogroups create some of their promotional advertisement (basically “mini demos” with commercial message).

GUS became a semi standard in the demoscene and support of the sound card in demo productions was not only expected, but went so far that many demos did not even support any other sound card, but the Gravis Ultrasound. The adaptation of support for the GUS among commercial software companies, like game development companies and applications developer was rather slow and sales to consumers lower than many hoped for.

This meant that the GUS did not become a replacement and stand-alone alternative to a Soundblaster compatible card, which made it necessary to have two sound cards running in your computer, if you want to be able to enjoy more than PC beeper noise with all your recent software publications. Setting up the hard and software properly to avoid conflicts and be able to use both cards whenever needed was not easy, which lead to the introduction of new versions of the sound card that was designed to hook up with an existing Soundblaster sound card and the parallel installation much easier.

All this did not help “Advanced Gravis” to gain enough market share (like the Roland MT32 did in its own niche) to make it viable for them to continue competing in this business. Gravis stopped the production of Ultrasound sound cards and became after that only known to consumers as the manufacturer of Joysticks, Game-pads and other PC gaming accessories.

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Cheers!

Carsten aka Roy/SAC

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