I miss the cursed aesthetic of old graphics card boxes
Graphics card packaging is so boring these days. It’s usually just a shot of the GPU itself against a dark background, which is deeply unexciting. But in the 90s and early to mid 2000s, the art on graphics card enclosures was absolutely unbalanced. For reasons I’ll never really understand, manufacturers have used wizards, weird little goblins, aliens, amphibians in mechanical suits, and other poorly rendered oddities to sell their graphics cards. Here are some particularly wild examples of this brilliantly chaotic aesthetic. This that’s how you get people excited about an expensive piece of silicon.
Palit GeForce 9600GT (2008)
I don’t know what inspired Palit’s marketing team to choose a frog wearing a mechanical exoskeleton as the company’s mascot, but I’m glad they did. Look at this little guy. Unbelievable. This GPU came with a free copy of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, so they probably could have put Lara on the box. But no : mecha frog. I know what I prefer.
GeForce GTX 280 (2008) Viewpoint
We speak now. Compare that to today’s soulless GPU packaging and you’ll see why the 2000s were such a golden era for this stuff. What does a rude little goblin wielding a knife have to do with cutting edge infographics? Nothing, but who cares. Put it on the box anyway and get it out of a lake for some reason. Just do it.
Sapphire Radeon X550 (2005)
Wow. WOW. What is that? Sapphire looked at what other GPU designers were doing and thought, fuck it: we’re going to invent our own little monster. This thing is like the result of an unholy union between ET and Shrek. It’s quite bizarre, but why does he strike such an attractive pose? I don’t want to know what’s behind that delicately raised leg.
Matrox Mystique 220 (1997)
Back to the 90s now. It’s a 3D accelerator, not strictly a GPU, but let’s not get bogged down in the details. See to him. I don’t know why Matrox thought the packaging for this product should be so sinister and unsettling, but here we are. Who is this sinister harlequin and why is he coming out of the shadows to give me a 3D card? Stop. I do not want it.
PNY Verto GeForce 6600 (2005)
Wow. There’s a lot going on here. We have a cyborg submerged in the ocean, staring suggestively at the camera. We have a weird alien sky with three moons, which would be a gravitational nightmare. Then we have a remote island, which is probably where our metal friend is swimming. What is all this mean? I would bet my house on: literally nothing.
Zotac GeForce 9800 GTX (2008)
Many of them are from 2008. That seems to be the year this aesthetic hit its peak. Admittedly, Zotac’s effort here isn’t as outlandish as some of the others featured in this article. But a shiny, scowling man made of liquid metal with creepy eyes is still pretty weird. A key aspect of these boxes is that they have absolutely no relation to the GPU they contain.
Palit GeForce GTS 250 (2009)
MECHA FROG IS BACK. I know I’ve talked about this guy before, but I just had to give this packaging a special mention for the typography. In the early to mid-2000s, this kind of “distressed” text was all the rage. Graphic designers of the day loved to take a bit of text, alternate point sizes for no reason, and add a layer of grime to it.
Sapphire Radeon 9800 XT (2003)
When this GPU launched in 2003, The X-Files had just ended and wouldn’t return until this 2008 movie where they cast beloved Scottish comedian Billy Connolly as a pedophile. However, the designers of Sapphire clearly still had aliens in their brains and designed this wondrous thing. I like it without irony, so there will be no bashing here. Sorry.
Hercules 3D Prophet 9700 Pro (2003)
When Jared Leto was preparing to play the Joker, he allegedly saw this image and was so disturbed by it that he rushed to the set of Suicide Squad and asked the makeup team to replicate it. The rest is history. As if this completely twisted, jokerfied wrapper wasn’t 2003 enough, the designers also threw in a bunch of tribal tattoos.
GeForce 8600 GTS (2007) Viewpoint
Here’s another gem from Point of View, the oddly-named company responsible for the knife-wielding goblin we featured earlier. I’m not sure exactly what this armored, rumbling fantasy beast is supposed to be, but I appreciate PoV picking a theme and sticking to it. But why, I wonder, does he grab a piece of glowing radioactive tortellini?
Gigabyte GeForce 3 Ti 500 Thundra (2001)
This one is worth showing off for the extremely additional name alone. GIGABYTE GEFORCE 3 TI 500 THUNDRA. This is how you name a piece of PC hardware. As for the art, well, it doesn’t quite match the power of the name. Even for a GPU enclosure, the rendering is mediocre. I don’t know which is worse: the bored knight or the ogre hiding over his shoulder.
Albatron Trinity GeForce 6800GT (2004)
It’s pretty bland compared to some others, but I’ve included it because it’s a perfect example of a common GPU packaging archetype: the cyber woman. You wouldn’t believe how many manufacturers stuck a rendering of a generally blonde, generally busty woman on their packaging with a holographic visor. It was even a cliché in 2004.
MSI Radeon RX 1300 Pro (2009)
Do you see that here? It’s a disorder. There is a certain charm, an endearing side kitsch, to the design of most of the boxes shown here. But it’s just a nightmare. I don’t even know what the rendering is supposed to be. It looks like a golden insect spitting out lens flare. The typography is just as confusing, to the point of becoming unreadable. Terrible.
Leadtek WinFast PX 6600 GT TDH (2005)
Shit yeah. It’s the Gandalf graphics card, here to help you get a decent frame rate on Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Battlefield 2, or any new 2005 game you’re trying to run. To all credit: Leadtek was the only GPU maker to stick a bright assistant on the box, and for that, it deserves our respect. This packaging just breathes Powerful.
MSI GeForce 4 Ti 4600 (2002)
“What effects should I put on this text?” “AllThis wrapper is a perfect relic of early 2000s graphic design. It’s gorgeous. The weird cyborg rendering. The piles of text shoved into every inch of empty space available.
MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (2016)
This one isn’t even that old. While it’s definitely more tasteful than some of the other monstrosities we’ve reviewed here, it has real mid-2000s energy. I don’t know why. I think it’s because the render quality isn’t great and the image itself is pretty cheesy. It’s better than most modern GPU enclosures, but sorely lacking a weird little 3D goblin.
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