What computer hardware was needed to run something like Duke Nukem 3D smoothly at the 640x480 or 800x600 VESA modes at the time (1996-1997)?

I was wondering if this was possible with contemporary hardware or if the option was there with future hardware in mind.

  • Mind to specify a time period or some other context? Duke doesn't necessarily run smoothly even on contemporary hardware. Jan 2, 2022 at 10:32
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    @user3840170 That's more down to AGP/PCIE cards not supporting old APIs rather than them not being up to the task, surely. There must be a computer configuration from the time period of Duke3D's release that would let you play it at the higher modes smoothly (for some value of 'must'), and that's what OP is after.
    – knol
    Jan 2, 2022 at 11:51
  • Thanks @knol - yes, Duke 3D launched in 1996. I was wondering if any contemporary hardware would allow the developers, testers or gamers to play at 640x480+ or if the option was there with future hardware in mind. I guess the devs might have had some fancy SGI workstations or something but they obviously knew what the general public had access to and, as far as I'm aware, we were all limited to 320x200 at the time, as far as smooth performance goes.
    – Sam
    Jan 2, 2022 at 12:21
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    It would help if all that context were in the question body, though. Jan 2, 2022 at 12:47
  • Fair point - I will update but try to make it a bit less wordy to keep it concise.
    – Sam
    Jan 2, 2022 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


Duke Nukem 3D was released in 1996, which is firmly in the PCI-based Socket 7 era. Intel’s Pentium was available at speeds up to 166MHz (200MHz later in 1996), and a variety of x86 CPUs from other manufacturers were available too.

A 133MHz Pentium (or similar; I had a 133MHz Cyrix 6x86 166+) paired with a not-rubbish PCI graphics card can run Duke Nukem 3D reasonably smoothly at 640×480 — at least, compared to expectations at the time, when no one expected anything like 60fps from a FPS on PCs; this Phil’s Computer Lab video shows between 31 and 51fps, depending on the graphics card, on a 233MHz Intel Pentium MMX. 800×600 would be a stretch though, probably until 400-500MHz CPUs.

The limiting factors for Duke Nukem 3D are integer performance and the speed at which data can be transferred to VRAM. So higher MHz and faster RAM and VRAM would all help.

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    Thanks Stephen. I suppose I should have quantified "smooth" - I did have something like 60fps in mind but, as you say, 30fps would made most people happy at the time. Is 30fps what we're talking about from a 133MHz Pentium? I would expect (in my very limited understanding) floating point performance to be important in a 3D game, putting the Cyrix at a disadvantage vs Pentium. Is this not the case here though due to Duke 3D not being "true" 3D?
    – Sam
    Jan 2, 2022 at 13:11
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    Duke 3D only uses integer arithmetic, unlike Quake, so floating-point wasn’t a factor. I was thinking around 30fps, yes; I’m trying to find benchmarks with specific results. Jan 2, 2022 at 13:19
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    Back then, anything past 20 fps was considered fast and smooth. I remember having played games at a satisfying level at ~15 fps. After all, being able to freely move at all in a non grid based 3D environment was sensational. Hunt for FPS became only a thing in the 2000s
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 2, 2022 at 15:40
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    Thanks Stephen - that's really helpful. Given that the S3 Trio64 was certainly nothing special (I had one in my 100MHz Pentium machine), the 233MMX seems like a solid starting point for 640x480 (granted it seems likely you could get away with less if you had a nicer graphics card).
    – Sam
    Jan 2, 2022 at 16:50
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    I had (in fact, still have) a Trio64 too, and it was quite a decent card for the time for DOS — highly compatible and programmable. It runs any demo I throw at it, even ones with really wacky video modes, and it’s very well supported by tools like SVGATextMode and UniVBE (thankfully, since the S3 VBE implementation is slow). Jan 2, 2022 at 17:07

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