The Gravis Ultrasound

Before sound cards were a standard part of any home computer, games were played in which the sound was nothing more than a series of beeps and blips that came out of the PC speaker. By the early 90's, a digital sound card had become standard equipment on any computer used even casually for gaming. When the Ultrasound was released in 1992, it was meant to compete head-to-head against the ubiquitous "Sound Blaster" series from Creative Labs. Duleepa Wijayawardhana summed it up best on his blog, "In the days of the 386 and 486, when Windows had yet to supplant the game world as the operating system of choice, there was only one sound card choice if you were a gamer, music-lover and a rebel: The Canadian-produced Gravis Ultrasound."

While the Sound Blaster's FM synthesis produced lackluster sound quality, its strength lay in its compatibility with any game that supported the use of a digital sound card. The GUS used sample-based sythesis, which made the music it produced sound light years ahead of anything the Sound Blaster could output, especially if the user upgraded the onboard memory from 256k to a full 1MB. While FM sythesis artificially approximates the sound of an instrument, sample-based synthesis uses real-world recordings. The GUS would load these instrument patches into its onboard memory in order to play a song. Increasing the amount of RAM on the GUS allowed the card to load additional instrument patches which benefitted music requiring a wide variety of instruments. As a result, some MIDI files could not be played if the card had less than a full megabyte of memory. Later versions of the Ultrasound could accept as much as 8MB of onboard RAM, which was a large amount of memory at that time. The Musical abilities of the GUS made it popular on the demoscene during the 1990's.

To a gamer though, perhaps the best reason to buy an Ultrasound was its ability to simultaneously emulate both a Sound Blaster and either a Roland MT-32 or a Roland Sound Canvas. This meant that, assuming the game supported it, the user could enjoy both digitized sound effects and fill MIDI music. Many game companies started adding naitive GUS support to their games, and the sound quality was noticably better when using a GUS than with a Sound Blaster. Unfortunately, in the end the lack of widespread support for the card by the game companies was its undoing. The vast majority of games were not compatible with the card, forcing the user to emulate a Sound Blaster using the "SBOS" software included with the GUS. Additionally, even with the Ultrasound's ability to emulate the Sound Blaster, compatibility problems still existed. In an era when it was already hard enough to get a game running in DOS, the hassle of having to deal with these issues were enough to push the casual gamer away. For those with the patience to deal with it however, the rewards outweighed these problems and the Ultrasound still enjoys a small cult following today.

The Gravis Ultrasound Archives

The Gravis Ultrasound Archives were founded in 2009 to serve as a virtual library of GUS-related material, including installation disks, support files, game patches, instrument patches, documentation, and multimedia. There is no adware, no spyware, no cookies, no viruses, and no B.S. In 2010 we added forums in an attempt to increase the avalable information on the GUS by providing a place for enthusiasts to gather.

The Web The GUS Archive

This site is owned and maintained by Classic Gaming Quarterly. It is intended solely for the preservation of information and resources related to the Gravis Ultrasound. It is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Advanced Gravis Computer Technology or the Kensington Technology Group. All product names, images, and descriptions are trademarks of their respective companies and are for informational purposes only.

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