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Holy grail... found!

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Holy grail... found!

by xjas » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:29 pm

So on thursday I spotted one of my 'holy grail' bits on Trademe, albeit in a roundabout way. I come across an auction entitled "I want them out of my house!" which was one of those 'winner must take all, no separating' deals. It didn't seem to have much interesting, a few DOS games, a couple P4 computers and some 2005~2010 era gamer stuff (Radeon gfx cards, USB joysticks, etc.)

Except - there is something just a tiny bit intriguing in one of the pictures:
^^ ...What is that, in the anti-static bag? It looks... red. Especially compared to the green SB Live below it. The orientation is right for an ISA card. And it has the right number of audio jacks, in the right places, and if you squint enough, you JUST MIGHT be able to make out two 30-pin SIMM slots at the end of it.

I go on image search and pull up a picture of my suspicion. And literally try to compare that component-for-component with what I can see through the bag in the advert. At this point I'm thinking there is no way it is what I think it is, just tossed randomly into a box with no comment in the description. But everything seems to match. Perfectly.

Still in disbelief, I save the seller's pic and load it into Gimp. Play with the scaling, the colour levels... I feel like I'm on one of those stupid forensics TV shows. "Enhance!" Well,



Holy crap, a real Gravis Ultrasound PnP. I've been hoping to luck into one of these for literally years. I need this card for my music workstation than anything else. More than an AWE64 Gold. More than a Roland Sound Canvas. More than an (OPL4-based) AudioTrix Pro. I never, ever expected one of these to show up on Trademe in this tiny little market. They don't even appear on Ebay! Original-series GUSes do, but not PnPs. They're not worth a huuuuuuge amount, as most enthusiasts consider the original ones more desirable, but I need a PnP specifically. They just don't come up. Ever. Except, well, here's one! And it's even affordable!

There's only one problem. Well two problems. It's part of a huge lot of stuff that I'd have to haul away with it, and I don't have a car. Also it's in Manukau and I'm in the CBD. About an hour train ride and who knows how long walk from the station away. I guess that's three problems. Tough; am I going to pass it up? HELL no.

Four hours to go and it's still at $11. I hop on a bus home and make some dinner; patiently waiting for just-late-enough-to-start-bidding-but-still-not-TOO-cheeky-o'clock (translation: two minutes before the auction end) to get down to business.

The fun starts. I'm briefly leading, but then get outbid again, so I keep bidding. The auto-extend does its infuriating job, of course, but I'm not prepared to give up. My autobid of $66.56, about what the card is "really" worth, gets beaten. No problem. I'll just go higher. I'll just put this absolutely absurd bid on it. I'd be a total idiot to pay this much, but no one will ever top it, and...

The browser doth protest. Maybe it has more sense than I, in my auction-fuelled frenzy. I reload the page one time too many, and something goes deeply wrong in Opera's CSS rendering engine. Suddenly all the auction formatting is lost. All the neat and tidy tables. Well, the images and info are still there, and I can still enter amounts in the text box. Now where did the "submit bid" button go?

The "submit bid" button has vanished. Pressing 'enter' does nothing either. SON OF A-

30 seconds left by my reckoning. Open Firefox. Not logged in. No TIME! Grab my phone - YES! As soon as I unlock the screen I'm greeted with the glorious sight of the auction page in Android's browser. And I'm logged in! Quickly jam my ridiculous bid back in, make sure to fat-finger the 'auto-bid' button, so it doesn't jump immediately to my highest amount, SUBMIT! AND...

"Sorry, you cannot place this bid because the auction has ended."


Oh well, I didn't really want to haul all that other stuff from Manukau anyway right? And another one might come up. Sometime. Eventually. Maybe.

Wait a minute, the person who won has other auctions going. I can still just use the contact form here... :twisted:

Long story short, I offered the winner the price I'd run up the whole auction to for the GUS alone, which they happily accepted. It's in the post now and will probably be in my hands on Monday. So it worked out in the end! I got my card, the other party got all the rest of the stuff in the auction for nearly free, and I didn't have to haul away a giant lot that I don't need. Win win!

Well, if you can call blowing seventy bucks on an ISA sound card a win. In this one instance, I can. 8)
Last edited by xjas on Sat Aug 17, 2013 7:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by tezza » Sat Aug 17, 2013 2:30 pm

It's a great soundcard. Well done!
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by kevman3d » Sat Aug 17, 2013 5:43 pm

Wow! I used to have a Gravis Ultrasound ACE - it was probably the best sound card I've ever had... Unfortunately it just crapped out at one point (along with the PC) and died. :(

Was great quality for S3M's, MOD's and all the cool demo's I think I still have somewhere on CD. Lucky man! Well done...
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by caluser2000 » Sat Aug 17, 2013 8:24 pm

Just to cheer you up a bit more I paid a $1 for a K6-2 400 chip today ;)

Seriously good work.
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by YetiSeti » Sun Aug 18, 2013 11:16 pm

what sad bunch of people we are, all agreeing that a Gravis Ultrasound is a holy grail to have :)

I'll get one you know...eventually...you just wait....(I know I am)
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by Gibsaw » Mon Aug 19, 2013 9:40 am

Someone want to explain what the advantages of this particular card were?
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by xjas » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:28 pm

^^ That needs a bit of history... Essay time! The original GUS could mix 32 voices in hardware, in 16-bit stereo, in 1992, and models which improved the mixing rate and memory capacity came very shortly after. This was a huge deal when a nice gaming rig was a 486/25. Software mixing took up an enormous chunk of CPU time back then; remember all those games that let you reduce the number of sound channels or the sampling rate to improve performance on slow PCs? The GUS needed no such thing. This was AWE64 level of technology when Creative's bread and butter was still the 8-bit SB Pro (the SB16 was brand new.) Not to mention the GUS' DAC was of immensely better quality than anything Creative had.

The story doesn't end with the hardware though. These cards weren't hugely popular anywhere, although they did well in Europe for a time. While Creative made the (better for business) decision to aggressively market their SDK to game companies (which is why 100% of DOS games support the SB if they have any sound capabilities at all), Gravis went after the demoscene... Firstly their SDK and complete technical documentation for the Ultrasound were released for free (unlike Creative who charged thousands for it, leaving the hobbyists to develop their own SB routines by trial & error). Secondly Gravis gave away a ton of hardware, for example by sponsoring parties, as prizes at various compos, or even just to people / groups they happened to like. (If you watch a lot of oldschool DOS demos you will notice 'John Smith / Advanced Gravis' gets greeted a lot - maybe more than any other individual who was active in the scene at the time!)

Anyway the point of this is that a huge amount - if not most - DOS demoscene productions released between 1994~1997 were GUS-only if you wanted sound. Naturally this was a big deal to an aspiring young scener musician such as myself, so I had to have one. I was a bit late to the party and finally got mine around 1998 - off Ebay (yes, it's been around that long). I think I paid $25, NIB. It was glorious. (I still have it - in storage, overseas, and yes, I still have the box & docs too.)

So, the original GUS line based on Gravis' GF1 chipset were pretty awesome. When the PnP came around they switched to an AMD Interwave chip which offered CD-quality mixing and full duplex capability for any number of channels, but it was 100% seamlessly backward compatible with the originals. So why do I need the PnP specifically? Well, the entire point of my DOS music rig is to be able to run hardware MIDI gear from my old favourite composing prog, Impulse Tracker. IT had rather solid MIDI support that was released literally in the last patch to the program ever. Normally it could use the MPU-401 interface from just about any soundcard for MIDI-out, but it couldn't play samples at the same time because the MIDI driver and the sampling (sound) drivers were separate. With two exceptions! It had MIDI-out support built into its sound drivers exclusively for cards based on two chipsets: the AMD Interwave, and the EMU8000 (AWE32/64.)

Yeah, okay, so with a box full of AWE64s in transit from Toronto (they'll get here eventually, thanks Canada Post), I didn't really need the GUS PnP, but as it was the first one I've seen 'in the wild' in literally years, there was no way I was going to pass it up.

BTW it arrived this morning. On my desk now. The guy even fitted two NOS 30-pin SIMMs (for 8MB) and dug the original install CD out of one of the other boxes. Oh yes. :)
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Re: Holy grail... found!

by xjas » Mon Aug 19, 2013 12:48 pm

YetiSeti wrote:what sad bunch of people we are, all agreeing that a Gravis Ultrasound is a holy grail to have :)

I'll get one you know...eventually...you just wait....(I know I am)

It's my holy grail, as I wanted this very specific card and pretty much never expected to find another (especially not in such tidy shape!), but I will be the first to admit it would be pointless for a lot of people (i.e. those with DOS rigs strictly for gaming, or anyone who wants to run Win 95+ on their ISA machine.)

I don't have any desire to collect every type of soundcard like some do, but the ones I specifically want - i.e. ones that do interesting things or expand my rig in a useful way - are worth waiting for.

Here it is... that deep red PCB is a work of art BTW. I wish more mfgrs did that.
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