3Dfx Interactive, Inc.

3Dfx was a graphics card manufacturer for the IBM PC and its compatibles from 1994 until 2002. Initially they manufactured only the 3D accelator chips which they sold to graphics card companies. Towards the end of 1996 the cost of EDO RAM dropped significantly, enabling 3Dfx to enter the consumer PC market with a full product.

Their main product was the Voodoo Graphics - an add-in card that accelerated 3D graphics. The hardware accelerated only 3D rendering, relying on the PC's current video card for 2D work. Despite this limitation, the Voodoo Graphics product and its follow-up, Voodoo2, were popular. It became standard for 3D games to offer support for the company's "Glide" API.

3Dfx' main competition was from Rendition and PowerVR, who also produced 3D-only accelerator chips. Once 3D graphics rendering was becoming more mainstream in PC games, 3Dfx saw further competition from Matrox with their Mystique, S3 with the ViRGE, and ATI's 3D Rage. All these cards offered inferior 3D acceleration to a 3Dfx card but their low cost and the fact they were both 2D and 3D cards combined often appealed to OEM system builders.

They had thus far relied upon selling their chipsets to other vendors. However, in 1998 they purchased STB Microsystems which put a lot of financial pressure on a company that was already struggling in the market. Prior to this acquisition/merger, 3Dfx had been working with most of the other graphics card manufacturers including Guillemot and Diamond Multimedia. With the merger, they would now be creating their own cards, leaving their previous partnerships out in the cold. What did these companies do? They all went to 3Dfx's main competitor at the time, nVidia, to build cards for them instead!

3Dfx finally lost market share as Microsoft made DirectX more robust and developers began to move away from OpenGL and 3Dfx' own GLiDE to that.

Click here for a list of games that support 3Dfx cards.

 

 

Voodoo Graphics

Launched: 1996
Bus: PCI
Chipset: SST-1
Core Clock Speed: 50 MHz
Memory: 4 MB or 6 MB EDO RAM (2 x 64-bit)
Memory Speed: 50 MHz (128-bit, 400 MB/s bandwidth, 50 Mpixel/s)
Price: $299 (Feb '97)
DirectX: 5.0
OpenGL:

3Dfx' first 3D accelerator card, the Voodoo Graphics, comprised a DAC (digital-to-analogue converter), a frame buffer processor (FBI), a texture mapping unit (TMU), and 4 MB EDO RAM. 2 MB of this was used as a frame buffer, and 2 MB for texture storage (4 MB on 6 MB cards). Cards with 6 MB still only run games at 640 x 480 but if they have lots of large textures they will run much smoother.

The design goal behind the original Voodoo was to provide smooth gameplay at a resolution of 640 x 480 with bilinear-filtered textures. The 2 MB frame buffer was good enough for triple-buffered 640 x 480 x 16-bit colour depth, and with proprietary compression (3:1 reduction in size), this 2 MB allowed for many more textures to be stored and reduced bandwidth limitations that would otherwise have been an issue.

"The 3Dfx Voodoo chip set is the processor eagerly awaited by the gaming community. That chip set will be found on add-in boards to supplement an existing 2-D or 2-D/3-D graphics card, connected by an external VGA passthrough cable. Orchid will offer its Voodoo-based Righteous 3D board for $299, featuring 4MB of memory. Diamond Multimedia will release the Monster 3D board, with 4MB of EDO RAM, also for $299."
     PC Magazine, December 1996

 

A pass-through VGA cable was daisy-chained the 2D graphics card to the Voodoo, and the Voodoo is then connected to the monitor.

Colour writes and Z-buffer are limited to 16-bit, but sensitive alpha blending is performed at 24-bit precision. The Voodoo's lowest supported resolution is 512 x 384.

The first graphics card manufacturer to use the Voodoo 1 chipset was Diamond, with the launch of the Monster 3D - a 4 MB card. The Canopus Pure3D is unique in that it's a 6 MB card but also has a TV Out, enabling you to run your 3D games from a TV in addition to your monitor!

Competition for the 3dfx Voodoo 1 card arrived a whole year later in 1997 with nVidia's launch of the Riva 128. This performed 10% better in Direct 3D, but slightly worse in OpenGL. On a system with a very powerful CPU and open API, the Riva 128 was about 25% faster than the Voodoo 1.

Key features:

  • 0.5-micron technology
  • PCI
  • 4MB or 6 MB EDO memory (2 x 64-bit memory bus width)
  • 50 MHz core clock
  • 50 MHz memory clock

Cards that used the Voodoo 1 chipset were:

Most of these came with an amazing game bundle. For example, the Diamond Monster 3D came with Activision's MechWarrior 2 and Hyperblade, Criterion Studio's Scorched Planet (trial version), Eidos Interactive's Tomb Raider (trial version), Interplay's Descent II: Destination Quartzon, VR Soccer '96 and Whiplash; and Ocean's EF2000; plus Microsoft's Game Sampler 2 featuring Hellbender and Monster Truck Madness.

The latest official drivers for 3dfx Voodoo Graphics are v3.01.

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Voodoo Rush

Launched: 1997
DAC: ?
Bus: PCI
Memory: 4 MB up to 8 MB EDO RAM
Price: ?

Key features:

  • 50 MHz core clock
  • 50 MHz memory clock

The Voodoo Rush combined a 3D accelerator with a 2D chip on the same board. This was an attempt to meet the needs of the customers who were prepared to justify the added cost of a separate 3D card. The Rush had the same 3D specifications as the Voodoo Graphics but was a poorer performer due to having to share memory bandwidth with the CRTC (Cathode Ray Tube Controller) of the 2D chip. In addition, the Rush chipset wasn't directly present on the PCI bus but had to be programmed through linked registers of the 2D chip.

One advantage of the Rush over the Voodoo 1 is that is works well with slower CPUs.

The Voodoo Rush was also sold rebranded as:

"Here at the offices of PC PowerPlay we have finally replaced our much beloved 3D Blaster with a more practical card. The Hercules Stingray 128/3D is a 128-bit 2D/3D graphics and multimedia accelerator combining three high performance graphics processors on a single board.

The Hercules Stingray 128/3D combines Alliance Semiconductor's and the 3Dfx Voodoo Rush chip onto an excellently designed Hercules board. By integrating the 128-bit Alliance ProMotion AT3D 2D/3D graphics and multimedia processor with the 3Dfx Voodoo Rush and 6MB of EDO DRAM as a single shot solution, the Hercules Stingray 128/3D gives us back a well needed PCI slot.

The Hercules Stingray 128/3D also supports an advanced set of video acceleration features in hardware, including YUV/RGB colour space conversion, scaling, and a 64 step bilinear filter with full line buffer to provide exceptionally crisp, smoothly filtered, 30 fps full-screen/full-motion video playback.

Take careful note, a 64 step bilinear filter for video is not possible on a standard 3Dfx. Hercules however, have managed to successfully not only combine technologies from both chipsets on their card, but to also utilise the additional functions of a standard MMX PC, not a P[entium]2 like the ATI. The optimised software MPEG player that ships with the card will support MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 DVD playback.

Special mention must be made of the card's installation routine - this is possibly the easiest video in the known universe to install! We put the card in its slot, inserted the Hercules CD when prompted and that was it. Everything - utilities, DirectX - the lot, installed seamlessly and we didn't even have to press ENTER once. Beautiful."

     PC PowerPlay, July 1997


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Voodoo 2

Launched: 1998
DAC: ?
Bus: PCI
Memory: 8 MB, 12 MB EDO RAM
Price: $645 (Jul '98)

The successor to the Voodoo Graphics got a second texturing unit so two textures could be drawn in a single pass. Around this time, ATI had released the Rage Pro, nVidia had their Riva 128, and Rendition has the Verite 2200. These were all single-chip product, whereas 3Dfx' new card was still a three-chip solution. Despite this, no competitor could meet the smooth frame rates and excellent performance of the Voodoo 2, and many owners still liked the fact they could choose their own quality 2D graphics card to sit alongside it. Even the nVidia Riva TNT which launched a few months later with its combined 2D/3D chipset offered little challenge to the Voodoo 2.

"One thing is becoming clear with the Voodoo 2, there's very little difference between each different manufacturer's card.

Although in this circumstance the Orchid [Righteous 3D II] appears to be trailing the other cards we've tested in terms of its Powerbench [122.121]. Being 1 mark behind the Creative just isn't substantial enough to warrant any kind of remark.

Realistically, what does set the cards apart is price and bundled software. The Orchid bundle consisting of Battlezone, Jedi Knight, Incoming and G-Police is an excellent one. Especially considering that Incoming is a game designed for second generation cards (such as Voodoo 2) and runs poorly on the Voodoo 1.

One of the things that stands out about Orchid is their excellent support. With their admirable history from the original Righteous in terms of driver support and Direct X certification, they're a powerful gaming ally to have. Add to that the excellent choice of bundled software and you have a worthy purchase."

     PC PowerPlay, July 1998

 

The Voodoo 2 also introduced the world to SLI (Scan-Line Interleave), where two Voodoo 2 boards could be used together, each one drawing half the screen. SLI increased the maximum resolution to 1024 x 768. Due to the high cost and inconvenience to end users of running 3 cards (two Voodoo 2s and a 2D graphics card), SLI was not a financial success. SLI was later re-used by nVidia after they bought 3Dfx.

Key features:

  • 0.35-micron technology
  • PCI
  • 8MB EDO memory
  • 90 MHz core clock
  • 90 MHz memory clock
  • Maximum resolution of 800 x 600
  • 3.3M triangles/s

The Voodoo 2 was also sold rebranded as:

If you are looking for games that 3Dfx themselves rated highly for use with the Voodoo 2, look no further than their very own Golden Anubis Awards!

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Voodoo Banshee (PCI)

Launched: Late 1998
DAC: ?
Bus: PCI
Memory: 8 or 16 MB
Price: ?

This card was 3Dfx' second attempt at a combined 2D and 3D accelerator card. Unlike the Rush from 1997, the Banshee offered 2D acceleration and a more rich feature set. By this stage, 3Dfx had also worked to reduce their chipset from 3 chips down to just 1. The Banshee had just one texture mapping unit, meaning a Voodoo 2 was still much faster at drawing multi-texture polygons, but when drawing single-texture polygons the Banshee could match or even exceed the Voodoo 2. This was primarily due to the Banshee's faster clock speed which gave it a greater pixel fillrate.

Its 2D accelerator was very capable, rivalling the fastest core from nVidia, Matrox and ATI. It consisted of a VESA VBE 3.0 core and a 128-bit 2D GUI engine. This core capably accelerated DirectDraw and supported all of the Windows Graphics Device Interface (GDI) in hardware. Sadly, the Banshee was adopted only in small numbers by OEMs, with nVidia's Riva TNT taking a lot of the OEM market share.

The card was also sold as:

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Voodoo Banshee (AGP)

Launched: Late 1998
DAC: ?
Bus: AGP
Memory: 8 or 16 MB SGRAM
Price: ?

The AGP version of the Banshee is only able to take advantage of AGP's faster DMA bandwidth. Banshee is not at all able to use any of the real AGP features like AGP texturing, AGP1x or AGP2x. This can be a problem when running games with particularly large textures especially at high resolutions, because the local memory won't be able to contain all those textures so that they have to be swapped from main memory via DMA transfers, which isn't by far as fast as AGP texturing. The 3D quality of Banshee is identical to Voodoo2, meaning that it doesn't have a more than 16 bit deep Z-buffer and cannot do real 32-bit color rendering either.

Cards flagged as 'Velocity' were typically sold to OEMs, and had only 8 MB of RAM.

The card was also sold as:

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Voodoo 3 1000

Launched: 1999
DAC: ?
Bus: AGP 2x
Memory: 16 MB SGRAM (128-bit memory bus width)
Core Clock: 125 MHz
RAMDAC Clock: 125 MHz
Part #: 210-0364-003
Price: $110

The Voodoo 3 1000 ran both the core clock and memory at 125 MHz. It was fabricated using a 0.25 micron process.

 

Voodoo 3 2000 AGP / PCI

Launched: April 1999
DAC: ?
Bus: AGP 2x or PCI
Memory: 16 MB SDRAM (AGP) or SGRAM (PCI) - both 128-bit memory bus width
Core Clock: 143 MHz
RAMDAC Speed: 300 MHz
Memory Speed: 143 MHz
Part #: 210-0364-003
Price: $180, £69 excl. VAT (Dec 1999)

Codename "Avenger", the Voodoo 3 2000 card was the baby of the Voodoo 3 family with a core clock speed of 143 MHz and memory clock of 300 Mhz. It fully supported not only 3dfx's own GLiDE API, but also Direct3D and OpenGL. By 1999, GLiDE was rarely seen, with most games being developed in Direct3D and OpenGL.

In terms of 2D refresh rates, the 2000 AGP could achieve 85Hz at 1600 x 1200, 100Hz at 1280 x 1024, and 120Hz at 1152x864, all presented in 16.7 million colours.

Sadly, the V3 2000 was unable to keep up with the competition, partly due to its limiting 16 MB RAM compared to competing cards that came with 32 MB such as ATI's Rage Fury and nVidia's TNT2 Ultra. Having said that, if you wanted to get into 3D gaming in late 1999, it was a decent cost-effective entry point.

It was also sold rebranded by:

STB Systems Voodoo 3 2000 AGP (part #210-0364-003).

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Voodoo 3 3000 PCI

Launched: April 1999
DAC: ?
Bus: PCI
Memory: 16 MB SGRAM
Core Clock: 166 MHz
RAMDAC Clock: 350 MHz
Price: £89 excl. VAT (Dec 1999)

The Voodoo 3 3000 PCI was the middling offering from 3dfx in 1999, sat between the budget 2000 variant (with slower memory clock speed) and the 3000 AGP and 3500 AGP that took advantage of the faster bus.

Like its 2000 sibling it came with a restrictive 16 MB of RAM which would be a problem for games that shifted much larger textures, and didn't support 32-bit colours so 65,000 was the maximum you'd get in 3D on this card. However, for 2D it could handle a huge 2046 x 1536 resolution in 16.7 million colours and at 75Hz refresh rates. However, like the 2000, if money was tight this presented an attractive price point for many.

Key features:

  • 0.25-micron technology - 8.2 million transistors
  • 16MB SGRAM memory
  • 166 MHz core clock with 128-bit data width
  • 166 MHz memory clock with 128-bit data width (2656 MB/s bandwidth)
  • Support for OpenGL 1.1 and DirectX 6
  • MPEG-2 (DVD) video acceleration
  • 1 pixel pipeline - 166 MPixel/s pixel fillrate)
  • 2 texture units - 333 MTexel/s texel fillrate)
  • 7 M/s triangle/vertices rate
  • 350 MHz RAMDAC

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Voodoo 3 3000 AGP

Launched: April 1999
Bus: AGP 1x or 2x
Memory: 16 MB SGRAM
Core Clock: 166 MHz
RAMDAC Clock: 350 MHz
Memory Speed: 166 MHz
Part #: 210-0382-004
Price: $180, £89 ex.VAT (Dec 1999)

Codename "Avenger", the Voodoo 3 3000 card supported a maximum resolution of 2046 x 1536 with a 75Hz refresh rate.

Itwas also sold rebranded by:

Key features:

  • 0.25-micron technology - 8.2 million transistors
  • AGP 2x
  • 16MB SGRAM memory
  • 166 MHz core clock with 128-bit data width
  • 166 MHz memory clock with 128-bit data width (2656 MB/s bandwidth)
  • Support for OpenGL 1.1 and DirectX 6
  • MPEG-2 (DVD) video acceleration
  • 1 pixel pipeline - 166 MPixel/s pixel fillrate)
  • 2 texture units - 333 MTexel/s texel fillrate)
  • 7 M/s triangle/vertices rate
  • 350 MHz RAMDAC

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Voodoo 3 3500 TV AGP

Launched: 1999
Graphics Chipset: 3Dfx Voodoo 3
Bus: AGP 1x or 2x
Memory: 16 MB SDRAM (128-bit memory width)
Core Clock: 166 MHz
RAMDAC Clock: 350 MHz
Memory Speed: 183 MHz
Part #: 11-110-794-08
Price: £159 ex.VAT (Dec 1999)

The 3500 is the same as the 3000, but includes a TV tuner module. This came with a blue breakout cable for connecting the card to either a TV or monitor.

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Voodoo 4 4500 AGP / PCI

Launched: October 2000
DAC: ?
Bus: AGP 4x or PCI
Memory: 32 MB (128-bit memory bus width)
Price: ?

The Voodoo 4 4500 was released after the Voodoo 5 5500, and was marketed as the budget VSA-100 product (it had just one VSA-100 graphics chip). Sadly it entered a highly competitive market, costing more than the nVidia GeForce2 MX and ATI Radeon SDR, but yet was beaten in almost all areas by these cards.

Fabricated using a 0.25 micron process, the Voodoo 4 4500 comes with 32 MB SDR RAM. Its core clock and memory both run at 166 MHz.

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Voodoo 5 5500 AGP / PCI

Launched: 2000
DAC: ?
Bus: Universal AGP or PCI
Memory: 64 MB SDRAM (2 x 128-bit memory bus width)
Price: $270 - $295

The Voodoo 5 5500 was essentially two Voodoo 4 4500 cards combined into one. It had two VSA-100 graphics chips and two lots of 32 MB SDR memory. Note that Voodoo 5 requires a separate power connection.

This card runs both its core clock and memory at 166 MHz. It was fabricated using a 0.25 micron process.

The Voodoo 5 arrived to a market that was now full of multi-texture games, and it was a single-texture card, so it was losing 50% of its fillrate doing two texture layers. Despite this, it was able to outperform both the nVidia GeForce 256 and ATI Rage 128 Maxx (though these models were not the latest from each manufacturer). It lost ground quickly to the nVidia GeForce 2 GTS and ATI Radeon DDR.

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