3dfx Interactive

3dfx Interactive . It was a company specialized in the manufacture of chips and graphics processors that saw its existence blinded due to competition in late 2000 . Its main rival, NVIDIA , absorbed almost all of its main industries, technologies, intellectual property and patents. At the end of 2002, he declares bankruptcy .


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  • 1 Story
    • 1 Performance improvements
    • 2 Vodoo Rush
    • 3 Sega Dreamcast
    • 4 Vodoo 2
    • 5 Vodoo Banshee
    • 6 Vodoo 3
    • 7 Vodoo 4
    • 8 Decline
    • 9 SLI
  • 2 Products
  • 3 See also
  • 4 External links
  • 5 Sources


Founded in 1994 by Ross Smith , Gari Tarolli and Scott Sellers , all alumni of Silicon Graphics International ( SGI ); launches its Vodoo Graphics graphics chip on the market in 1996 . The company that specialized in this branch and also ventured into the manufacture of boards for its chip, although it did not offer sales to the consumer as it acted as a supplier of Original Equipment Manufacture ( OEM ) to other graphics card companies, providing them with its chip. graphic and they developed their cards based on the reference design of Vodoo .

The Vodoo 1 chip that would be renamed Vodoo Graphics did not have a VGA controller support and also lacked the ability to use in 2D mode, which required another card in the equipment that controls 2D graphics. Located in a different PCI slot , it was connected to the VGA card through a VGA cable (the VGA card was connected to the Voodoo card and this to the monitor ), and it only came into operation when running a 3D game programmed for use. Of the same.

3dfx’s graphics chip rivals were PowerVR and Rendition . While PowerVR offered great similarity to the Vodoo Rendition chip, it opted to couple a VGA controller as well as 2D graphics support built into the same graphics card. Although Rendition’s innovations were superior to those of the Vodoo chip, none of the previous ones obtained fame in the market as did Vodoo being the favorite of programmers, players and developers.

Performance improvements

Ensuring performance, 3dfx developed an Interface ( API ) called Glide specially designed to make it easier for game developers to use Vodoo’s 3D system. It was a subset of OpenGL that was implemented in hardware . Glide exhibited direct access to Vodoo hardware, the strategy was inconsistent with other APIs of the time that kept low-level access to chip hardware behind a layer of abstraction away from programmers, with the aim of providing developers with a Standard hardware independent interface.

The advantage of maintaining that abstraction layer is that the programmers did not have to enter the code for different APIs but the abstraction layer was in charge of managing the hardware differences between the different consumers. IN early graphic acceleration systems such as Direct3D and OpenGLusing this layer of abstraction slowed down the computer due to the lack of RAM and processing speed, so the 3dfx strategy took advantage of its rivals since having contact with the hardware avoided extreme memory or speed consumption of the team. Although the Vodoo were compatible with OpenGL, the developers were not interested in spending more time developing with Glide, since this way the games consumed less resources and took better advantage of the hardware, obtaining better results both visually and in speed.

The determining application for the Voodoo was the MiniGL driver developed specifically to allow hardware acceleration in the Quake video game , from id Software , on 3dfx cards. This driver implemented only the subset of OpenGL used in the game.

Starting in 1999 , the improvement of the other development APIs, Direct3D and OpenGL, and the constant improvement in performance of its rivals such as NVIDIA with its TNT and ATI Technologies with the Rage, would make Glide obsolete.

Vodoo rush

August 1997 was marked in the calendar of developers and programmers around the world because in that month the new chipset called Vodoo Rush was launched , since it combined the Alliance Semiconductor 2D chipwith the Vodoo chip on the same board, eliminating the need for a VGA card. However, it offered lower performance than Voodoo 1, mainly because the 2D and 3D processors shared the same memory and the PCI bus was not handled correctly, penalizing performance by 10%. Later versions offered by Hercules had 8 MB VRAM and higher clock frequencies to eliminate the performance difference, but for the market it was already too late. A third version was produced with a Cirrus Logic 2D chip that solved the problems of collisions on the bus and on the memory interface, but the card manufacturers did not show excessive interest and very few units were produced.

Sega Dreamcast

In 1997 3dfx also ventured into the world of game consoles and worked with SEGA on the development of the console that would be part of its next generation. In this development there were two different designs that competed with each other. On the one hand, a unit called Katana , developed in Japan using NEC and VideoLogic technology ; on the other hand, a unit called Blackbelt , developed in the United States with 3dfx technology. SEGA finally chose the system provided by NEC, and 3dfx claimed SEGA for the breach of the contract. This choice had to do with the fact that 3dfx published its possession of Blackbelt. InApril 1997, when 3dfx went public, it made the mistake of revealing all the details of the contract with SEGA, despite the fact that the law in the United States does not oblige it. As SEGA had been keeping the development of the new console a secret, they sidelined Blackbelt and opted for Katana as the system for their game console .

Vodoo 2

In 1998 the slaida of the new Vodoo 2 chip was made public , which was similar to previous versions although it incorporated a new texture unit, allowing two textures to be drawn in the same step. In addition, it had a higher clock frequency, a larger memory bus than its predecessor (192 bit by Voodoo’s 128) and capacity to handle larger amounts of memory (up to 8 MB of textures and 4 MB of buffer, compared to the respective 4 and 2 MB of the Voodoo). A single Voodoo 2 card could display a maximum resolution of 800×600 on screen with higher quality textures.

One of the Voodoo 2’s problems was that it required three chips and an additional VGA card, while solutions from its competitors, such as the ATI Rage Pro, NVIDIA RIVA 128 or Rendition Verite 2200, only needed one chip and were autonomous.

Vodoo Banshee

At the end of the same year, the production and commercialization of the Vodoo Banshee chip became latent , aimed at the lower-middle-range market. The Banshee chip was basically a VGA unit and part of Voodoo 2 (just a texture unit), with a higher clock frequency than Voodoo 2. The memory bus was the same as Voodoo 1, 128 bit. Banshee performed reasonably well, at the Voodoo 2 level as long as the scenes did not use multiple polygon textures, in which case the second texture unit of Voodoo 2 was critical. Despite not being a chip as innovative as the Voodoo 1 or 2, it sold a good number of units, although by then 3dfx was already beginning to lose market against NVIDIA, which offered the RIVA TNT models.

Vodoo 3

Almost in mid- 1999 , the Vodoo 3 chip was released to the market with the code name Avenger , combining Banshee’s 2D processor and Vodoo 2’s dual texture processor . Due to its hereditary design, it lacked support for various technologies that its competitors, ATI Technologies , Matrox and NVIDIA , did integrate, fundamentally not being able to work with 32-bit color or not handling textures larger than 256×256. It was also limited to AGP 2x , not supporting AGP 4x .

3dfx changed strategy shortly before the launch of Voodoo 3D by purchasing STB Systems , one of the largest graphics card manufacturers of the moment. The intention was to start manufacturing and marketing its own graphics cards instead of continuing to operate as an OEM supplier. This made their OEM customers decide to switch suppliers rather than negotiate with a company that was to be a direct competitor.

Vodoo 4

Performance comparison between ATI Rage 128 Pro and 3dfx Vodoo 4.

The next code-named chip Napalm saw its lag because it implemented an increase in clock cycles and image processing higher than the Vodoo 3 , with performance close to NVIDIA TNT2. The project was delayed and gave NVIDIA time to bring out the GeForce chip , which was a breakthrough. Napalm would have been unable to compete with GeForce, so it was redesigned to support multi-chip configurations, just like the Voodoo 2. The final product was called VSA-100 ( Voodoo Scalable Architecture ).

The first two models marketed were the Voodoo 4 4500 (one chip) and the Voodoo 5 5000 (two chips), which would be followed by the Voodoo 5 5500 and Voodoo 5 6000 (four chips) models. But when the VSA-100 based cards hit the market, the second generation of GeForce cards was already on sale, offering substantially higher performance. Also back then, ATI was starting to distribute the Radeon series , in competition with the GeForce 2 series. The Voodoo 5 5000 only outperformed its competitors in implementing anti-aliasing filters , not losing too much performance with these triggers. The Voodoo 4 4500 was swept in almost all areas by the GeForce 2 MX and Radeon VE models.


The main causes of the crash of 3dfx Interactive and therefore of the Vodoo chip were:

  • Delays in the departure of Vodoo 3 and 4 models.
  • Change of strategy when acquiring STB Systemsand not selling Voodoo 3, 4 or 5 chips to other manufacturers.
  • Disaggregation of attention, having to dedicate to two different sectors.
  • Voodoo 4 meant a disaster similar to that of Voodoo Rush.
  • Continuous chip development, bypassing innovation and enabling NVIDIA to dominate the market with its innovations.
  • Voodoo 5 5500 did not offer enough capacity compared to the competition or enough cost savings.
  • Voodoo 5 6000 was afflicted with a serious bug that, on certain motherboards, resulted in data corruption, so it should be limited to AGP 2x.


The Voodoo 2 introduced Scan-Line Interleave technology . In SLI mode , two Voodoo 2 cards could be linked, each drawing half the lines on the screen. Thus, 3D productivity could be easily doubled. One of the results of this mode was the increase of the maximum resolution, up to 1024×768.

At the time, the Voodoo 2 SLI architecture was the pinnacle of gaming performance. The SLI architecture was later used in its Voodoo 5 5000 cards (2 chips interconnected in SLI mode mounted on a single card with 32MB of memory), Voodoo 5 5500 (2 chips interconnected in SLI mode mounted on a single card with 64MB of memory) and Voodoo 5 6000 (4 chips interconnected in SLI mode mounted on a single card with 128MB of memory), these cards were the pinnacle of the Voodoo SLI architecture and were also the last to be produced by 3Dfx. Later, in 2004 , SLI technology was re-applied by NVIDIA in its GeForce series with the introduction of the PCI-Express bus.. Although they share names, the algorithms for sharing and reunifying the data of a scene are totally different.


Chip Components Core frequency Memory frequency Memory Bus
Vodoo 1 1 unit of geometry, 1 unit of textures, (not VGA) fifty fifty 4 or 6 MB PCI
Vodoo rush 1 geometry unit, 1 texture unit, 1 2D Alliance Semiconductor processor 75 75 4 or 6 MB PCI
Vodoo rush 2 1 geometry unit, 1 texture unit, 1 2D Cirrus Logic processor 80 80 6 MB PCI
Vodoo 2 1000 1 unit of geometry, 2 units of textures 90 90 8 or 12 MB PCI
Vodoo Banshee Single chip (3D + VGA) 100 100 16 MB AGP 1x / PCI
Vodoo 3 1000 A single chip 125 125 8 MB AGP 2x / PCI
Vodoo 3 2000 A single chip 143 143 16 MB AGP 2x / PCI
Vodoo 3 3000 A single chip 166 166 16 MB AGP 2x / PCI
Vodoo 3 3500 Graphics processor, A / V processor 183 183 16 MB AGP 2x
Vodoo 4 4500 A single chip 166 166 32 MB AGP 2x / PCI
Vodoo 5 5000 Two graphics processors 166 166 32 MB PCI
Vodoo 5 5500 Two graphics processors 166 166 64 MB (32 MB effective VRAM) AGP 2x / PCI
Vodoo 5 5600 Four graphics processors 166 (designed to work at both a processor and 183 MHz memory frequency, but prototypes at that frequency did not offer sufficient stability.) 166 128 MB (64 MB effective VRAM)


by Abdullah Sam
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