A Look Back: 3dfx Graphics Cards

The Voodoo3


Announced at COMDEX in 1998 and released in 1999 was the Voodoo3. While the Voodoo1 and Voodoo2 where huge leaps technologically the Voodoo3 was not. The Voodoo3 was really no more than a Banshee core with a second texture mapping added. The card also had a 128-bit 2D video accelerator, dual 32-bit pipelines, up to 16MB of memory and support for resolutions up to 2046×1536. The Voodoo 3 was available in PCI and AGP versions. There were actually quite a few different versions, higher model numbers represented faster clock speeds: Voodoo3 1000 (125 MHz), Voodoo3 2000 (143 MHz), Voodoo3 3000 (166 MHz), Voodoo3 3500 (183 MHz). The Voodoo 3 3500 was actually called the Voodoo3 3500 TV as it carried a TV tuner.


Around the time the Voodoo 3 was being announced 3dfx acquired STB Technologies, which was one of the larger graphic card manufacturers at the time. The thought behind this was that 3dfx could start manufacturing, marketing and selling its own graphics cards. Up until this point they functioned as an OEM supplier. This strategy shift is what many people believe caused the downfall of the company.

The Voodoo4 and Voodoo5
Nvidia seemed to beat 3dfx to the punch with their now legendary GeForce 256 graphics card. With the DDR version of the card with its 150 MHz core clock and 32 MB of memory easily beat out the Voodoo3 3500 and all other competitors in the market. 3dfx tried to counter with cards that were based upon the VSA-100 (Voodoo Scalable Architecure) graphics processor. These cards were designed to support multiple chip configurations. The Voodoo5 5500 was actually the first VSA-100 based card. It came in 3 flavors, an AGP version, PCI version and Mac version. The Mac version had both DVI and VGA ports whereas the other versions just had VGA ports. The 5500 came with two VSA-100 chips each with a 166 MHz core/memory clock and 64 MB of SDRAM (32 MB per VSA-100 chip). The thing with the Voodoo5 5500 was that it came to market late and although it was able to beat the Nvidia GeForce 256 it was now up against the GeForce 2 GTS and Radeon DDR and just could not compete. Many people who thought the Voodoo5 5500 would blow the competition away were shocked. The Voodoo5 5500 also required an external power connector from your power supply.


After the Voodoo5 5500 was released 3dfx released its budget implementation the Voodoo4 4500. This card used only one VSA-100 chip and did not need an additional power connection. Again the with this card 3dfx was beat by Nvidia in their budget offering the GeForce 2 MX. With this Nvidia really took market share away from 3dfx.

The Voodoo5 6000
3dfx really wanted to stick it to Nvidia and their answer was going to be the Voodoo5 6000. This card was powered by 4x 166 MHz VSA-100 processors, each with 32 MB of 166 MHz SDRAM. This means it was the worlds first 128 MB graphics card! It also had an external power connector that came with an AC power adapter. With its enormous price tag $600 and amazing specifications the Voodoo5 6000 became one of the most hyped video cards of all time.


While enthusiasts and gamers were waiting for the 6000 card 3dfx was in trouble. Their finances were in bad shape and Nvidia hit them with a major lawsuit. The company may have been saved by Microsoft as they were in the running to provide video solutions for the Xbox. Microsoft instead went with Nvidia.

As the Voodoo 5 6000 was still being hyped at the next great video card and rumors on the next generation “Rampage” chipset from 3dfx were floating around Nvidia had the GeForce 3 on target for a January 2001 release. 3dfx on the other hand gave no comment on any sort of launch or timeframe for Rampage. Finally in late November of 2000 3dfx announced that the Voodoo5 6000 was canceled. This was a huge blow to 3dfx fan boys and enthusiasts waiting for this highly anticipated card.

There were of course test cards of the Voodoo5 6000 produced and there are still some reviews of the card online. The test results from these reviews showed that the Voodoo5 6000 outperformed the GeForce 2 Ultra and the Radeon 7500. These were the fastest iterations of those cards at the time. In some tests the Voodoo 5 6000 performed just as well if not better than the GeForce 3.

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