Friday, February 23, 2018

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.

Bob Buskirk
the authorBob Buskirk
About 10 years of computer experience. Been messing around with electronics since I was 5, got into computers when I was in highschool, been modding them ever since then. Very interested in how things work and their design.
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  • Memtard

    Good Article.  You might have wanted to add a few points about what brought about their demise.  After buying STB they alienated all the third party venders that had been making their cards.  There was an earthquake that destroyed their manufacturing facility, and because they had alienated the third party guys no one would help make their cards.  3DFX began building a new factory in Mexico (which is how they went into debt).  Unfortunately while that was being built it delayed production of the Voodoo 5 and caused shortages of the Voodoo 3 causing the OEM manufacturers (Dell, Acer, etc) cancelled contracts with 3dfx causing them to go broke.

  • My first 3d card was the Voodoo 2. I remember when you could run dual cards, I never got into that though. 16MB video was awesome!


  • Propellerbeanie

    I was there. I was in STB when we got bought (merger my ass) by 3dfx. I watched as my company died as the leadership killed the company in an attempt to position it to sell it to SonicBlue or S3. I watched as feature creep was allowed to continue in our last lines of product (which were AWESOME) and allowed our competors to out pace us. I watched as inside the first 4 months of the acqusition the channel sales team was let go and the board production (STB’s) facility was idled. The very things 3dfx claimed they wanted us for. aLL 3dfx wanted was our cash reserves, and there was a reason for that too. We sat and listened for the axe whistling towards our necks. Only thing that gave us any satisfaction is that when the axe fell it got EVERYBODY. And those pukes in CA can suck it. To this day they can suck it.

  • Leon

    Another huge reason for their Demise is that they were supposed to be providing the GFX for the Dreamcast but they let it out a little early during a public share holder conference.  Sega was furious because they had not yet confirmed anything about their next console and thus gave the contract to someone else.

  • Ggsoceity

    Not a well written Article. Missed some key points around that time.

    Voodoo3 was in actuality a great card with amazing bang for buck.  The 2000,3000,3500 flavours had only minor differences, namely clock rate.  It meant that the voodoo3 2000 was only $140 CAD (99 USD) and could play the latest and greatest newly released Quake3 Beta perfectly…. No other $99 USD card could even come close to comparing. 

    what killed it was peoples percection of the card especially in terms of visual quality and features: it could not do S3TC, nor 32bit colour, nor large texture sizes, nor had a full featured AGP implementation, etc etc.

    Sad part is that despite all of those shortcomings, it was a fast card; most of the other cards that had all of those features were much much slower.  people forget to factor in that you can likely run at higher resolution and faster frame rate with a voodoo3 than most other cards at the time, which gives the voodoo3 visual quality advantage (the difference between 1024×768 and 800×600 is huge).

  • Anonymous

    Excellent Article. Makes me think back to my first graphics card; GeForce 2 MX 400, BEAST!

  • PyroHoltz

    My first 3dfx product was a white box Banshee w/ 16MB of RAM purchased from FRY’s. Played Quake like a champ on my overclocked AMD 133MHz chip with a 14″ CRT.

  • Loki303

    Ahhh memories. I think that the Canopus Pure3D Voodoo (with 6MB of RAM and TV out) was the last object of desire in that child-like nose-to-the-shop window, dreams of getting, obsessive stage of my life.

    Good times…

  • that rampage thing intrigues me. it said the rampage could have saved the 3dfx company. but it also said that part of the rampage chip was put in the fx 5000 chip. the fx 5000 SUUCKED HARD! so i doubt the rampage could have done anything against the geforce 4 ti 4600.

  • I still have my Obsidian Voodoo2 (2 cards in one) with the box it came in 😉

    plus my original Monster 3d and my Voodoo 5… and yes I did pay way too much for that Obsidian card but Quake was a way of life for me back in the day.


    In response to Memtard;
    It is true we did alienate. But you must remember, at that time all the chip manufacturers and board makers were teaming up or trying to. ‘Strategic Alliances’. Another name for musical chairs. And once that dam broke nobody wanted to be a chip or board maker wanted to be the last one standing without a partner. We went first and did it the worst.
    3dfx didn’t need a new factory, they had STB existing one in Mexico. And you know what? We made money making things for others on that line. Kept the line from going idle and created a small revenue stream. 3dfx shut it down.
    We did have other foundries try to make the chips, the yield runs were horrendous.
    Another reason we went broke was the channel sales team, which for STB had been very successful, 3dfx let go! They wanted to go to retail, where the profit margin was fatter. Never mind selling 100,000’s in thin margins to OEMs. Let’s sell 10,000’s in fat margins to fan boys!
    Incredible waste of a lot of really talented people because a few at the top wanted to make giant coin on selling the company instead of focusing on making product and delivering on time. plus, as great as the 5500 and the 6000 were they were to large, too power hungry and expensive to manufacture. Nvidia was going to beat us to death with a part that was almost as good on one chip, ate less power and was cheaper to manufacture and had a whole years lead on 3dfx. would have nice to see the rampage get out. but by then it was to late.

  • Anonymous

    Uh… first I have heard of this earthquake. Googling shows it hit TMSC, which ATi and nVidia also sourced their product from, so that does not explain their demise. It does look like they had a MEXICO plant, though.

  • Memtard

    I imagine I don’t know the specifics of the earthquake.  I was guessing based on articles like this one

    One additional thing I forgot to mention was I heard from the engineers at the time the delays with the 6000 and some what rampage was the bridge chip they were using to link the cores on the card was giving them difficulties with certain chipse

  • chupacabra

    Voodoo3 2000 was first ‘real’ graphics card for hard-core Mac owners. At that time you could get a Voodoo3, flash it for Mac, overclock it, pop-in an aftermarket PPC G3 cpu, overclock that, then add a PATA RAID card for some real storage, launch Quake 3:Arena and actually be able to keep up with Windoze losers.

  • Macleod

    I remember, many many years ago when I was still a teenager (I’m abit older now), going into my computer shop and asking for a “D3-card”. The man, having passed away years ago now, asked me if I wanted a “3D-card or a 3Dfx-card”. I had _no_ idea what he meant back then, so I just said I wanted a 3Dfx-card.
    I got a Diamond Monster3D add-on for my S3 Virge DX/GX graphics card. It raised the video memory from 2 MB of the S3 with 4 MB of the Monster3D to a total of 6 MB.
    The “Diamond Monster3D” was a Voodoo 1. I still have the thing somewhere (the S3 Virge too, by the way).

  • Sherlock Viper

    Also 3dfx with Voodoo 3 series Went AGP and refused to use AGP spec based all on PCi the engineer for 3dfx emailed me after i complained about AGP memory settings not working at all BIG fail at the time.

  • Oh my goodness the memories 🙂

    At the time of my first 3Dfx, I had a Matrox Mystique and although the 2D capabilities were very good for the time, the 3D wasn’t.  Adding a 3Dfx Voodoo 1 transformed my PC into a wonderful 3D gaming machine and I never really looked back!  Unreal and Tomb Raider using a 3Dfx card was at the time absolutely mind blowing.

    I followed on with 2x Voodoo 2s in SLI, which was extremely novel for the time and enjoyed amazing performance and resolution.

    My last card was the Voodoo 5 with its hardware FSAA, which although impressive – was already falling behind the times due to cards from NVIDIA in particular.

    My gamertag GlideManiac I have used for absolutely years in homage to these wonderful  graphics cards that ignited my passion

  • Dan Hughes


    oh the GlideApi and how it trounced all over my PowerVr that I loved!! Tile based rendering in it’s infancy but what a concept…

    Still I buckled with the Voodoo 2000 ( I think, James you’ll know) and Unreal was fantastic;

    I would like to state though that back when Videologic and 3Dfx had propriatry API’s Toom Raider water looked amazing on my PowerVR and the weather effects on Fifa 96 were incredible!! Realistically though the Voodoo cards where far far superior and I was sad to see them go in the end but I am happy to note that my tile-based rendering fanatacism is powering the mobile gaming market to date….

  • Dan Hughes


    oh the GlideApi and how it trounced all over my PowerVr that I loved!! Tile based rendering in it’s infancy but what a concept…

    Still I buckled with the Voodoo 2000 ( I think, James you’ll know) and Unreal was fantastic;

    I would like to state though that back when Videologic and 3Dfx had propriatry API’s Toom Raider water looked amazing on my PowerVR and the weather effects on Fifa 96 were incredible!! Realistically though the Voodoo cards where far far superior and I was sad to see them go in the end but I am happy to note that my tile-based rendering fanatacism is powering the mobile gaming market to date….

  • You forget that NVIDIA purchased 3dfx, so it lives on in desktops, notebooks, tablets and mobile 🙂

    The PowerVR was impressive, had a number of higher resolutions and graphical enhancements but the performance was always very slow in comparison, which was a shame.

  • Dan Hughes

    I don’t forget, Nvidia lucked out with taking 3dfx’s IP and engineers –  I just choose to glory in how well IMGTEC have done – it’s not a small feat getting into most of the IPhones.

    You can sugar coat it how you like…. 😉

    still, my Nvidia PC Card wouldn’t be what it is without 3dfx….. But I hold no love for them like I did PowerVR!

    I love this age old argument…..

  • Facts my friends, FACTS 🙂  Sugar coating not required 😉

  • Davide

    Yeah, that was completely disjointed and contradictory. Troll someplace else.

  • Rashid Qureshi

    nostalgia at its best. Thanks for the read.
    beings back all the memories.
    I was there from the very start of 3Dfx revolution.
    Have owned and built, and also sold a lot many systems having at least 1 of more 3Dfx cards on board.
    And have seen all the ones mentioned in this article come and go.

    It remains a sad ending.

  • adamnfs2

    “You forget that NVIDIA purchased 3dfx, so it lives on in desktops, notebooks, tablets and mobile :)”

    NOT RELLY, 3Dfx, “the OLD OLD OLD Logo as ” 3Dfx ” was my favorite logo they did.”

    but Nvidia DOES NOT USE anything but MAYBE the SLI shit to connect 2-3-or 4 GPUs in a system? but AMD took that farther and newer AMD gpus dont even require an SLI/ CrossfireX bridge anymore?? communicates over PCI-e, but thats it, *SLI was all nvidia used to what i can see???? of 3dFx tech.. Scan-Line-Interleave muli GPU communication, hel ATI did that years ago in the Ati Rage Furry Maaxx 128MB Dual GPU Graphics 3d acelerator.. i even have one those still, damn som high amounts of nostalgia here talking about old ATi and even 3Dfx hardware, would we even be where we are today in PC gaming/Graphics cards, if 3Dfx never existed, at all..

    but i would of liked to see 3Dfx comwback from the ashes and design a new monster 14nm+/10NM or 7NM monster GPU for the PCI-Express Gen3.0 X16 Bus,, imagine if 3Dfx was here today…

    i still have a working Voodoo5 5500 AGP, and 2x Voodoo2s boxed up, been going throw all my retro PC hardware, hell if i find the shit in the garbage, ill grab it idont care… lol i take any and all pc shit, hell i even have an Intel Pentium MMX 200 MHz Socket 7 CPU and a AMD K6-2 450 MHz, OCed to 550Mhz using a turbo switch on the MBs mliplier Jumpers/FSB jumpers.. overclocking was actually fun back then, when it really wasnt advised like it is today…

  • Radical Vision

    Too bad for 3Dfx the fnck1ng investors did decide to kill the company, seems the Rampage was going to kill nvidia, too bad..
    And worse ATi did not buy all the intellectual assets of 3Dfx and tech to crush NOvideo…

  • Radical Vision

    How you know he is talking bull#hits ?

  • Radical Vision

    And you seems to miss the whole point. Some people says that the Rampage was in dev. since 1997, but for some reason ( i think they did need more $ for this to pull it) they did not release the chips and cards back then or even 1998, but in the late 2000. So what i say here is that the GEforce FX series was released 2003, so this is 7 fnck1ng yeas man, back in 1997 this Spectre cards was going to kill both nVIDIA and even ATi if they was so much better….

  • Troll&Roll

    Good times!! The first one to fall at nvidia feet was videologic, once crushed by 3dfx then put out of it’s misery by nvidia. 🙂

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