Remember 3dfx Voodoo Graphics Cards?

Back in a time where most of us were struggling with the latest games on an old 486 with a relatively lesser powered Cirrus Logic graphics card installed, there came along something rather drastic, and quite radical: the 3D graphics card.

Game development was moving along at a rate of knots, and as such both the developers and gamers of the time demanded more power and more ability to visualise the game worlds which were being created. To that end, a more capable 3D rendering piece of hardware was needed. One that was significantly more adept than the current stock available to the users, and consequently powerful enough to cope with the many polygons and tessellations that make up the average 3D enabled world.

A number of companies stepped up to take on this new frontier: Orchid Technologies, Diamond Monster, Matrox, Magic3D and FX PowerVR were some of the more notable that released PCI boards that connected through a VGA pass-through cable and took over the 3D rendering side of things with the separate 2D work being handled by the already present standard graphics card – incidentally, they often made a clicking sound when swapping from 2D to 3D, remember that?

All those 3D daughter boards, for want of a better description, had one thing in common. They all used the chips that were initially designed by a small team from Silicon Graphics, which later formed as 3dfx Interactive and gave us the ever-impressive Voodoo graphics cards.

Its history

Launched on November 1996, the Voodoo graphics card was an amazing bit of hardware. The cost of EDO RAM had dropped significantly in the previous months, and as a result it was possible to construct an affordable graphics card with 4MB of EDO RAM together with the relevant 3dfx chips on board.

Apparently, looking back at the technology involved, the first Voodoo cards consisted of the aforementioned memory – which was also available in 6Mb and 8MB versions – a Digital to Analogue converter, a 50MHz frame buffer processor and a texture mapping processor. There were also the mechanical relays which allowed the 3D chipset to take over the output from the 2D card, and which also made the clicking sound.

By the following year 3dfx had quite the following, and as a result it released the Voodoo Rush. The Rush was wildly different to anything else around at the time, in that it didn’t require the presence of a 2D card. While it was the future though, it didn’t perform quite as well as the previous Voodoo model as the RAM was shared with the 2D and 3D functions of the card.

After that came the Voodoo 2, with 8MB and 12MB RAM models, followed by the infamous Voodoo Banshee, which made use of the new AGP slot standard and offered an unmatched graphical performance.

Unfortunately, 3dfx’s range started to wane by the late nineties. After being dropped by Sega in favour of the PowerVR chipset, things never really picked up. And by late 2000 3dfx declared bankruptcy and was eventually bought up by Nvidia.

The good

Amazing 3D rendered graphics, and the spiritual birth of the modern GPU.

The bad

Often clunky drivers, poor Glide3D driver implementation and often the relays got stuck and you’ll end up with a black, clicking screen.


3dfx Voodoo graphics, thank you for giving us semi-realistic (for the time) aliens, zombies, and game worlds. Without you we would have been stuck with aged-looking graphics and PC gaming would never have become the awesome spectacle that it is today.

Did you know…

There were two Sega Dreamcast models being tested, project Katana with the PowerVR chipset, and project Blackbelt, with the 3dfx chipset.
You could SLI two PCI Voodoo 2 cards with a ribbon cable, each card contributed to half the display’s scan lines per frame.

The 3dfx Spectre 3000, which was never released, was to be the most power card ever with 128MB DDR RAM, AGP4x, 200MHz GPU clock, 400MHz memory, and support for DirectX 7.0.

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