The History of the Modern Graphics Processor, Part 2: 3Dfx Voodoo, the game-changer

By Graham Singer on April 3, 2013, 3:34 AM

Launched on November 1996, 3Dfx's Voodoo graphics consisted of a 3D-only card that required a VGA cable pass-through from a separate 2D card to the Voodoo, which then connected to the display.

The cards were sold by a large number of companies. Orchid Technologies was first to market with the $299 Orchid Righteous 3D, a board noted for having mechanical relays that “clicked” when the chipset was in use. Later revisions utilized solid-state relays in line with the rest of the vendors. The card was followed by Diamond Multimedia’s Monster 3D, Colormaster’s Voodoo Mania, the Canopus Pure3D, Quantum3D, Miro Hiscore, Skywell (Magic3D), and the 2theMAX Fantasy FX Power 3D.

Voodoo Graphics revolutionized personal computer graphics nearly overnight and rendered many other designs obsolete, including a vast swathe of 2D-only graphics producers. The 3D landscape in 1996 favoured S3 with around 50% of the market. That was to change soon, however. It was estimated that 3Dfx accounted for 80-85% of the 3D accelerator market during the heyday of Voodoo’s reign.

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User Comments: 30

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VitalyT VitalyT said:

Wonderful continuation on the first article! At last I remember the first graphical card that I bought separate from computer - GeForce2 MX400.

tipstir tipstir, TS Ambassador, said:

Yep they were something back then and there was issues with drivers once those were solved you had fun with them.

danhodge danhodge said:

My dad knows nothing about computers, and gave me his old graphics card one or two years ago, because I didn't have one (couldn't afford it, I'm 17). Turns out, its an Orchid Righteous 3d, and it's sat here right in front of me.

I must have spent about 2 or 3 hours looking for drivers for it to work with Vista, but I am fairly certain now that my i5's integrated graphics are more powerful... Still, nice to have a relic of a graphics card in my room

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Love these articles. Ah yes, those were the days.

NeoFlux said:

Still remember the moment I hooked my first Voodoo and running Hexen (if I remember correctly) with all that texture filtering, max resolution.... Oh boy I was impressed. And the upgrade from Voodoo 2 to GeForce 256 - like riding a bike and then straight behing Ferrari's wheel

Guest said:

Very nice article, thanks for the memories...

Guest said:

Still have my Voodoo 3 3000 lying somewhere (y)

ddg4005 ddg4005 said:

One of these days I'm going to post a list of all the graphics cards I've ever owned. I just have to get my mind ready.

Puiu Puiu said:

I start reading and I can't stop. The good old day are back. Thank you.

highlander84 said:

I think I had at least 5 of the mentioned cards at various points... I remember endless hours spent on drivers and overclocking the processor to bump up the frame rate ever so slightly... wow good memories....

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

I had both a Voodoo 3 3000 AGP and PCI version, the PCI version had a orange colored box. To this day those are some of the sweetest videocard boxes. I also liked the futuristic fighter when I bought my Viper V770.

I was going to participate in the 'what GPU's have you owned thread' but for me, a shorter list would be which ones I haven't owned. Not many.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

How can we give Graham Singer our gratitude for presenting these articles?

2 people like this |
Staff
Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

One of these days I'm going to post a list of all the graphics cards I've ever owned. I just have to get my mind ready.

For posterity you may want to post that list here: [link]

I had both a Voodoo 3 3000 AGP and PCI version, the PCI version had a orange colored box. To this day those are some of the sweetest videocard boxes.

In addition to the yellow "did you know" box, I should add the photo on the homepage with the Voodoo 3 box was actually taken by me, on my mother's kitchen when I was 17 years old. Here's that old review, too.

How can we give Graham Singer our gratitude for presenting these articles?

I sometimes wonder the same thing. But I think getting his work out of the shadows is a first good step since Graham had written this a long time ago to never post it anywhere. We are all getting a healthy dose of nostalgia out of it.

trgz said:

My dad knows nothing about computers, and gave me his old graphics card one or two years ago, because I didn't have one (couldn't afford it, I'm 17). Turns out, its an Orchid Righteous 3d, and it's sat here right in front of me.

I must have spent about 2 or 3 hours looking for drivers for it to work with Vista, but I am fairly certain now that my i5's integrated graphics are more powerful... Still, nice to have a relic of a graphics card in my room

Like my first cycle/motorbike/car I kind of regret selling my Orchid now though it'd never be of any use to me. I fried my Spectrum 48k but bought one off of my brother-in-law about 15 years ago but it's never the same as the one you owned. Maybe there's a Virtual Box that'll run that old card for you (or scavenge around for an old copy of Win98 and build something around it) :-)

JC713 JC713 said:

Great read as usual.

oomjcv oomjcv said:

It seems like this period was such an exciting time for graphics card development, all kinds of companies having a go with different ideas and failures, seeing how it all unfolded to create today's empires (much like the mobile revolution currently under way). I wish I could have witnessed it all back then, but alas....'twas just before my time.

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Really awesome work with these articles Graham, I'm already eager for the next part just as I was after finishing the first one!

Brewskie said:

I have a really old video card that has Voodoo FX or something like that on a chip. It's about a foot long or so. Where would I go to identify it?

I've had it for years and years. Maybe 10 or more years I'd say.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

I have a really old video card that has Voodoo FX or something like that on a chip. It's about a foot long or so. Where would I go to identify it? I've had it for years and years. Maybe 10 or more years I'd say.

I'd suggest vgamuseum, although judging by the length, it is more likely to be a professional board. There are plenty of sites dedicated to the die-hard 3dfx crowd (including driver support and backround info).

The Dodge Garage has a nice collection of high res pictures and a lot of information regarding 3dfx's evolution. You may need to try more than a few of the links at the left of the page. If the board is ~12" long, I'd suggest checking out the Quantum3D links first.

You could also upload a high resolution image for us. There are many who enjoy playing VGA-detective - myself included.

1 person liked this | Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

The best part was the bit on TechSpot history. Perhaps a picture of Julio from '98 would be appropriate. haha

Carleton Wu Carleton Wu said:

Anyone remember when the game Descent was patched for 3Dfx Voodoo? Gamechanger!!!! Shame Descent isn't around today. My favorite game series of all time.

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

I see where Nvidia got their fairy demo idea from... Matrox.

Guest said:

I remember asking my dad to buy a Diamond Monster 3D I (4MB) card. Microsoft's Monster Truck Madness never looked better and never ran faster on my Pentium 100 with 8MB of RAM.

I think it cost between $130 and $190. I'd spent ages figuring out what card was the best and provided the most bang for the buck. The Voodoo2 wasn't out yet.

Now my CPU has more L3 cache than my first computer had total in RAM, and 12x more RAM than I had hard drive space. We won't talk about my grandparent's pre-consumer grade 286 DX12 with a turbo button. ;-)

Guest said:

I had bought a *second tier* 3dfx Voodoo Graphics card under the Best Data brand (it was actually sourced from Diamond Multimedia. which sold 3dfx cards under the Monster 3D and Monster 3D II imprints). I do still have (and it still works) an actual Diamond Monster 3D II, specifically a 12 MB Revision E.

Guest said:

I remember it all really happening at once, OS advancements, graphics advancements, high bitrate digital audio, the internet and seamless networking!

Guest said:

I still fondly remember getting my first 3Dfx card - Maxi Gamer 3Dfx with a whopping 4MB of memory. The excitement of loading up my first 3Dfx enabled games, seeing that little 3Dfx logo spin up when the driver initialized and the game started.

It was right around the time that I was going to my friends house most weekends for LAN parties (this is before we had broadband at home, so LAN gaming was the only real way to play against each other) and enjoyed classics like Carmageddon, Quake, Unreal, etc... honestly I absolutely loved computing back then - the endless improvements and seeing drives going up from hundreds of megabytes to what we have now - terabytes!

Nice little nostalgia trip - thanks.

Eddo22 said:

Fan of the 3dfx stuff here. My 1st purchase was the V3 2000agp and I overclocked it to 183mhz with a small fan on the heatsink. 2nd was the V5 5500agp. Never overclocked it but I was using minigl drivers for opengl which improved opengl performance quit a bit...aka it wasn't far off of the Nvidia Geforce 2 GTS and still had Glide support which most games used or supported. D3d sucked back then, it was a whitewash mess.

T&L and 32 bit rendering were overrated back then. While I can't deny their value, the Tnt2 could barely run the few games that supported 32bit rendering and most people were forced to use 16bit rendering..while 3dfx users had superior 22-bit rendering. Also, basically no games suppored T&L when the Geforce 1 came out.

Yes I'm still bitter about the whole demise situation. Would kick butt to see 3dfx competing again even under a slightly different name.

Guest said:

Someone needs to fire their fact checker because the article states that the Voodoo 2 was a 2D/3D card when it was not. The Voodoo 2 still had to be connected to a 2D capable video card via a pass through cable just like the original Voodoo Graphics.

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Someone needs to fire their fact checker because the article states that the Voodoo 2 was a 2D/3D card when it was not. The Voodoo 2 still had to be connected to a 2D capable video card via a pass through cable just like the original Voodoo Graphics.

Can you quote the context in where you read this?

Because I can't find it now and nor did I catch it when I read the article after it was posted...

Actually what I found is: "3Dfx introduced the Voodoo 2. Like its predecessor, it was a 3D only solution"

Edit: Ahh I see it now further down in that paragraph, looks like a honest mistake to me considering the above quote

2 people like this |
Staff
Jos Jos said:

"The boards sported two texturing ICs, which allowed for the first example of multitexturing found in graphics cards, and as a result it used a total of three chips instead of one and combined 2D/3D capabilities like competing cards."

@Guest above Per, if that's the part you are referring to, it only says that competing cards used a single chip and combined 2D/3D capabilities. Maybe there's a comma missing in there so I can see why you might have been confused. I tweaked the wording a little bit for clarity. Now it says "... and as a result it used a total of three chips, instead of just one combining 2D/3D capabilities like competing cards."

There, no need to fire anyone. Maybe you should hire a reading comprehension teacher

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