Tips 41


VSA-100 (Part I)

3dfx has once again managed to make quite a splash at COMDEX, the Las Vegas-based computer trade show and Mecca for Dilbert’s across the globe. This year, we finally gave up the goods on our newest product (no doubt you’ve heard the code name floating on the ‘net), which has been hotly anticipated since we first revealed the hyper-cool T-Buffer technology a few months ago. With the announcement of the VSA-100 Engine and the Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 family of products, we’re kicking butt for Y2K gaming.

The Core

At the heart of both the Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 family of products is 3dfx’s newest chip, the VSA-100 Engine. 3dfx will be able to offer an extremely wide range of products based on this hardware. You’ll see anywhere from single chip (Voodoo4 4000 and 4500) to dual chip (Voodoo5 5000 and 5500) to quad chip products (Voodoo5 6000). Quantum3D will even be offering a 32 chip solution, but with a price tag of up to $40,000, it may not be the type of product you run out and buy for your home computer.

The VSA-100 is everything you need for your games. The chip is AGP4x compliant, but 3dfx will also be producing PCI versions for those of you without AGP slots (PCI cards are also keen for our Mac gamers out there, as well as folks who want to run multi-monitor systems). Each chip can take advantage of up to 64MB of memory, which is how we’re managing to crank out incredible gaming boards like the 64MB Voodoo5 5500 and the "so powerful it's kind of ridiculous" 128MB Voodoo5 6000. The new hardware also supports both DirectX texture compression and 3dfx’s superior open-source FXT1 compression scheme and 32-bit color textures up to 2048K X 2048K in size. FXT1's texture compression is a visual leap forward, allowing large textures to be compressed into a relatively small footprint, with no noticable degradation in image quality. The final speeds will be between 166 and 183 based on memory prices and what we see during chip validation.

The New Voodoo (Part II)
VSA-100 (Part II)

A Gamer's Perspective

The Return of SLI

Gamers should be massively stoked by the return of three little letters: SLI. In the heyday of Voodoo2 technology, SLI (Scan-Line Interleave) allowed hard core gamers to install a second Voodoo2 card into their system, instantly doubling the speed and power of their 3D acceleration. You’ll be very happy to find that SLI has returned, revamped and is better than ever.

Three years ago, SLI was a process of two Voodoo2 chips working in tandem, with each chip drawing a different set of scan lines (one chip handling the even lines, while the other took the odd) and then combining the two images in the frame buffer. Today, SLI, like the VSA-100, is a much more scaleable affair. Because of the single slot nature of AGP, an SLI configuration is now composed of multiple chips on a single board. Each chip (whether it be two, four or 32) is programmable, allowing 3dfx to set the number of scan lines to be drawn by each one. For instance, in the Voodoo5 6000, a quad chip configuration, each VSA-100 draws 32 lines. Since each chip has much less work to do, it can operate at faster speeds. See our interview with Scott Sellers for more on the new SLI.


The Anti-Aliasing that goes along with the Voodoo5 needs to be seen to be believed. Five years ago, when 3dfx first began talking to developers and the public about 3D acceleration, we faced a serious uphill battle. Until you saw your favorite game running in hardware accelerated mode for the first time, you probably had a tough time figuring out what all this 3D hoopla was about. After all, it’s not like you needed to wear special glasses, right? Full-scene AA is much like the early days of 3D acceleration; you’re not going to be able to grasp the beauty and pleasure of an Anti-Aliased environment until you see it in action. Gone are the jagged edges around diagonal lines. Disorienting "sparkling" effects evaporate. Objects stand out with more definition and clarity than ever before.

No other hardware has been able to provide full-scene AA because of the huge amount of pixels required to render a scene with such detail. Providing Anti-Aliasing for an entire scene creates up to four times the amount of work for a 3D chip, since each pixel has to be sampled many times. Any other 3D accelerator would slow to a halt with active AA, turning your game into a slide show. With our mind-boggingly huge amount of fill rate, you can force AA and still play at fast frames per second.

The best part of Voodoo5’s AA is that it’s totally backwards compatible with every game that you own now or will pick up in the future. Unlike other hardware advances that take time to filter into the developer community, AA is activated by checking a box in the control panel and is instantly applied to your game. This is a totally free application that works right out of the box and will immediately change the way you look at and play your games.

The New Voodoo
3dfx Gamers

Gigapixel? What the hell?

Yep, you heard it right. 3dfx will be the first graphics company to deliver hardware capable of drawing one billion pixels per second on screen. What, exactly, does this mean to you, the hardcore gamer? Hope you've had your caffeine fill today, because you're going to need all the energy you can muster to keep up with us. With gigapixel performance, you can expect even more dynamic texturing, lighting and environment effects. This means experiencing gameplay at even greater, more advanced levels. Increased feature sets, stunning visuals and higher fill-rates are just a few of the benefits that will spring from this revolutionary technology.

According to Brian Bruning, 3dfx’s developer relations guru, “Breaking the gigapixel threshold is the next step in bringing visual reality to the demanding gamer. With this pre-requisite achieved, gamers can now look forward to innovations in other breakthrough areas of 3D graphics. We've set a new high water mark for performance, and serious gamers know to expect no less from us.”

Gamers are not the only ones to be thrilled by this breakthrough. Gigapixel fill-rates are also vital to developers, providing them with the flexibility to apply this technology in several areas, including frame rates, special effects and higher resolutions. “Developing a game has always been a series of tradeoffs, and 3dfx will be eliminating one of the bottlenecks that developers often run into.” Well said, Brian.

With the capability to display one billion pixels per second, complex 3D environments will be one step closer to echoing reality. Current 3D accelerators offer less than half that amount of detail and with this latest breakthrough, 3dfx will allow developers to create visual effects more enhanced than ever before. With fill-rates this high, there will be much less of a hit in frame rate when running a game at high resolutions. But wait, it gets even better. With the ability to experience these extraordinary features running at higher resolutions, developers and gamers don’t need to worry about sacrificing quality for quantity. Contrary to the popular cliché, they can have their cake and it eat too.

The greatest advantage of all these extra pixels is found in T-Buffer™ effects, especially in full-scene anti-aliasing (AA). This automatic T-Buffer™ feature benefits greatly from the extra horsepower, since enabling AA greatly increases the amount of information drawn on the screen. Brian believes that anti-aliasing is one of the coolest, most immediate visual effects that will stun 3dfx gamers. "It's like being nearsighted for your whole life and then putting in contact lenses. Once you've experienced the advantages, it's very hard to go back. You'll never want to play a game without AA, just like you wouldn't want to go back to playing software-rendered games after using Voodoo."

Multi-pass rendering and full-screen alpha effects are also enhanced. For instance, in a flight sim game, you will be able to fly through multiple layers of clouds instead of the single-triangle cloud banks you normally find. Also lens flare, explosions of greater detail and reflections (such as seeing instruments reflected on the cockpit or light on the plane's surfaces) will be rendered in much greater realism.

Have we captured your undivided attention? Sound like a lot of power? Hardcore gamers know that there's no such thing as "too much power" when it comes to the latest hardware. As 3D games have become more and more detailed, your system has to work harder to keep up. Once again, 3dfx has broken down the boundaries of speed, power and visual performance in the world of 3D acceleration. Game on!

The New Voodoo
3dfx Gamers