3Dfx Voodoo 2 – The Original SLI!

I was a fortunate computer gaming geek that got to experience the heyday of 3DFX’s hardware injection into the PC gaming scene.  At first I thought having a dedicated 3D card was crazy talk and then I saw with my own eyes how vastly improved the image quality and overall gaming experience was when running a game using “Glide” (an openGL wrapper) through one of these 3DFX cards.   3DFX released several generations of cards but I will be focusing on the Voodoo 21 card in this post.  For the record here’s a list:

Model Launch Code name Fab (nm) Bus interface Memory (MiB) Core clock (MHz) Memory clock (MHz)
Voodoo Graphics October 1, 1996 SST1 500 PCI 2, 4 50 50
Voodoo Rush April 1997 SST96 500 AGP 2x, PCI 2, 4 50 50
Voodoo2 March 1, 1998 SST96 350 PCI 8, 12 90 90
Voodoo Banshee June 22, 1998 Banshee 350 AGP 2x, PCI 8, 16 100 100
Velocity 100 July 26, 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x 8 143 143
Velocity 200 July 26, 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x 12 143 143
Voodoo3 1000 March 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x, PCI 8, 16 125 125
Voodoo3 2000 April 3, 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x, PCI 16 143 143
Voodoo3 3000 April 3, 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x, PCI 16 166 166
Voodoo3 3500 TV June 1999 Avenger 250 AGP 2x, PCI 16 183 183
Voodoo4 4200 Never Released VSA-100 250 AGP 4x, PCI 32 183 183
Voodoo4 4500 October 13, 2000 VSA-100 250 AGP 4x, PCI 32 166 166
Voodoo4 4800 Never Released VSA-100 250 AGP 4x, PCI 32 200 200
Voodoo5 5000 Never Released VSA-100 x2 250 AGP 4x, PCI 32 166 166
Voodoo5 5500 June 22, 2000 VSA-100 x2 250 AGP 4x, PCI 64 166 166
Voodoo5 6000 Never Released VSA-100 x4 250 AGP 4x, PCI 128 166 166

So the first few releases (until the Banshee) were dedicated 3D only cards… This meant you had to have a card for 2D “non gaming computing” and the 3DFX card took over rendering when a 3D app launched that called for it’s needs.  This also meant you needed a pass-thru cable so the 3D card could take over as the main frame buffer (video card) when it needed to.   So the video cable flow chart sort of went [main 2d card] —> [3dfx card] –> [monitor].  The first voodoo card came in two flavors, 2mb and 4mb (Canopus made a 6mb voodoo but it’s extremely rare) and you could only run one of them in a machine.  The 4mb card was by far the most common and you were locked into a max resolution of 640×480 for the output.

The voodoo2 upped the stakes though by offering 8mb and 12mb versions and the ability to run two cards simultaneously in “Scan Line Interleave” or more commonly known as “SLI” mode.  Nvidia would later buy 3DFX and come out with their own variant of “SLi” called “Scalable Link interface” – it works differently but the idea is roughly the same – mulitple video cards working together to render one sequence of images… but that’s another story.   With 3DFX’s SLI mode each card rendered one line of the output display and the main card zipped all the lines together “assembling” them for output to the monitor.  This dropped the rendering task loads on each card because it was only in charge of rendering half of each frame and also allowed you up the max resolution from 800×600 (max for one 12mb voodoo2 card) to 1024×768!   This is a joke by today’s standards but at the time it was pretty impressive.   I think not so much the resolution but the fluidity and image quality of the game-play while using SLI on a pair of voodoo2 cards was unmatched.  3DFX called their render “Glide” (an openGL wrapper) and that’s exactly what the gaming experience was like.  You literally would glide along buttery smooth like you were on roller-blades through a rendered 3D world rich in color with reflective surfaces, shadows, and particle effects…  It was breathtaking!

So about a year ago I started collecting old 3DFX cards on ebay and I built a voodoo2 machine just for kicks.  It was actually a blast and I played a bunch of Unreal and Quake2 on it after I was done.  I have to say although simple there is something special about these games still.  Maybe it’s just nostalgia but maybe they had more, I dunno, heart?   Well… here are some pics of my project.

First off – the 3DFX Voodoo2 card, this is the Diamond Monster 3D II version.

Diamond-voodoo2

 

I started with a base of an MSI K7n2L motberboard running an AMD XP2600 CPU and a Riva TNT2 video card for my 2D display purposes

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Oh yeah, this is all IDE baby… no SATA.

The TNT2 card… a very capable 2D/3D card for it’s time, but I will be using only it’s 2D capabilities for this build.

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This mobo uses an Nvidia nforce2 chipset which was for it’s time one of the fastest chipsets out there.  Great for overclocking and gaming.

Now a pic of the setup on my test bench with some UV lighting.  ooooo aaaaaah

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this is the setup with a single voodoo2 card installed.  The sound card is an old Sound Blaster Audigy I had laying around.

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Now for the final touch, the second voodoo2 card and running in SLI mode.

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there’s a ribbon cable that connects the two cards together so they can communicate.  It’s basically an old floppy drive cable with two pins reversed, and a lot shorter.  I ended up installing windows XP for this machine.  That limited the voodoo2 to openGL only (no direct 3D support).  Anything with an XP kernel was too new to allow direct3D and anthing 3DFX to play nice together.  Oh well, the openGL support was great and worked perfect for Unreal.   Here are a few screenshots.

I used to watch this opening scene over and over and over in awe…

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the reflectivity and colors were just drool worthy for the time..

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The game ran smooth as butter also at 1024×768!

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particle and “electricity” effects were fun..

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These came out sort of dark, it has something to do with how Glide worked.  All the screenshots were dark, but the actual game-play was bright.

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The sky in Unreal was pretty unreal, for the time.

So now my Voodoo 22 system sits mainly as a conversation piece for when people come into my office and go “what is that??” and I give them the short version of the story.  I fire it up from time to time just for kicks but mostly I just like knowing it’s there ready to go if I want to take another spin down memory lane.

By the way, there is still a small but dedicated community of people keeping the old 3DFX voodoo legacy alive at  3dfxzone.com.

References   [ + ]

1, 2. eBay Referral Link

DJ Rose

Thunder cats ho!

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