Do you Voodoo?
Way back in October of 1996, a little company known as 3dfx (back then it was 3Dfx) ushered in a new age of 3D Acceleration with the release of the Voodoo 1 chipset. Other S3 Virge based video cards claimed to be 3D accelerators, but the Voodoo 1 was in a class of its own. Of course, few games actually took advantage of 3D acceleration at the time. Who needed an expensive 3D add-on card when you could get 30fps in Quake on a Pentium 133? Still, GL Quake managed to sell quite a few Voodoo 1 boards.
Six months after releasing the Voodoo 1, 3dfx gave users the Voodoo Rush, an integrated 3D/2D solution. Users gave the card back a few days later. The Rush was slower than the Voodoo 1, and those users who actually got the card to work found out that the third party 2D wasn't that great.
A year later in March of 1998, 3dfx released the Voodoo 2. Like the original Voodoo 1, the Voodoo 2 offered a huge leap in performance. The Voodoo 2 featured a 90MHz clock, nearly double the 50MHz of the Voodoo 1. Combine the clock speed increase with multi-texturing and you had a card that almost quadrupled the texel fill rate of the original Voodoo 1. Gamers rejoiced.
Six months later, 3dfx gave us another integrated 2D/3D solution, the Voodoo Banshee. The Banshee was a solid card, but it wasn't a hit with gamers. Learning from the Rush mistake, 3dfx developed the 2D engine in-house. Not learning from the Rush mistake, 3dfx used the Voodoo 2 core but left out the multi-texturing unit. The clock speed increased to 100MHz, but the lack of multi-texturing made the Banshee inferior to the Voodoo 2. To be fair, the Banshee was more of a mainstream product, but it still pains us to see products get neutered in the name of OEM sales.
Here and now
3dfx released the Voodoo 3 in April of 1999, about six months after the Banshee release. Do you see a trend yet? As you may already know, the Voodoo 3 was a single chip 2D/3D solution with support for multi-texturing. Initial clock speeds ranged from 143MHz to 166MHz for the V3 2000 and V3 3000 respectively. The 183MHz V3 3500 card appeared a little later, but it was more of an all-in-one solution. The Voodoo 3 offered roughly twice the texel fill rate of the Voodoo 2.
At the same time 3dfx released the V3, rival graphics company NVIDIA released the TNT2. NVIDIA had been playing catch-up to 3dfx for several product cycles, but NVIDIA finally had a product that was better than 3dfx's. Both cards had similar fill rates, but the TNT2 supported 32-bit rendering and large texture sizes while the V3 was stuck in a 16-bit world (22-bit depending on who you ask) with 256x256 textures. 3dfx still had a stronger brand and enough marketing might to stay on top, but NVIDIA was closing in rapidly.
Six months later, NVIDIA released the GeForce 256 and 3dfx released nothing. 3dfx missed a product cycle, and now the company that created the consumer 3D accelerator industry found itself in an unfamiliar position playing catch-up.
The Voodoo 4 and Voodoo 5 cards were meant to compete against the GeForce last fall, but delays have pushed release dates to May of this year. Will the Voodoo 4/5 still be able to compete after being six months late to the race? 3dfx finally sent us a 64MB V5 5500 late last week, and the preliminary results are in. Read on to find out more about the card and how it performed against the GeForce!