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3dfx Interactive was a company which specialized in the manufacturing of 3D graphics cards and processors. In late 2000 they underwent one of the most high-profile demises in the history of the PC industry. It was headquartered in San Jose, California until it left the graphics business and its intellectual assets were acquired by its one-time rival NVIDIA Corporation.

Early history

3dfx was formed in 1994, and two years later in 1996 it released its Voodoo graphics chipset. This became popular because it offered more acceptable levels of performance than competing products (which performed no better, if not worse, than software rendering engines). It was notable because of its lack of 2D-display support; it functioned as an addon card to an existing 2D video card.

In August 1997, 3dfx released Voodoo Rush, which was a Voodoo chipset with a separate vendor's 2D chip on the same circuit board. Unfortunately it performed worse than the Voodoo, was complex to make and had poor quality 2D graphics. The result being that it was a flop in terms of sales. A few months later, the Voodoo Rush was dropped.

In 1998 they released Voodoo's successor, the Voodoo 2. This was basically the same as Voodoo, but it had a second texturing unit installed, a higher clock-rate and a wider memory bus (192-bit, compared to Voodoo's 128-bit). It also had the capability to work in Scan-Line Interleave (SLI) mode, which involved connecting two boards together, thus (theoretically) doubling performance. A problem with the Voodoo 2 was the fact that it required 3 chips (the geometry unit and the 2 texturing units, all of which were on separate chips), whereas competing products such as the ATI Rage Pro and the NVIDIA Riva 128 were all single-chip products even though they had an integrated 2D core.

Near the end of the year, 3dfx released Banshee, which was basically a Voodoo with both units integrated into a single chip with an in-house developed 2D core. It was also clocked slightly higher than Voodoo 2, though it only had a 128-bit memory bus, like Voodoo. Its performance was variable, in some situations it performed better than Voodoo 2, in others it performed more like Voodoo 1. While it was not a hit on the scale of Voodoo 1 or 2, it sold a respectable number of chips, and didn't flop on the scale that Voodoo Rush did.


In mid-1999 the Voodoo 3 was released, which was at heart a dual-core Voodoo 2 with Banshee's 2D core. It was a compelling solution, since an SLI configured Voodoo 2 took up 3 slots, including the 2D card. However, given its design legacy it lacked support for several technologies that its competitors, ATI, Matrox and NVIDIA had since integrated. Just prior to the launch of Voodoo 3, 3dfx bought out STB Technologies, which was one of the main graphics-cards manufacturers at the time. It's generally thought that this move was one of the main contributors to 3dfx's downfall, since 3dfx did not sell any Voodoo 3 (or 4 or 5) chips to third party manufacturers, while NVIDIA were selling all of their processors through third party card makers. The result was that Voodoo 3 sold relatively well, but disapointingly compared to the first two models.

Their next (and as it would turn out, final) product was code-named Napalm. Originally, this was just a Voodoo 3 modified to support newer technologies and higher clock speeds, with performance estimated to be around the level of the NVIDIA TNT2. However, Napalm was delayed, and in the meantime NVIDIA bought out their GeForce chip, which shifted most of the computational work from the CPU to the Graphics chip. Napalm would have been unable to compete with GeForce, so it was redesigned to support multiple chip configurations, like the Voodoo 2 had. The end-product was named VSA-100, which stood for Voodoo Scaleable Architecture.

The two initial products were the Voodoo 4 4500 (single chip) and the Voodoo 5 5500 (dual chip), with a third, the Voodoo 5 6000 (quad chip) due to be launched later. But by the time the VSA-100 based cards made it to the market, the second generation Geforce cards had arrived, which offered substantially better performance. ATI had also released their Radeon line, which performed competitively with the Geforce 2 line. The only real advantage the Voodoo 5 5500 had over the Geforce 2 GTS or Radeon was that it had a better Anti-Aliasing implementation, and didn't lose as much performance when AA was enabled. Voodoo 4 4500 was beaten in almost all areas by the Geforce 2 MX and Radeon VE.

The Voodoo 5 6000 never got to the market, due to a severe bug resulting in data corruption on the AGP bus on certain boards, and was limited to AGP 2x, which would have prevented its use on the then-new Pentium 4 motherboards. Later tests proved that while the Voodoo 5 6000 would have been able to outperform the Geforce 2 GTS, it would've been outperformed by the Geforce 2 Ultra and the Geforce 3.

Voodoo 4 was as much of a disaster as Voodoo Rush, and while Voodoo 5's sales were respectable, they were nowhere near as good as 3dfx needed. By the end of 2000, with certain bankruptcy approaching, 3dfx were bought by NVIDIA, and ceased to exist as a company. Most of the design team that were working on Rampage (the successor to the VSA-100 line) were transferred to the team working on what has since become the GeForce FX series.

3dfx's decline is a matter of debate, but it is most often attributed to managerial prioritizing of research and development. Voodoo cards were typically highly expensive, and left the mid and low end of the market to ATI and NVIDIA, NVIDIA chose short development cycles whereas 3dfx pursued lengthy development cycles, and NVIDIA and ATI cards had better overall performance, with Matrox holding the edge in image quality. The Rampage card, which 3dfx put much effort into but never was able to bring to market, is said to have been technologically several years ahead of the competition - had 3dfx been able to sustain enough revenue to bring the Rampage project to fruition, it is possible 3dfx may have still dominated the graphics market today.

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