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Feature Articles

Voodoo Beginnings - 10 Years of GPU Development

By Kenny Yeo - 15 Jan 2009

Timeline: 1997 and 1998

1997


  • This was when 3D graphics cards and accompanying game development took off in a big way. 3dfx released the first true 3D graphics chip, the now legendary Voodoo. It was powerful and included several fundamental 3D effects processing capabilities. This marked the beginning of 3dfx's domination over the graphics card industry (at least before the Y2K era).

What Soundblaster did for PC sound, 3dfx did the same for PC graphics.

  • We also saw the introduction of AGP as the new interface between the graphics card and the motherboard. Intended to replace the older PCI interface, AGP offered as much as 15 times the bandwidth compared to PCI, and will remain dominant for the next few years until the birth of PCI-Express.
  • At this point, the main players in the graphics card industry were down to three - 3dfx, ATI and NVIDIA . The sudden interest spike for 3D graphics cards meant that the traditional graphics vendors had to evolve fast to avoid elimination from the market. The three mentioned vendors were able to do just that and their dominance meant that other well-known graphics vendors, such as S3, 3Dlabs and Rendition, had little chance in both the mainstream, performance and enthusiast markets. Matrox though, were still in with a shout with their Millennium series of cards, that consistently offered superior 2D speed and graphics quality for those who are serious about professional work.


1998

  • Rendition, left bruised and battered by 3dfx, ATI and Radeon , was eventually acquired by Micron, a semiconductor company. They kept the Rendition in hopes that they could work on embedded graphics for their own line of motherboards. Unfortunately, nothing happened and Rendition just faded away.
  • 3dfx sought to secure its hold on the 3D graphics card market by introducing the Voodoo 2. It was technologically superior to its competitors as it allowed two textures to be drawn in a single pass, making it vastly faster, especially on games that use lots of textures and/or multi-texturing.

    The Canopus Pure3D II 12MB was one of many Voodoo 2 cards we reviewed, and we were completely blown away by its performance. This Canopus card was one of the fastest of the Voodoo 2 bunch, and this was in no small part due to its high quality Silicon Magic 100MHz 25ns EDO DRAM.

 One of the earliest cards we've ever reviewed and one of the fastest as well. During its time, the Canopus Pure3D II was peerless.

  • To promote the use of AGP, Intel introduced their own graphics chipset, the i740. We reviewed the ASUS AGP-V2740TV Intel i740 and found its performance to be average and good for video editing and playback of VCDs/DVDs for output to a television. Sadly, the i740 chipset didn't take off and it ended up being Intel's only foray into the dedicated graphics card market thus far (but the Larrabee in development currently might change that statement).

Intel's only foray into the graphics chipset market thus far, the ill-fated i740. It was good for only light multi-media work and could not handle games as well as Voodoo's cards could.

  • This year also saw the release of Matrox's much-hyped G200 chipset. It combined Matrox's renowned 2D performance with a fully-featured 3D accelerator. We managed to get our hands on a Matrox Millennium G200 AGP and thought that it was a competent all-rounder, providing excellent graphic quality and decent frame-rates. This by the way, was also our Editor, Mr Vijay's first-ever review for HardwareZone.
  • Towards the later part of 1998, 3dfx introduced its first ever 2D/3D chipset - the Banshee. We reviewed the Creative 3D Blaster Banshee and found it to be a good but ultimately flawed product. It had good 2D performance and was decent in games, but the lack of features like 32-bit color and multi-texture support meant that it wasn't on par with the feature support of many of the newer cards that were appearing then and it would soon be behind the curve.
  • Around the same time, NVIDIA launched their RIVA TNT chipset. The RIVA TNT was the first time anyone seriously challenged the Voodoo 2 for the mantle of fastest graphics chipset. It was almost as fast the Voodoo 2, and in addition, it supported 32-bit color and had 2D acceleration - something the Voodoo 2 cards didn't have.

    We tested the Canopus Spectra2500 AGP and were thoroughly impressed. The RIVA TNT probably marked the beginning of the end of 3dfx's reign.

Canopus' TNT-based Spectra2500. This was one of the few cards that could ever hope to challenge the Voodoo 2. Not only was it fast, it supported 32-bit color and had 2D acceleration.