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Feature Articles

Voodoo Beginnings - 10 Years of GPU Development

By Kenny Yeo - 15 Jan 2009

Timeline: 1999 and 2000

1999


  • Voodoo finally announced the much anticipated Voodoo 3 chipset, which was based heavily on the earlier Banshee and Voodoo 2 chipset. As we noted while testing the Voodoo 3 2D/3D card , it was fast, especially on games that were optimized for the Glide API, but sadly still lacked 32-bit color rendering. Looking back, the card didn't offer much improvement over the earlier Voodoo 2 and was eventually completely outclassed later by the NVIDIA's GeForce 256 and ATI's Radeon.
  • NVIDIA later improved on the success of the RIVA TNT chipset by introducing the TNT2. TNT2 is mostly similar to its predecessor, but included support for AGP 4X and up to 32MB of Video RAM. Additionally, the TNT2 was manufactured on a more advanced smaller process technology than the older TNT and could hit much higher clock speeds. We had the Canopus Spectra 5400 Premium Edition AGP in our labs, a really high-end RIVA TNT2 card and were absolutely thrilled with its performance. Its price, however, was just as thrilling, but in a different way - S$550! That's a lot of dough for a graphics card in those days.

TNT2 arrives! It continued to offer competitive 3D performance and 32-bit color support, and in our tests, we found that its graphics were of higher quality. 3dfx was now really feeling the heat.

  • In that same year, Matrox released its G400 chipset, which was essentially a refined and more powerful version of the earlier G200. It included multiple monitor output support and had a new 3D feature known as Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping. We reviewed the Matrox Millennium G400 Dualhead , and although it provided average 3D performance, we were absolutely delighted by its 2D performance and the quality of its graphics, as you would expect from a Matrox card.
  • In mid-1999, NVIDIA landed the killer blow to 3dfx by announcing its new GeForce 256 chipset. Along with Microsoft's DirectX 7.0 standard, it ushered in a new era in 3D gaming as Transform & Lighting (T&L) functions were now handled by the GPU directly and it was many times faster than what a CPU could process back then. This provided a tremendous boost in the quality of graphics as well as frame rates. We reviewed Creative's 3D Blaster Annihilator , and were impressed with the quality of its graphics and frame rates.

The GeForce 256, a true legend amongst graphics cards. Hardware-support for T&L brought about unprecedented gains in performance and image quality.


2000

  • To combat the threat that was the awesome GeForce 256, ATI came up with the radical ATI Rage Fury MAXX, which was probably the first card to ever feature 2 GPUs (Rage Fury chips) on a single PCB. It employed something called Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) and was fast enough to match the GeForce 256 cards using SDRAM. However, its lack of T&L support ultimately meant that it wasn't a card for the future and it had operating system compatibility issues outside of Windows 98. These were severe drawbacks by themselves and the fact that a single GeForce 256 graphics card outfitted with DDR graphics memory was able to outclass the Rage Fury MAXX. Nonetheless, this dual-GPU graphics card will go down history just because it's the first of its kind and we're fortunate to still have one of them in our labs - which is now a showpiece of course!
  • It didn't matter in the end, because later in 2000, ATI unleashed the Radeon. We had the ATI Radeon 64MB DDR VIVO AGP in our labs and found it to be quite a capable card. At this point, things were really looking bad for 3dfx and they had to respond. Fast.

While NVIDIA had the GeForce 256, ATI, on the other hand, had the Radeon. Together, they would bring 3dfx to its knees.

  • 3dfx finally released the eagerly anticipated Voodoo 5. Looking back, Voodoo 5 was too little too late and some of its other features were too soon for its time. At that time, however, we thought that despite its shortcomings, the Voodoo 5 was still a good card and could even possibly herald the comeback of 3dfx. And ever present in the minds of the techies was the legendary Voodoo 5 6000, which had four GPU cores, powered by an external power brick and never saw the day of light in retail. Even today, no vendor dares to make a graphics card with more than two GPUs - the complexity of the board design and short time-to-market needs simple makes it infeasible.

    The Voodoo 5. This was to be 3dfx's last graphics card. The twin-threat that was the GeForce 256 and Radeon proved to be too much for the ailing graphics card company to handle.

    Ironically, later that year, 3dfx declared bankruptcy and was eventually bought over by NVIDIA. From this point on, the graphics card market was dominated by ATI and NVIDIA.

  • In 2000, NVIDIA also built on the success of their GeForce 2 line by introducing the GeForce 2 MX GPU. The MX denotes that the chipset is for the more budget-conscious. It was much more affordable than its higher-end siblings and therefore was extremely popular, especially amongst OEM system builders, who now had a low-cost 3D solution.

    Despite being targeted at the budget-minded, it was still a capable performer, as evident by the Asus AGP-V7100/Pure 32MB SDRAM .