Friday, September 5, 2014

The Underrated Voodoo 3 Chipset

The Voodoo 3 was 3dfx's first performance oriented 2D & 3D card.  Released in 1999, it was designed to compete with the nVidia TNT2 chipset, the Matrox G400 and the ATi Rage 128.  It often gets overshadowed by the Voodoo 5, which came out in 2000, and the nVidia Geforce, which was the first GPU to support Hardware Transform and Lighting.  However, it is a really nice card to have, especially with Glide games, which were still very common in 1999 and 2000.  I would like to discuss some of its good qualities here.

There are five good Voodoo 3 cards, the Voodoo 3 2000 PCI, Voodoo 3 2000 AGP, Voodoo 3 3000 PCI, Voodoo 3 3000 AGP, and the Voodoo 3 3500 AGP.  There are also Voodoo 3 Velocity cards, but they are low-end OEM cards with only 8MB of SDRAM and a clock speed of 125MHz.

Superior Performance and Image Quality to Voodoo and Voodoo 2

While the Voodoo 3 may not be able to run every ancient Voodoo 1 game, it will run most of the good ones. The only games that will fail are those that have old statically linked glide dlls that typically only work on a Voodoo 1 and may be coaxed to work on a Voodoo 2.  Here is a compatibility list for DOS games :

The Voodoo 3 has better image quality than either the Voodoo or Voodoo 2, even with lower resolution 3D graphics.  Voodoo and Voodoo tend to have fuzzy image quality and washed out color, whereas Voodoo 3 is sharp and saturated.  SLI cards may display more aliasing due to the interleaved nature of the graphics output using two cards.

A Voodoo 3 3000, even though it only has 16MB, usually surpasses a Voodoo 2 SLI 24MB in most benchmarks.  The Voodoo 3 is far more efficient in using its unified memory, whereas the Voodoo has separate frame buffer and texture memory.  In addition, the Voodoo 3 chipset is clocked higher (143 for the 2000, 166MHz for the 3000 and 183 for the 3500) than the Voodoo 2 (90-95MHz) and uses SDRAM over less efficient EDO DRAM.

The Voodoo and Voodoo 2 use a VGA passthrough cable to output the analog 2D card's output through the input of the Voodoo card, and then onto the monitor.  The analog passthrough results in degraded image quality, especially at high 2D resolutions like 1024x768.

One Slot Usage, Excellent Windows and DOS Compatibility and Speed

The Voodoo 3 has an integrated 128-bit 2D accelerator core that supports VBE 3.0.  It works with just about any game that supports VGA or better.  It handles all the common non-BIOS VGA Mode X graphics modes, supports common SVGA modes and 15-bit and 16-bit color VESA modes.  In Windows, the 2D resolution can go up to 2048x1536 @ 75Hz.

The Voodoo 2 can eat up to three slots to provide similar speed and performance (two cards for SLI plus a third card for 2D support).

Relatively Easy to Find

The only time you really saw 3dfx hardware inside systems of the late 1990s was with the Voodoo 3.  The Voodoo and Voodoo Rush were too early for the big OEMs like Dell, HP and Compaq to put in their computers, the Voodoo 2 was too high end and the Voodoo 5 was too little too late.  Only the Voodoo Banshee and Voodoo 3 ever really saw the insides of these systems, which sold in the millions.  When these systems get stripped for parts or sold or dumped as junk machines, there is often a golden nugget or two inside.

The Banshee is more common but only implemented one of the two texture units of the Voodoo 2.  Part of the improved performance of the Voodoo 3 is due to the addition of the second texture unit.  More complex games like Quake 3 and Unreal can take advantage of multi-pass texturing, and the better performance with these titles will be had with a Voodoo 3.  Additionally, the Banshee was manufactured by many OEMs like Diamond and Creative, while the Voodoo 3 board were almost exclusively manufactured by it through its STB subsidiary.  The result is a more consistent level of board design and quality along the Voodoo 3 line.

The Voodoo 4 & 5 is not that much better

While the Voodoo 4 and 5 have improved performance and true 32-bit color support, their greatest benefit is probably the support for full screen anti-aliasing.  However, as far as being future proof, they lack support for hardware transform and lighting, just like the Voodoo 3.  Hardware T&L was a feature of DirectX 7, and by 2004 it was a must-have feature, even if the game only had optional support for it.

No Voodoo 3 card has a fan or needs one if the case has good airflow and the card is not being overclocked.  All Voodoo 4 and 5 cards do, and the Voodoo 5 requires a 4-pin Molex connector. Voodoo 4s and 5s are much harder to find at reasonable prices.  In my personal experience, there are more things that can go wrong on a Voodoo 5 and have done so.

32-bit support was highly touted back in 1998-2000, but there was a strong argument that many gamers preferred the increased speed of 16-bit graphics over the less noticeable improvement of going from 65 thousand colors to 16 million colors.  The Voodoo 3 cannot quite show 32-bit color in 3D modes, but it can get very close with its filtering, which eliminates banding issues seen in 16-bit color modes.  The Glide API was typically built around 16-bit color.

Little Difference between PCI and AGP Cards

The Voodoo 3 2000 and 3000 came in PCI and AGP versions.  The clock rate was the same on the PCI and AGP cards of each model number.  The Voodoo 3 chipset was designed with PCI in mind and really does not see a measurable benefit by using the AGP bus.  It does not support the major AGP features like the sideband bus or AGP textures using system memory.  Any benefit comes from the increased bandwidth of a 66MHz dedicated AGP slot over a 33MHz PCI slot shared with other peripherals.  However, the Voodoo 3 3500 only comes in an AGP variety and has the highest clock rate of any Voodoo 3 board.

Two of AGP cards do come with more than just a VGA output connector.  The Voodoo 3 3000 AGP comes with TV output support through a socket that uses an S-video connector.  The Voodoo 3 3500 has a DVI-like port that connects to an AV dongle.  While it does not support LCD DVI, it does have a TV tuner and AV inputs.  The dongle is required to obtain any video output from the card.

The lack of practical performance benefit of the AGP cards means that you can use the PCI card in an Intel i440BX motherboard, which does not have a 1/4 AGP divider which allows for trouble free overclocking at a 133MHz Front Side Bus speed.


Dr. Zeissler said...
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Dr. Zeissler said...

- Voodoo3 has Win3x-Drivers!
- Voodoo3 can be combined with a Voodoo1 to run the old static-dosglide-titles.
- Voodoo3 can run JazzJack2 in Hardware-Mode @ 640x400 with SMOOTH!!! Scrolling.

The Voodoo3 is far the best Retro-Card!