Tuesday, March 10th 2020
The Story Of The 3DFX Voodoo 1
Ross Smith, Scott Sellers, and Gary Tarolli originally met while working at SGI. After a short stint at Pellucid where they tried to sell IrisVision boards for PC (at 1994 $4,000/piece), they started their own company with backing from Gordie Campbell's TechFarm. Headquartered in San Jose, California, 3dfx Interactive was founded in 1994.
It still boggles my mind how someone could start a company building such complicated circuitry. I also didn't realize the connection between SGI and 3DFX.
First of all, 3dfx had made the audacious choice to not support 2D rendering. The Voodoo1 had two VGA ports, one acting as output and the other as input. The card was designed as an add-on which took as input the output of the 2D VGA card already installed in a PC. When the user was running the operating system (DOS or Windows), the Voodoo1 was just a pass-through which did nothing but to relay the signal from its VGA input to its VGA output. When entering 3D mode, the Voodoo1 took over the VGA output port and discarded the signal on its VGA input. Some boards had a mechanical switch which would generate an audible "click" when switching between 2D and 3D mode. This choice also meant the card could only do fullscreen rendition, there was no "windowed" mode.
This is one of the craziest things that I still remember about the Voodoo 1: it was 3d only. You still had to use your computers PCI video card for the OS and non-3d games.
The second remarkable aspect of the SST1 is that it was made of not one CPU but two non-programmable ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit).
There's a lot of great history and information in this post (and a ton of other great posts as well). I had a Voodoo 3 that I remember fondly. I also remember shortly thereafter lusting over the Voodoo 5 that was supposed to obliterate the Nvidia GeForce (which was getting all the rave reviews in the gaming magazines of the time). It's neat to look back at this nostalgic time with more understanding of how OpenGL and shaders work.
It's also worth noting that prices on eBay for anything 3DFX related are increasing rapidly.