Voodoo3 Preview
(The Voodoo3 is due 2nd Quarter '99 from 3Dfx Interactive)

Stephen "Blue" Heaslip
February 22, 1999

Introduction

Since the Voodoo3 I have been evaluating is not an actual shipping board, it seems appropriate to call this a preview, rather than a true review. The new "edge tools" software to control the card is not yet available for evaluation, nor is there any word on the bundle, and the tools and bundle each would clearly factor into any complete discussion of an accelerator. Further, the model in the Blue Labs for testing is really a prototype: For performance evaluation, it is in effect a Voodoo3 3500, since it is a V3 running at 183 MHz, but neither the TV-out, nor the flat panel display support is included, and the Voodoo3 reviewers guide warns that the board and drivers are both to be considered pre-release, and that performance is subject to change. That having been said, I'll note the board was 100% stable for me, and behaved like a solid shippable product.

The First Three Voodoo3s

The Voodoo 3 is an 8.2 million transistor .25 micron process single chip solution. Two models of the Voodoo3 were initially announced at Comdex, a 125 MHz version, and a 183 MHz model. The plan subsequently changed, and the Voodoo3 will now come to market with three initial varieties, the 2000, 3000, and 3500, running at 143, 166 and 183 MHz, respectively. The Voodoo3 is an all-in-one accelerator, offering a 2D core based on that in the Voodoo Banshee, and 3D based on the Voodoo/Voodoo2 chipset, offering the raw horsepower of SLI mode (which typically requires two Voodoo2s) in a single AGP or PCI card. There are no plans to create any sort of "Voodoo3 SLI" using more than one card in a system.

The 3000 and 3500 offer TV-out as a standard feature, and the 3500 sports an additional feature, called LCDfx, which is 3Dfx's proprietary support for flat-panel displays. The 3500 uses 16 MB of SGRAM, while the 2000 and 3000 each have 16 MB of SDRAM. Here is a snip from 3Dfx's press release on the product line with a bit more on each model:

At $129.99 (suggested US retail price), the 143MHz Voodoo3 2000 AGP and PCI boards are expected to generate up to 6 million triangles and 286 Megatexels per second at resolutions of up to 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. Targeting mainstream performance users, the Voodoo3 2000 boards will feature a 300MHz RAMDAC and 16MB of SDRAM.

For $179.99 (suggested US retail price), the 166MHz Voodoo3 3000 AGP board is expected to generate 7 million triangles and 333 Megatexels per second at resolutions of up to 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. Manufactured by STB Systems, Inc., Voodoo3 3000 designed for true 3D game enthusiasts, will feature a 350MHz RAMDAC, TV/S-Video Out capabilities as well as a yet undisclosed game bundle featuring best-selling titles. The Voodoo3 3000 will also feature 16 MB of SDRAM.

At $249.99 (suggested US retail price), the 183MHz Voodoo3 3500 AGP board is expected to deliver up to 8 million triangles and 366 Megatexels per second at resolutions of up to 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. Designed to support the latest digital flat panel displays, the Voodoo3 3500 will include 3Dfx's proprietary flat-panel support, LCDfx. Manufactured by STB Systems, Inc., Voodoo3 3500 will be available in limited quantities for consumers who require flat panel support. Voodoo3 3500 will feature a 350MHz RAMDAC, TV/S-Video Out capabilities as well as a yet undisclosed game bundle featuring best-selling titles. The Voodoo3 3500 will also feature 16 MB of SGRAM.

Ease-of-Use/Compatibility

Installation was cake, and the card never exhibited a single unstable moment. The brand new silicon and beta drivers were far more stable than many retail releases I've seen. As for compatibility, when the Voodoo Graphics chipset was introduced, cards based on it were an order of magnitude faster than anything else available to gamers, even if there was not a lot of software available to take advantage of it. The dominance of the Voodoo lasted so long that Voodoo Graphics was still the high end of the speed spectrum by the time there were Direct3D and Glide (3Dfx's own 3D API) games to play on it. By the time the Voodoo2 was released, Glide had become such a strong standard that support for it became one of the Voodoo2's selling points, because, when coupled with D3D support, it allowed 3Dfx to claim a larger compatible software base than any other accelerator, a claim they can, and rightfully still do make. Voodoo3's heritage really shined here for me, as I was able to install the V3 and its drivers, and I was good to go. And because I already had the OpenGL mini-drivers for Quake-engine games installed, they were already set to go as well. You read correctly there, it's still the mini-driver for OpenGL support, 3Dfx's full ICD is still in beta, but that's certainly tried-and-true for its purpose at this point. For ease of installation and compatibility, I couldn't give the Voodoo3 higher marks.

Performance

Performance is where 3Dfx made its reputation, and by edging out Voodoo2 SLI in the benchmarks, the Voodoo3 3500 becomes the leader of the pack when it comes to horsepower. The 3500 is finally the SLI-killer, as it were, though it certainly doesn't leave SLI completely in the dust. The specs on the 3500 say its maximum throughput of 366 Megatexels/sec is a shade higher than Voodoo2 SLI which tops out at 360 Mt/sec. That only tells part of the story, however. According to 3Dfx, "efficiencies stemming from the Voodoo3's single graphics and texture frame buffer, as opposed to the separate graphics and texture memories used by the Voodoo2, will produce further 3D-performance improvements." Testing bears this out, as the Voodoo3 benchmarks noticeably faster than the Voodoo2, in most cases well more than the scant 2% difference between 360 and 366, on certain tests and resolutions the difference growing to over 10%. Bottom line, the Voodoo3 3500 is the fastest accelerator I've ever laid hands on. Here are Quake, Quake II and QuakeWorld benchmarks run on a PII-233 and a PII-400 for comparisons with other scores on the benchmarks page, as well as scores on a PIII-500 to show what hog heaven is like:

You rat! I was bored enough to stop
but I want to see those benchmarks!