3Dfx Interactive

3Dfx Interactive

3Dfx Interactive Device Drivers

3Dfx Interactive was a company which specialized in the manufacturing of cutting-edge 3D graphics processing units and, later, graphics cards. After dominating the field for several years in the late 1990s, by the end of 2000 it underwent one of the most high-profile demises in the history of the PC industry. It was headquartered in San Jose, California until, on the verge of bankruptcy, many of its intellectual assets (and many employees) were acquired by its rival, NVIDIA Corporation. 3dfx Interactive filed for bankruptcy on October 15, 2002.

Founded in 1994 by Ross Smith, Gary Tarolli and Scott Sellers (all SGI alumni), with backing from Gordie Campbell's TechFarm, 3dfx released its famous Voodoo Graphics chip in 1996. The company only manufactured the chips and some reference boards, and initially did not sell any product to consumers; rather, it acted as an OEM supplier for graphics card companies, who designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold their own graphics cards which included the Voodoo.

3dfx became popular mainly due to their great success within the arcade market. At the time, arcades were a very visible place to go visit and see the latest in 3D gaming and technology. The first arcade machine that 3Dfx Voodoo Graphics hardware was used in was called ICE Home Run Derby, a game released in 1996. Later that year they were featured in more popular titles, such as Atari's San Francisco Rush and Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. 3Dfx received a lot of focus from the media because of the obvious graphical prowess of these titles, and that new game consoles such as Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, and Sega Saturn would be showcases for similar next-generation graphics. It generated a lot of very positive mindshare among gamers for 3dfx. Voodoo Graphics was some of the best arcade hardware at the time, and it was coming to the home PC.

After a fortuitous drop in EDO DRAM prices due to the volatile DRAM market, Voodoo Graphics cards became feasible for the consumer PC market. The Voodoo 1, as the Voodoo Graphics would be later known, was notable for its lack of an onboard VGA controller. As such, a Voodoo-equipped PC still required a separate VGA graphics card, meaning it was very expensive to have both 3D and 2D acceleration. The Voodoo 1 occupied a separate PCI slot and only engaged when the host PC ran a 3D game that had been programmed to use the card. A pass-through VGA cable daisy-chained the VGA card to the Voodoo 1, which was itself connected to the monitor. Although this was a cumbersome arrangement that somewhat hurt the analog signal quality of the separate 2D card, PC gamers were willing to put up with it to gain what was, at the time, the best in 3D graphics.

The Voodoo 1's main competitors were cards from PowerVR and Rendition. PowerVR produced a similar 3D-only add-on card with capable 3D support, although it was not comparable to Voodoo Graphics in either image quality or performance. 3dfx saw intense competition in the market from cards that offered the combination of 2D and 3D acceleration. While these cards, such as Matrox Mystique, S3 ViRGE, and ATI 3D Rage, offered unquestionably inferior 3D acceleration, their low cost and simplicity often appealed to OEM system builders over the addition of another expensive and limited-use card (especially with the then-unproven 3D game market). Rendition's Vérité V1000 was an integrated (3D+VGA) single-chip solution as well that was perhaps Voodoo's closest competitor, but it too did not have comparable 3D performance (equal quality, however) and its 2D was considered merely adequate relative to other 2D cards of the time (slower than ViRGE, Rage, and Mystique).