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Voodoo 5
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Voodoo 5 - Page 1

The 3dfx Voodoo 5 Incarnate
Up close and personal with 3dfx's next generation product

By Dave "Davo" Altavilla and Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
4/4/00

 

We packed our gear...  Digicam, Notebooks, Laptop, Breath Spray, Cheeze Wiz, Rolaids... all the stuff that a good journalist should come prepared with to any important Tech Conference.  We were headed to the Big Apple, New York City.  This was a "Power Meeting" and we were ready.  We met down town at the Intercontinental.  The guys from 3dfx travel in style.  Marco kept trying to tip the Doorman but the Cheeze Wiz wasn't going over too well.  Room 623, we knocked on the door.  "Hey man, you got the stuff?" comes from a gruff voice inside the room.  Stuff?  Umm, yeah we've got "The Wiz" man....  (Marco issues a firm dope slap upside Dave's head)  Uhh, never mind, wrong room...

OH!! Room 326!!! (woops)  We try another rap on this door and we are greeted by none other than the 3dfx PR Supa-Freak, Brian Burke!  We step inside the well appointed Field Tech-Pad of the man himself.  We're offered a libation, some beer nuts and a comfortable seat.  The atmosphere is cool and relaxed.

After saying hello and a few minutes of small talk, Brian whips it out....


We're talking about the Voodoo 5 - 5500 of course!
(click image for full view)

- 64MB of SDRAM -
- T-Buffer Effects Enabled - 
- Motion Blur, Depth of Field Blur, Soft Shadows and Reflections -
- 667-733 Megapixel Fill Rate -
 - AGP 2X / 4X -
- Full Scene Hardware Supported Anti-Aliasing -
- FXT1 and Direct X Texture Compression -
- 32 Bit Color Rendering, 32 Bit Textures, 2KX2K Texture Resolution -
- Integrated 350MHz RAMDAC and Hardware DVD Assist -
 

Damn, that looks good doesn't it? OK, it was time to get serious here.  We were gazing upon  two VSA-100 chips and 64MB of High Speed Synch DRAM ready to rumble on the AGP bus.  Take a look at the extra power connector up in the top right area of the board.  This baby is hungry and 3dfx wanted to make sure it is fed with its own clean and abundant power source.

The extra power connector has been frowned upon by a few people in the hardware community and we just don't get why they're miffed.  Since the onset of more powerful, more capable graphics processors, some end users have had problems with power being supplied to these new boards from the AGP slot on quite a few motherboards.  This problem WAS NOT caused by the makers of the graphics boards!   It was caused by motherboard manufactures cutting corners using cheap voltage regulators versus Switching types with clean and powerful signals.  3dfx has taken the question of whether or not your board can supply enough power out of the equation.  They fixed a major concern with a fairly simple, VERY cost effective, approach and some people just aren't seeing it.  We tip our hats to 3dfx on this.   One less thing to diagnose.

 

The flip side was also a fairly clean design.  We got the impression that we are getting very to close to release candidate material here.  Without disclosing the speed of the board we saw (because PT gave us a "You didn't see that" when clicking though the driver menus), we can say it's clocked MUCH higher than the 100mhz boards many saw at other product showings.  Our gut instinct tells us that the .25 micron, six layer metal process was a good architecture to work with. It may not be bleeding edge but it is a "mature" process and yields will be high out of the gate.  3dfx still hasn't settled on a default speed on these VSA-100 powered boards either.  We MAY be looking at V4's and V5's clocked at a default of 183MHz...but again, no decision has been made. 

One more thing I would like to add (BigWop here), when I glanced over to Peter and asked about overclockability, all I got was a nod and a smile.  :)  None of the guys would officially comment, but the outlook seems bright.  With the 2 pixels per clock that the VSA-100 is capable of, every 1mhz increment means a 2 Mpixles/Sec fill rate increase...and every little bit counts the higher you set your resolution.

Marco, set the pick and I dove for the card.  Just then the door flew open and PT Barnum stepped in.  In the event that you haven't heard of PT or met him before, allow us to inform you that PT is a rather large gentleman.  He stands about 6' 8" (made the BigWop look like a little Wop....) I backed down sheepishly and made some excuse about just wanting to get another close up shot.  "Hi PT!  Good to meet you buddy!" :) (remind us not to mess with PT)  Behind PT came the brains behind the brawn of 3dfx, Director of Product Marketing, Peter Wicher.  Peter sat us back down and gave us the "nickel tour" of his new baby, the Voodoo5.

 

Isn't that 32MB per VSA chip not really a total of 64MB?  Guess again...

 
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Voodoo 5 - Page 2

The 3dfx Voodoo 5 Incarnate
Up close and personal with 3dfx's next generation product

By Dave "Davo" Altavilla and Marco "BigWop" Chiappetta
4/4/00

 

Peter began by explaining to us,  in fair detail, the architecture behind the Voodoo5-5500.  In addition, Peter also covered 3dfx's multi-tier approach to the market including Quantum and the up coming Gigapixel technology.  The Quantum product is targeted to extremely high end 3D visualization requirements for applications like Professional Military Flight Simulators etc.  The Gigapixel technology, as we have learned, is targeted at a broad range of consumer applications as well.  So, as you can see, 3dfx is going after the entire "pie" here, not just a piece.

Marco interjected...   "Isn't the 64mb on the 5500 an effective 32mb because it's divided per chip?"...before he could finish the question, Peter covered his ears and screamed, "DON'T SAY IT!!".  He knew what we were getting at though.  Peter explained to us that the memory is in fact a unified 64MB on the board.  To make things simple, basically, 32mb is given to each chip for texture storage, as that is THE ONLY information that has to be duplicated for each of the VSA-100 chips on any particular board.   Vertex data for example IS NOT duplicated for each processor.  With texture compression becoming more prevalent, and 3dfx's ability to support DXTC and FXT1 in hardware, duplicating texture information isn't as big a deal as it use to be.  Just to ease some minds, Q3 running at 800x600 with motion blur and 4xFSAA enabled was SILKY smooth.  Also, remember we were looking at pre-production hardware with early drivers.  

 
Peter also reminded us that FSAA will be an "out of the box" feature immediately available to all users and developers for that matter.  T-Buffer Effects (Motion Blur, Depth of Field, Soft Shadows and Reflections) all have to be supported at the game developer level.  However, the beauty of the VSA-100 architecture is that the T-Buffer allows the game developer to implement these features very easily.  In the end, 3dfx is targeting a new level of immersion for the end user and exponentially higher quality end product results for the Game Developer.  The essence of all these features is to bring gaming to a more realistic level.  Having experienced the effect these features have first hand, there is no denying the impact...it was superior to anything we have seen to date.

The Demo

Then Peter cued our big bad friend PT to launch the demo...  Marco and I were jockeying for position as to who could get closest to the 20" inch Sony Monitor they had set up for our viewing pleasure.  This was exciting stuff.  PT was running a the Voodoo 5 in special "road-ready" Pentium 733 with 128MB of RAM.  The first thing PT launched was Quake 3 Arena... what a surprise. 

Motion Blur

What was a total surprise was the fact that PT fired up a version of Quake 3 that had been modified to support the Motion Blur effect!  Peter told us that this took an Engineer at 3dfx no more than a few days to do and was very easy to accomplish.  He also pointed out that it was done by an Engineer, not an artist, so even though the effect was impressive, the possibility is there for an even greater improvement.

Here are motion blur shots taken by 3dfx.  These are not the actual in game shots from our demo but the effect was exactly the same.  These are large JPEG images with little or no compression, so if you are bandwidth deprived, be prepared to wait during download.

 

Believe us when we tell you, that these picture don't even come close to doing the live experience justice.  The effect was VERY cool during game play.  Marco and I were extremely impressed.  A while back, AGN interviewed a few webmasters about their thoughts on the T-Buffer effects.  Marco gave an answer that we feel provides a good analogy as to why screenshots really DO NOT do Motion Blur justice.  Pop a tape in your VCR of any movie with some high speed action and pause it as something is flying by your screen.  Do that and you'll see what we're talking about!

FSAA

The next demonstration PT launched into was FSAA.  Our slack-jaw look widened.  PT was showing us Microprose's Falcon 4, only this time the horizon was defined and crisp.  There were no jagged lines anywhere including the surrounding scenery, the plane and even the pilot within.  Also equally impressive was the total lack of "swimming textures".  This is an especially annoying thing for most folks.  Ever watch a textured object go by in a game and as it moves across the screen and changes its angle to your viewing position; all the while those beautiful textures are undulating all over the object?  How unnatural, right?  Believe it or not, your eyes get used to this garbage!  Once PT hit the FSAA toggle button, all the texture swimming stopped in its tracks.  It was fantastic and we will never look at a game without FSAA the same way again.  Damn 3dfx for ruining things on us!  They better release Voodoo 5 soon!

PT then broke into FSAA demonstrations on various games such as Homeworld, Lucas Arts' Pod Racer, etc.  Some demos were running at 800X600 and some at 1024X768.  The Kittyhawk demo in particular was very impressive, it was two 15,000 poly models of an airplane spinning on each side of the screen.  One had 4xFSAA enabled and the other didn't. Both were running at 1024x768. The difference was amazing, even at a fairly high resolution, the aliased plane would have fine lines vanishing as it spun around, something we're all used to seeing but hardly pay any attention to.  When you see the same exact model anti-aliased the "texture popping" disappears, which is again something that has to be seen to be appreciated.  Peter Wicher was very specific about the fact that 3dfx does not advocate dropping resolution just because you are running FSAA.  They are targeting their product to support FSAA with 32 Bit Color and 1024X768 resolution, with a silky smooth frame rate.

Here are a couple FSAA screen shots to illustrate the effectThese are uncompressed TGAs and are zipped up for smaller file size and easier downloading .  The reason we are not posting JPEG shots or thumbnails of these, is because image compression and image size reduction introduce a fair amount of distortion into a given scene.  These files are 500+K and 2MB+ in size, respectively.

Download Original TGAs of Incoming with and without 4X FSAA

Incoming  - NO FSAA ( click image )

Incoming With 4X FSAA ( click image )


Download Original TGAs of World War II Fighters with and without 4X FSAA

World War II Fighters - NO FSAA ( click image )

World War II Fighters - With 4X FSAA ( click image )


To really experience FSAA , you need to see it live on a platform with excellent frame rate.  The Voodoo5 delivered this and it was damned impressive.

In addition, take a look here, if you would like a refresher on Soft Shadows and Soft Reflections.

 


Do we have a winner?

Our visit with Brian and the gang sure was exciting and really opened our eyes to what the future holds for 3dfx.  The Voodoo 5 impressed us as a product that will live up to the hype and marketing that has surrounded this new technology for almost the past year.  FSAA on the Voodoo 5 was so good we can never go back to non FSAA supported games and be truly satisfied.  Motion Blur was more than just a bell or whistle.  It was a real improvement in our level of immersion and sense of speed.  3dfx surely has a winner on their hands with Voodoo 5.  We can't wait to get our hands on review product! 

Many thanks to Brian Burke, Peter Wicher and PT Barnum, of 3dfx, for their time and hospitality during our visit with them in NY.  We really appreciated the "open door" environment they have created within their company and their on line community support.

Give us your feedback and fire off your questions to 3dfx
In the Hot Hardware Conference Room!

-Davo and DaWop!

 

 

To HotHardware !

 


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