3dfx Interview with Peter Wicher

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3dfx Interview with Peter Wicher - Page 2

The VSA-100 - Voodoo4 &5

Dispelling The Myth

A discussion with 3dfx Interactive

   

 Page 2


Peter:
I'm really glad that you asked that question. Single-chip VSA-100 boards, the Voodoo4 line, will enable significantly faster and better-looking content than the Voodoo3. I just mentioned the key performance enhancements but let me explain more about their impact. 20% improved raster efficiency is pretty easy to understand: on average it's 20% faster in 3D rendering with all other factors held constant. Rendering two pixels per clock as opposed to one for Voodoo3 gives another 50% to 60% real performance improvement on single-texture apps. and scenes. I said that texture compression took some time to implement, well one of the reasons is that we can store textures in compressed format in not only the frame buffer but also in the texture cache. That effectively increases the size of the texture cache which offers a nice performance boost. Applications that use either Microsoft DXTC or our FXT1 compressed textures will see another 30% to 40% performance improvement. This adds up to a 100% potential performance improvement even before we talk about the new texture combines and alpha blends and the guardband clipping.

Dave:
OK so you've got the Fill Rate contest won. What about image quality? We are hearing so much about "cinematic effects", how are the new scene enhancements like motion blur, and depth of field coming along? Are they going to add new level of realism or are we not quite there yet? Will game developers be able to implement these new effect easily?

Peter:
Remember that full-scene AA is the single most important feature that can be added to improve 3D image quality. No one should be a victim of bad graphics with jaggies and scintillating pixels. The other cinematic effects will be introduced in titles at different times. While I can't say for sure, motion blur is likely to be the first feature that developers use because it's artistically intuitive and programmatically straightforward. We've been demo'ing modified Quake3 with motion blur for a while now: making fast-moving characters blur is a very nice touch. I want to be clear that there's no announced commitment from Id to add motion blur to Quake3. Soft shadows and reflections might be next because again they are artistically intuitive and the code changes are not that difficult. It's pretty obvious when you need to have a realistic shadow or reflection in a scene. The feature that I'm personally most excited about is depth of field blur or focal blur. It takes a real sense of cinematography to use it effectively but when employed correctly the results can be stunning. After coding the T-Buffer demos our in-house demo developers said that they wanted to go to film school to learn how to better use the effect! One truth since the beginning of game development, though, is that you can never predict exactly how a developer is going to use your hardware features. These people are so creative that they'll code incredible things that we'd never think of. The core philosophy of the T-Buffer then is that by putting powerful tools in the hands of creative developers, amazing things will happen.

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Dave:
FXT1 Texture Compression - Did you need to change the hardware to support this?


Peter:
Yes, definitely. FXT1 and DXTC took a lot of time to code.


Dave:
3dfx has admitted that the VSA-100 is based on the a same architecture as Voodoo1? How do you keep milking it for more power?

Peter:
I guess it's the same architecture in the same sense that a Model-A and a Z8 both have four wheels and an internal combustion engine. We've been able to successfully refine and optimize over many generations of products.


Dave:
Is it unusual for a graphics company to continue with products based on the same basic architecture for 5 years?


Peter:
When we set out to design a chip we first ask, "What is it that the end users will really need, and how do we give them more than they expect?" The architecture that's chosen is derived from the features and performance required. We've been able to meet the users needs for a long time with the same core architecture by adding the right features at the right time. That's a testament to the foresight in the original design, that it could be radically upgraded over a long period of time while maintaining a large degree of software compatibility. When Voodoo5 hits the market next year it will have been about four years since Voodoo Graphics. If you look back at the history of graphics accelerators a four year run is not that unusual. Everyone knows that we've been working on a new architecture for a while, but that's a different subject.


Dave:
If it is the same architecture, aren't you just perfecting the Voodoo1, or just adapting it to changing market demand?


Peter:
Again, there were one million transistors in Voodoo Graphics and there are fourteen million in VSA-100. Whether it's the same architecture or not probably isn't relevant. The real question is whether Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 are going to deliver features and performance that make the end users incredibly happy. There's no question, they will.

Dave:
What do you have to do physically to a chip to add new features?

Peter:
The chip first exists as a design data base. Many of the components of that data base are literally software programs that describe the functions of different parts of the chip. When we go back to add new features and upgrade existing features it's a lot like writing new programs and re-writing old ones. There are specialized computer-aided design (CAD) tools that enable us to do convert or "compile" the programs into a series of logic gates. Once we're sure that all of the features are properly working we use another set of CAD tools to create the physical description of the chip, literally the drawing of every transistor and connection.


Dave:
How different does the die of VSA-100 look physically to the Voodoo1? How about the Voodoo3?

Peter:
We start the physical design from scratch for every product so aside from the fact that all three are chips, or two chips in the case of Voodoo Graphics, they look totally different.



Dave:
Well guys, I think that just about sums it up. In short, this isn't your Daddy's ol' Voodoo, is it? Are we still on track for an April release?


Peter:
Thanks a lot for your time, Dave, we really appreciate it. We're still on track for shipment in the April timeframe as we said at Comdex. We'll have news about stuff like pre-orders after the holidays.


Dave:
Thanks for your time as well gents! We will be waiting patiently? (yeah, right) :-)

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