Last year's Fall Comdex in Las Vegas was the big debut of 3dfx's VSA-100 architecture used in the Voodoo 4/5 series of cards. 3dfx had kept everything under tight wraps before the announcement was finally made at the wax museum in the Venetian. After the launch, we published the following thoughts in our 3dfx Voodoo4 / Voodoo5 Comdex 99 Preview:
We all expected a fill rate monster out of 3dfx and the products they announced based on the VSA-100 managed to fulfill every last one of our expectations.
Of course, that was almost nine months ago and things have changed quite a bit since then. The "monster fill rate" of 1.33 gigapixels/s promised by the top of the line Voodoo5 6000 AGP has yet to actually appear anywhere - in the hands of consumers or reviewers alike. The Voodoo5 6000, originally scheduled to be released shortly after the 5500 model, has been delayed yet again with a new release date of summer 2000. 3dfx blames the situation on "component shortages," which is pretty vague. However, our sources tell us that the components that are in short supply are the VSA-100 chips themselves, which makes sense given the situation at hand. Similarly, the Voodoo4 4500 is not being launched at this time because 3dfx would rather divert the available VSA-100 chips to the higher margin Voodoo5 5500.
The Voodoo5 5500 AGP model is, however, available now and has delivered the promised 667 megapixel/s fillrate originally announced at Comdex. At the time of the announcement, 667 megapixels seemed massive with NVIDIA's just released GeForce pumping out 480 megapixels/s. But now, NVIDIA's top of the line GeForce 2 GTS cranks out a solid 800 megapixels/s. More importantly, however, the GeForce 2 GTS' texel fillrate is 1.6 gigatexels/s, which is more than double that of the Voodoo5 5500 and even the unreleased Voodoo5 6000, where pixel and texel fillrate are identical for the 3dfx cards. Times have certainly changed - there's no doubt about that.
But 3dfx still believes they have better features on their side, despite the lack of hardware T&L on their cards. The key is 3dfx's T-Buffer, named for its creator Gary Tarolli, that provides a number of special effects, including FSAA, motion blur, depth of field, and soft shadows. NVIDIA has jumped on the bandwagon with their own FSAA implementation but 3dfx argues their solution provides better image quality. We'll examine the FSAA image quality debate in an upcoming article focused specifically on that, but for now we'll briefly say that our initial impressions give 3dfx the edge here.
Funny how times have changed, with NVIDIA becoming the speed king and 3dfx the biggest proponent of image quality. It wasn't too long ago that NVIDIA was proclaiming 32-bit color as the next key feature for 3D accelerators, while 3dfx kept insisting that speed was king.
Had 3dfx hit their original target release of Fall 1999, the Voodoo5 would be competing with the GeForce SDR and GeForce DDR. In such a situation, the Voodoo5 would have the clear advantage from the standpoint of raw power. In terms of features, 3dfx wouldn't be hurting nearly as bad as they would be the only one with a reasonable FSAA implementation since the GeForce 256 is simply not powerful enough to perform FSAA at playable frame rates in most games. Although the Voodoo5 doesn't have T&L, titles taking advantage of T&L are just now appearing in the market - so while it would have made little difference in the Fall, it is a feature that is becoming increasingly desirable now.
Could have, would have, should have doesn't matter for today. What we have today is the Voodoo5 5500 that 3dfx needs to do reasonably well to keep them afloat until their next generation product. We previewed the Voodoo5 5500 back in April, but final silicon and drivers have finally arrived in the AnandTech lab and boards are now available after one last compatibility related delay. Let's take a look and see if the Voodoo5 5500 has a chance.