3dfx nowadays (article/chapter of opinion)

  • Hello

    As some of you know, I'm going to present a book of 3dfx and history of 3D on November 25th in Retrosevilla. Here is the chapter 9, where I talk about 3dfx nowadays and this forum. I hope you like it. Please, keep in mind that the translation is WIP. It isn't accurate 100%.

    I wait your comment.

    It was posible thanks the next people and this thread:






    We have talked about 3dfx's history, its fall and the products that it launched in the past, but... what about it today? More than twenty years have passed and everything has changed, so now, in 2018, the main question is: What is 3dfx today?


    When I started the research about 3dfx, I discovered hundreds of pages. I made a list of about six hundred links, which were reduced to about two hundred links thanks to my own listing. From there I reduced the links to one hundred, after hours and hours of reading, it helped me to make this book come true. Most of them were very old websites, with an old designs of their time, based on designs that is not attractive today. Only a handful of them directed me to more current pages. At first, my main interest was to collect information, translating and adapting it. I did that until I have collected enough information to take the next step. Later, in several forums, I have got to know many people who made me realise that the book only contained technical information, and that it would not be complete if it was not accompanied by testimonies from anonymous people who still use such old computers with those or similar cards. Who does not remember the IDE Seagate mechanical discs? They were louder than a disco.

    For this reason and with my limited level of English, I tracked every Facebook forum and group to interview all the people that I could, and then be able to capture the image of the world of retro computers and particularly 3dfx today. This article is, therefore, the result of many hours of conversation with more than twenty people around over the world.


    Common places



    After I cheked all the social networks, I verified that not all of them would be especially useful. Instagram is full of photos. However, Instagram has only a few text comments of this topic. Twitter provides a lot of information, but it is really impersonal. It's really hard to contact people who provide information. Moreover, with a lot of text messages, It is difficult to find what is really interesting and what is useless. Nevertheless, for the users of that social network, I strongly recommend following @ 3dfxhistory, their messages are always relevant, and @ 3Dfx_Aslinger, with a lot of information thanks to their great videos.

    But if we focus on Facebook, everything changes. It is undoubtedly the most used social network for this topic, and its groups have become, little by little, the substitutes of the old and almost disappeared nowadays forums. These groups are more active, not only in exclusively 3dfx. There are bigger groups that deal with all old computers . The proof is that there is not a day without new messages or new threads opened. The number of groups is huge, although those focused on 3dfx have a fixed user base. From my experience I can stand out x3dfx, 3dfx Voodoo User Group, or Exclusive 3dfx Voodoo5 5500 Owners Club. The last one was the first group that I joined. It is a group only for owners of this great card, but they allow access to anyone who are interested in 3dfx. My enormous interest allowed me to be part of it and verified the large number of users who remain loyal to this company using this card, even on their old computers. There are conversations about the most common configuration problems, marketing, online sales links, and especially about the documentation and data that many people shared.


    3dfx Voodoo User Group is probably the one that contains the most messages of the three analyzed. Moreover, it is the one that deals with more themes (However, in many occasions people talk about graphics cards or systems that are not of 3dfx). Like the previous group, here we talk about the 5500, but also about more graphics cards and test acquisitions. Many user's images are also shared with their old computers. With these photos you can learn a lot, because they are aware of many details about the cards, such as their special designs, the checks about memory speed, or if any chip is different from the original one. These albums are a mine of information, which has helped me to complete the data of this book.


    The last one is x3dfx, a group that many will know, because it emerges from the forum created after the close of 3dfx. Its lethargy caused that many of their users come over here, making this forum the descendant of the 3dfx forum. The group works in a similar way to the previous ones, with publications that are shared between users and some links or exclusive information that appears from time to time.

    Although these are the main groups of 3dfx, there are many others that deal with retro PCs and in many cases end up being as interesting as than the previous analyzed forums. Old PC forever! Is a perfect example. It is a small forum with few users, but they are really active, you can see new topics every day. RETRO PC Gamers is another interesting option, since it has the triple number of users than the previous one. But, if we look for the biggest of them, then we have to mention RETRO Machines. Nevertheless, with almost nine thousand active members is really hard to follow all the publications. In all these places you can find information of all kinds, from current i5 or i7 to 8086, making the three groups mandatory places to visit for anyone interested in this world. As is logical, in all these groups there are users from all countries of the world, but it is curious that many of them were born in Eastern Europe, countries such as Poland, Russia, Latvia or Estonia.


    If we leave Facebook behind, we have to return to the old forums. The search is arduous, because many of them did not survive to the death of Windows Messenger, but those who are still alive prove this offering a lot of activity.On the one hand most of them, focused on 3dfx, are abandoned, with just few messages in recent years.On the other hand, except two of them, are still really alive -and they have helped me when I was making the interviews for this chapter-. The first is voodooalert.de, a German forum for all types of hardware that contain a large community of 3dfx fans. A lot of known forum users in the world can be found here, being the starting point for their current hobby for many of them. The second one is 3dfx.pl, the page of a collector named @ Lukas_3dfx, who founded that forum in 2012 (he made a good decision doing that) to turn it into a reference in his country, Poland. The first time when I joined that forum, I could see the slogan"3dfx is still ALIVE !!!" and just as I saw that, it was clear to me that if I did not find volunteers there, I would surely have to forget this part of my book. Unlike voodooalert, 3dfx.pl focuses on old computers and is so popular, they have organized small users meetings in Poland, where many fans present themselves with their creations. Language is not a problem, because almost everyone speaks English to communicate with people abroad of Germany and Poland. Both forums are very actives, although anyone could say that voodooalert is a little bit more active because it has more modern themes. Anyway, in both new topics are opened daily and new messages are written in an environment that, unlike the large Facebook groups, becomes almost familiar.


    If we focus on non-exclusive 3dfx forums, two should be highlighted. The first one would be retrowiki, a Spanish forum where all the topics of retro computers are treated, and where I learned a little bit more about 3dfx in Amiga. The other one that stands out is the famous Vogons.org. I could talk a lot of about it, but, in summary, if you can't find one theme there, it is because is does not exist.

    In conclusion, I think there are more active users in the forums than social networks of 3dfx, and this is due to the profile of its users. There are people that lived the boom of the forums, those born in the 80s and 90s, so they consider them the best way to communicate. Now, when these users need to make an announcement, promote a video or update their website always end up using social networks because they have to do that nowadays. It is interesting to see how most of the interviewees consider social networks as a necessary evil, due to the Facebook policy and its lack of privacy and transparency.



    3dfxers


    We already know where they meet, but who is behind these old graphic cards? The majority of interviewees are in their thirties or forties, and they usually have jobs related to computers or technology. However, there is an exception, a very special case: a fifteen-year-old boy who run into this little world and who is slowly learning everything about this scene, which gives it a very interesting perspective.

    When we asked about how they came to this, most confess that their hobby began at the end of the 90s, when their father / friend / acquaintance showed them that graphics cards that worked on their computers. None understood why it worked so well, but everyone did not care. This is the situation for 99% people, except for the fifteen-year-old boy and his special story. His beginnings in this scene come from his casual encounter with a computer that his school was going to throw away to the rubbish. He picked it up and made it work thanks to the information he collected from the internet and several YouTube videotutorials.Another interesting and different case is @ 3Dfx_Aslinger (formerly NostalgicAslinger), an Austrian fan who opened a YouTube channel in 2014 to record interesting comparisons about the games and graphics of the time. It has more than 50 videos, and today he uploads material regularly.


    Many of those followers began this hobby thanks to the television commercials, or to the publicity that the magazines published at that time. These magazines invited to buy these cards, although it was an immediate environment which really made them decide. If we look back, the graphics cards-and the games themselves- usually do not work as advertised, with terrible cases where the software was not correct (I have suffered it trying CDs with drivers that never worked) or with game and graphic card packs that were not compatible. Being able to try your hands in a known place and check that everything worked correctly was the final step to decide to go to the store and finally buy it.


    In this era, the press are power is declining, but there was a real power of influence in those publications, when the bombardment of images, comparisons and explanations of the benefits of the cards was intense, and it was a rare case when that hardware did not become the dream of any player or reader. Moreover, all these graphic cards used to have a fair price for an average salary of that time (maybe even for a medium-low one) which made them totally affordable for users. With all these aspects, they had a great success of sales.



    Initial contacts


    At this time, without Internet and without television programs of this subject, it was really difficult to obtain information and comparisons beyond those that the magazines offered. With this, the Voodoo1 and Voodoo2 cards were the most sold. In several cases they remember Diamond and Gainward, although often they do not remember what the brand was. What they do remember is the first game they tried, it was an important memorie. The most popular are racing games such as POD, Need for Speed 2 and 3. Although we have a case, which first game played was Final Fantsay VII. A game that is very much associated with those graphic cards is Unreal Tournament, because it was very popular in the era of cybers and LAN-parties. These games were perfect to test the graphics, so many editors gave one with each purchase so you could run it and try it. These games, in some cases, were special versions, some of them optimized for 3dfx in order to enjoy and check the quality of the newly purchased card.

    The proper working of these games and the good reviews of the users caused a new boom, which reached its zenith with the launch of the Voodoo2. This would unleash the cult of the brand with a lot of fanatics, but we will talk about this topic later. Let's see the reasons for this great impulse. Among the interviewees there is unanimity about their API Glide and its filters, together with the first memories of those LAN-parties so popular at that time, which made the myth grow and maintain it until today. Anyone who tried the same game with several rendering modes, was surprised with the quality of the graphics card. In addition, they were launched in the right moment (just when technology made it possible), creating a cascade of events that, with the interest of developers and the independence of the type of computer, became a safe investment.


    It's curious that no one speaks about the boxes, because they were really impressive and they help to sold the graphic cards. Does anyone remember those magnificent boxes?

  • Collections and use


    Unfortunately, 3dfx had a short story. Already in 2002 their cards were useless, they were considered bad choices. But, like everything that dies young, this only made his legend magnify.

    This legend today endures in the form of collections in the hands of fans who still use them and have fun with them. There is not a difference between collectors and fans, due to most of them do not only collect 3dfx. All of them usually collect graphics cards from different manufacturers. The most coveted are the first 3D cards, which for many of them have a special aura, but they also do not close to collecting more modern pieces. When we go deeper into which brands are preferred, we notice a certain resentment towards NVIDIA, for how it treated the former 3dfx clients (In my opinion they don't respect all the users in general).


    Many of the interviewees confess to having become followers of 3dfx when it had already been closed, at a time when many got material at low prices, almost a real bargain. Even rubbish or clean points where recycle old computers or computer equipment rest in peace, became the best place to make stock of this type. Over the years they had to move to forums or local pages, especially if you want to avoid paying the often illogical prices that private auction pages offer.


    When asked for emotional moments many interviewees agree at the time of testing their Voodoo5 (especially the 6000). These graphics require very special plates, and if they are not connected to an AGP port of 3.3v their HINT chip burns in seconds. The nerves not only come from the possibility of rendering the piece unusable, but also from the emotion that goes beyond trying this piece of silicon. Some people speak of real pieces of computer history, others of something that formed a revolution, some even compare it with what it feels to talk about memories from youth.

    The motivations to collect or use such old components are very varied, although the one that has caught my attention is the one that points out that the new hardware seems to be made by entrepreneurs and not by gamers, which makes it boring. Others indicate that they do so to test the difference in performance in all possible configurations. Many seek to have again the feelings they had when they were young, healing their attacks of nostalgia, something difficult to achieve because the world -and especially, ourselves- has changed. In all cases, their first purchases were almost always with their first salaries, when they could already decide and buy what they wanted. Someone fondly remembers buying an IBM PC Server 704 with a Matrox Millennium II with his first salary, which he still uses as a mail server 365 days a year, and it works like the first day.


    If we focus on the collections, the Voodoo5 5500 and the 6000 are mentioned as the crown jewels of their lucky owners. The SLI of Voodoo2 also stands out due to its great repercussion that still lasts. Among the least loved is the Rush, something that is not surprising. What is surprising is that the Banshee has many followers and is currently used to play or to test-something that many would not think to see their comparisons. The most hardcore collectors or fans have Quantum3D articles, for them the 3dfx super, such as the X-24, which is one of the most beloved graphics by collectors and players. Unfortunately, these cards are expensive, although there is a fairly small base of collectors looking for them, which is fortunate. But if there is an object that is above all, what we could call "the object" in uppercase, all coincide in the same name. That dark object of desire within the reach of very few, both for its price and for the difficulties in making it work, is none other than the Quantum3D Mercury Brick, that bad beast of 96 megabytes of memory and 8 Voodoo2 chips. This is one of the most impressive objects (if not the most) that you can have within a 3dfx collection, without a doubt. There are also curiosities such as the Voodoo TV FM, the Eyescream set, or the Interact HammerheadFX control, articles that are rarely seen because their distribution was small and were even unpublished in several countries.

    If we focus on quantity, it is true that not all of them still have a large collection, since many of them sold it long ago. The reasons why they have sold certain pieces are usually the lack of space and the loss of interest in this hobby, interest that at some point they lost.


    After speaking about the past and present of 3dfx, it's time to talk about your future. Most collectors confess that they have obtained almost all of the items they searched for at some point, although there is always something they would like to recover or obtain for the first time. The Quantum3D Obsidion 2 X-24 is one of the most coveted cards, which explains the high prices that are paid for it. However, it is not the only Quantum3D card in search. Kirsten, a Belgian collector, is still looking for Canopus cards, a very famous and well-known Japanese card. To this list we would also have to add the Orchid Righteous 3D, which is one of the most remembered, as well as the PowerColor EvilKing 4.


    The majority of 3dfx's current collectors don't see a good future for people who want, right now,join to this movement; It is not only because it is hard obtaining cheap or free material.Moreover, many of these pieces must have been recycled. Everyone agrees that prices in second-hand markets are really expensive. Whether it is that there is no other place to sell. Collectors pay a lot for a graphics card that is not only for play, for that use there are many more options. Very low ranges of graphic cards can do the same work as the previous high series, and these are abundant and very cheap. In addition, it should be noted that the graphics are not a first-hand product with a large current offer. This expensive prices probably don't continue in the next years.


    I was also interested in the current use that collectors and users gave to their cards, as well as what drivers were used. In their day routine and as a general rule, most of the interviewees prefer the latest official drivers when they use Windows 95 or Windows 98, since they work very well and they are very stable. Those who have a Voodoo2 SLI use Fastvoodoo (especially if they are not the same card) but when we talk about Windows XP or Windows 2000, things change. The most used are Amigamerlin or Fastvoodoo. In the case of the X-24, the NuAngel drivers, compatible with Windows XP and Windows 2000, or the compatible SFFT drivers up to Windows 7 are always indicated. In the case of Voodoo5 6000, the recommendations always go through the Raziel Evolution drivers , although in the rest of VSA-100 or Voodoo3 is usually preferred Amigamerlin. If something should be noted, it would be that many users use the NuAngel drivers when they want to benchmark or certain types of tests.


    Internet allows fans to contact and join around all over the world, it is also true that there are places that stand out when it comes to taking an interest in the 3dfx world. According to the interviews, it is agreed that the most prominent countries are the United States, Germany, England, Holland, and Poland. It is curious, although English is the usual language in these communications, It is more easy understand non-English speakers than English speakers.



    Points of view


    The 3dfx world also has very controversial topics to talk about. Although it their own history has already judged them, it is always interesting to know what users think about these topics after almost twenty years.


    One of the most controversial aspect has always been the VSA-100. These cards are one of the most coveted, but they are also the most criticised. Most users can forgive the absence of a T&L engine, but not the other faults that it contains. Its late release, its lack of ambition, or the false promises are the fans reasons for having a bad opinion of VSA-100. A lot of people think that they could have done better. Others point out that their biggest mistake was the purchase of STB. 3dfx did not see coming that this move would bring many enemies and that in the long run that purchase would not be profitable. All the interviewees - and I think everyone - indicate that this would be the first bad decision, the begining of the end. Another of the identified failures was their attempt to enter the console business. The failure of their partnership with Microsoft and their Xbox was not as great as the one they got with SEGA, but in both cases it damaged all the business plans of the company. All this is surprising because the console market has always been good business for graphics companies.


    The problems with the cooling of several of their graphics cards are other of the infamous failures. The most common problem was that the Voodoo3 heatsinks took off over time. Honestly, it can not be said that at that time it was as problematic as nowadays. Today, there are more concerns about the temperature. Moreover the cost of adding another sink would have been so small that it would have been worth it. If we go further back, we see that most models of Voodoo2 or Banshee came without cooling, something that today would not be considered a good idea. A good heatsink would not have hurt in any of those models, and would have been something that many users, especially those who finished with their cards burned after prolonged use, would have appreciated. At that time a good case helped a lot, especially if it was correctly cooled.


    The last topic to discuss refers to the amazing... Rampage. The general opinion of the interviewees is that it was too much delayed. While they acknowledge that the company put a lot of effort into this project, it does not seem logical to launch other parallel projects such as Banshee, or the launch of the VSA-100, considered by some interviewers as a waste of resources. Rampage was the hope for the future of 3dfx, a graphics card that could have saved the company's image and numbers, something that VSA-100 could never have achieved.


    What would have happened if ...? What would the current world be like without 3dfx? We have opinions of all kinds. The most general opinion embraces the idea that without 3dfx the SLI had not existed, something that when we analyze the performance difference between 3dfx and NVIDIA / ATI becomes a very believable theory. Although it is thought that the industry would be very similar to the current one, perhaps the concept of Glide hardware implementation would not have been given either. It idealizes a world in which NVIDIA would have been much more aggressive, with a place for third companies in direct competition. Who knows if at that time companies such as SiS (not after Intel reached into the low-end market), S3 (perhaps for small advances or as a secondary company of one of the largest), or those that had more possibilities, Matrox, and PoverVR, would have managed to do something big. It is curious that none of the interviewees remembered Gigapixel ...



    The others


    We have already commented that the 3dfx fans usually use or collect cards from other manufacturers. Among all brands that we ask, there are two missing marks that stand out above all others. The first one is S3, a company that had a lot of push in the first years due to the low price of its products, although its cards were of rather low quality. Their price made them very interesting for OEM and for low range, and many users considered buy them at that time just for that reason. Their 3D was bad, but they are also remembered for being the best 2D accelerators of that time. Among all its families, the mythical Virge stands out, which is considered the fastest 2D model for DOS. With its sandwich models and a large number of versions, it was and it still is a highly recommended option, especially for computers with Socket 7. The company would soon release the Savage series, which had a good performance and good quality but with a lousy drivers. Even so, thanks to the introduction of the Metal API, it was able to run in good conditions several games.


    Another of the most remembered companies by the users is Matrox, something that really surprises me. Their Mystique and Millennium models are not among the most sought after, but the G200, G400 or G400MAX are at the top of the search engines that want to use very old computers, some people even recommend this card instead of the TNT2 or other graphics which, in theory, would be better options (or, at least, better known).


    Let's talk about companies that are still active today. ATI is remembered for its Rage Fury MAXX and other models of the Rage 128 series. In NVIDIA the things are different, while TNT does not have much acceptance, the TNT2 is one of the most used, especially when it is named TNT2 Ultra, a card that was really good at that time. If we analyze the rest, we will see that there are different choices. The Riva 128 in PCI is still used in some old computers, while the GeForce 256 is taken by collectors who do not want to use it, just keep it.


    The design of the boxes of 3dfx is not something that the interviewees remember with special interest, something that denotes that at the time they did not manage to attract the attention of the users. The rest of the companies did have better boxes, such as the Elsa Gladiac Ultra, which, with its strong colors, was able to capture many buyers of the time (and still does).


    Finally,if you look at the smaller companies, we always point out the Trident cards, relatively unknown at the time when they don't make any strong moves in the market. The same thing happens to others like Rendition, 3D Labs, Cirrus Logic, and Tseng Labs ET6100: unknown to the general public, but still present in the memory of many collectors because there is still a lot of information about them on the Internet; surely because the magazines of the time wrote about them.

  • Curiosities and farewells


    I would not like to end without mentioning some anecdotes that people told me in the interviews. They are valuable. I would like to speak about the 15 years-old boy, highly interested in collecting and using this type of cards and old systems, something that gives me hope when i think in the future of our old computers.


    GrandAdmiralThrawn told me two very curious anecdotes. The first is about how he got his Orchid card. A friend of him had bought a Voodoo in the first months of 1997. The card was called Orchid Righteous 3D and had "equal or better graphics than the best console of the moment", which at that time was Nintendo 64. He began to pressure his mother to advance him the money to buy it. It took six months to get the amount and then he made a 60-kilometer trip to get to the store where he would buy it. Later he traveled another 40 kilometers on a bicycle (this time accompanied by a friend) to get the brand new Moto Racer, a game that could really show what that card gave him, something he needed to know ... and he did know. As soon as the game started -with all the options available to the maximum quality- the degree of detail of the image he saw on the screen left him stunned. In front of his eyes appeared an amazing image that nailed him to the seat for minutes. He did not dare to start the game because he was afraid that his computer could not move it smoothly. He was excited, thinking what he should do, but after much meditating he managed to overcome his fear and discovered that the FPS were up to the task. The happiness was enormous, although he lost that first race, it was perhaps the happiest competition he had ever participated in. At that moment he knew that he would never see the graphics again as he had just done at that moment. The master race have changed him.


    Something similar happened to MadYoshi with the game Operation Flashpoint. Accustomed to D3D, one day he tried it with a Glide and could see a huge improvement, specially in the shadows. Ketfri8002 was not so lucky with his Jurassic Park Trespasser. The game was sold as the sequel to "The Lost World", a revolutionary FPS, but not even the Voodoo2 SLI could fix its poor finish. Even with that, he was able to enjoy two of his biggest hobbies: videogames and dinosaurs.


    Another popular anecdote in the world - and that I had never believed - was put on the table in a Telegram group thanks to my good friend Jordi. This one bought a Voodoo2 and put it in his Pentium 2 to 233. Everything was fine until one day an acquaintance told him that he had bought a Voodoo2 to connect it with his S3 Virge but he did not notice any difference. It was offered at a very good price and Jordi could not refuse that purchase. When he went to pick it up, he realized that his friend had not connected both cards and, therefore, it was impossible for him to notice any difference. Thanks to this he enjoyed an SLI of two 12MB Voodoo2 that gave him hours and hours of work at a bargain price.


    I did not hope to name graphic cards after the close of 3dfx, but I can not ignore that many interviewees have named the GeForce 3 series as one of their favorites, and the 6000 series as one of the best results they gave to NVIDIA. Remembering, I realized that the GeForce 3 are useful series for old computers (also according to some photos, It was the most striking).


    Among 3dfx collectors and hardware in general there is a very peculiar subgroup that I call Yautja, (Predators) Honorables. They only search and collect items from the highest ranges or professional systems for 3D graphics. Among them I have to highlight Ketfri8002, born in 1996, who bought his first Quantum3D card using all his savings when he was only 14 years old. Today his search focuses on high-end graphics, workstations and prototypes. His favorites are the professional cards we have talked about previously, the famous 3dlabs and Silicon Graphics systems that changed the cinema forever thanks to Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. Recognize that collecting this material is complicated, since the high ranges were sold in small numbers due to the high price and its limited stock. This makes it rare to find it today, even for a TNT2 Ultra, which should be a common graphic, but which is still difficult to find. If we look at models like the PCX 5950 or other specific models, it would not be stupid to invest several thousand euros and spend several months to locate one and buy it. If we talk about work stations, more of the same happens. How many times have one company throwed all the old computers to the rubbish? How many times have you paid more for the delivery than for the item itself? Even with everything, the main problem of this type of systems is to find, after that, it does not work, because repair it is complicated due to its exclusive components, all very expensive to replace. This graphic cards are interesting for their History.


    As a long-term goal, many people would like to create a virtual or real museum to preserve the cards, trying to keep all possible models. This idea may seem ridiculous, but recently, Several videogame museums have been opened, so it would not be surprising that at some point we ended up watching (and visiting) one museum of old graphic cards.


    Finally, and looking to the future, I asked many users if they would continue with their hobby forever, something that caused different responses and points of view. The most pessimistic think is that the new generations are going to leave all these devices, since they will see it as something uninteresting. Others believe that it will dissapear in no more than two or three generations. Others do not put a date, although they think that everything will depend on how many fans of the retro will be being in the future, and the money that this collector world could move. This type of material moves money in specialized sales pages and forums, so there will always be people interested, either for the economic aspect, for pleasure or simply to enlarge your ego. A large number of interviewees use other microcomputer systems as examples, comparing the future of this type of collecting with the collecting of systems such as Amiga or Spectrum, and we can affirm that if today there is still a retro scene for this type of computers, there will be followers of 3dfx too.


    I would not like to finish this chapter without a phrase widely read in interviews and that sums up everything we feel about 3dfx:


    3dfx is gone, but never forgotten!