Something old, something new
Quick and to the point: 3dfx today announced the new technological paradigm that would carry them through to the new year, VSA-100. VSA stands for Voodoo Scaleable Architecture, and hearing it probably brings to mind two distinct and interconnected thoughts. First of all, there were many rumors about 3dfx dropping the Voodoo name in its move to 32-bit color rendering (and many astute observers noted that Voodoo3 branding was conspicuously missing from 3dfx's promotional advertising). The "Voodoo" in VSA-100 certainly implies that we haven't yet seen the last of the strong Voodoo brand. Second, scaleable architecture sounds a lot like ScanLine Interleave, a technology first introduced with the 3dfx Voodoo2, which allowed two cards to tackle a 3d scene in parallel, effectively doubling the fill rate.
Both thoughts would be right on. On top of other improvements to be noted shortly, VSA primarily allows multiple VSA-100 chips to act in unison, each drawing out slices of a 3D scene, and together churning out a result many times faster than a single chip would be able to. This effort was indeed pioneered on the Voodoo2 3D add-in card, but was dropped for economic and design reasons in the company's following Banshee and Voodoo3 products, favoring a single-chip solution instead. What we may be seeing here is 3dfx returning to its roots, and the numbers they're showing should do well to back this up.
32-bit is passť!
The weakest point of Voodoo technology has always been the lack of 32-bit color rendering, 256x256 texture limitations, and a 16MB memory maximum. Interestingly, these issues have been trodden down so much that few people care to comment on them anymore. We admit that we're part of this group. However, it's important to note that VSA-100 fully supports full 32-bit final rendering output, a maximum of 2048x2048 textures, and independent support of up to 64MB per chip (again, more on that later). Here's a quick laundry list:
- Fully integrated 128-bit 2D/3D Video Accelerator
- 333 Megapixels/second 333Megatexels/second at 166MHz
- Up to 64MB RAM per chip
- Full AGP 4X support
- 32-bit RGBA color rending
24-bi floating-point Z and W buffer
- 8-bi stencil buffer
- 32-bit textures
- multi-triangle strips and fans
- per-pixel, exponential fog
- Single-cycle trilinear mipmapping
- 3dfx FXT-1 and DXTC texture compression
- 2k x 2k texture support
- PCI and AGP bus support
- 350MHz RAMDAC
- Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000 drivers
OK, let's talk about multi-chip already
The essence of VSA-100 is the ability to run anywhere from one to 32 VSA processors in "SLI" parallel. A VSA-100 card can have 1, 2, 4 ,8, 16, or 32 chips on-board (or spanning multiple boards). In addition, each chip can address up to 64MB of local on-board memory. For example, a dual-chip 64MB VSA board has 32 MB of RAM dedicated to each chip, whereas a single-chip board with the same amount of RAM has the entire 64 MB (the limit of the chip) to itself. Scaling up, a 32-chip solution can have a maximum of 2GB of RAM.
The consumer roadmap for VSA-100 spans the entire life of the product, and ranges from one to four processors. This yields anywhere from 333Mpixels/sec to 1.47 Gtexels/sec, ranges from 16-128MB of RAM, and will be available for anywhere from $179 up to $599.