Voodoo 5 6000 cancelled
3dfx can their obscenely powerful four chip graphics card
As recently as September's ECTS trade show in London, 3dfx were demonstrating a near-complete sample board of their Voodoo 5 6000 graphics card. Powered by four VSA-100 chips supported by 128Mb of memory, the card would have set you back $600, making it purely for the hardest of the hardcore gamers. Over-powered, expensive and ridiculously long, we described it as the "stretched limo of graphics cards". It even required a seperate external power supply! The Voodoo 5 6000 really was a ludicrous piece of hardware, a triumph of brute force engineering, but there was something strangely alluring about this foot long lump of silicon, and it was undoubtedly a strong performer.
Unfortunately 3dfx have now announced that the card has been cancelled after months of delays, and four chip boards will now only be available through Quantum3D's AAlchemy range of PC systems, which are designed "for visual simulation and training applications" rather than games. The company claims that the Voodoo 5 6000 could reach 60fps in Quake 3, running in 32 bit colour at 1600x1200. Having seen it in action just a couple of months ago, we can confirm that its performance was certainly impressive. It's just a shame that we'll never get to see a final production board now...
But what does this mean for 3dfx? Their top of the range card is now the Voodoo 5 5500, which can't even match the pace of NVIDIA's GeForce 2 and ATI's Radeon in many games, let alone the forthcoming GeForce 2 Ultra and a possible dual-chip Radeon solution, which could be shipping before the end of the year. The Voodoo 5 6000 would have gone head-to-head with the $500 GeForce 2 Ultra, but now 3dfx appear to be abandoning the top end of the market to their competitors, leaving them trailing until their next generation (code-named "Rampage") becomes available some time next year. Of course, by then NVIDIA will have yet another generation of graphics card out, and Rampage will have to give a sizeable performance boost over the VSA-100 to compete.
Beyond that is the prospect of boards based on the technology acquired when 3dfx bought out Gigapixel, which is similar to that used in the PowerVR cards from Videologic, discarding information which isn't going to be displayed on your screen at the end of the day to reduce the processing power and memory bandwidth needed to render a particular scene. As the visual complexity (and hence the degree of overdraw) of cutting edge 3D games increases, this kind of solution will be increasingly important. But 3dfx have already told us that we aren't likely to see cards based on the Gigapixel technology even being announced much before this time next year, which means that they are unlikely to actually be released until 2002.
So where does this leave 3dfx? Their share price has slumped over the last year, from a high of around $20 last summer to less than $5 today, leaving them at risk of a hostile take-over bid. Meanwhile NVIDIA are trying to tie them up in expensive court battles over alleged patent infringements, with no end in sight, and the only real winners likely to be the lawyers who represent the two companies. Their flagship product has now been cancelled over a year after its announcement without a single board being sold, and their rivals are set to clean up in the high end gaming market. How big that market is remains to be seen though, and it could well prove to be a good thing for 3dfx to abandon this niche to NVIDIA while they concentrate on a true new generation of products for release next year...