VSA-100 (“Napalm”): How 3dfx's T-Buffer brought cinematic effects to games


In July 1999, the now legendary graphics card manufacturer 3dfx announced the T-Buffer, a new technology that brought cinema effects to games and thus provided significantly more realism. Pioneering improvements included soft shadows and reflections, depth of field and motion blur.

The VSA-100 graphics processor with T-Buffer< /h2>

Introduced with the VSA-100 graphics processor introduced in 2000, which celebrated its premiere on the 3dfx Voodoo4 4500, the T-buffer technology made hardware-accelerated (cinema) effects such as soft shadows and reflections possible for the first time (“Soft Shadows & Reflections “), motion blur (“motion blur”) and depth of field (“depth of field blur”). The focus of the developers was on the best possible anti-aliasing (“full-scene spatial anti-aliasing”) in games.

The Napalm graphics processor that made all this possible had in detail the following specifications:

3dfx VSA-100 (“Napalm”) – specifications

  • 128-bit memory interface
  • 250 nm manufacturing process
  • Support for SDR-SGRAM/SDRAM
  • T-buffer concept for implementing e.g. by:
    • Soft shadows and reflections
    • Motion blur
    • Depth of field
  • Support for texture compression methods S3TC and FXT1

In his detailed reader article “The T-Buffer – Next Step for Cinematic Effects”, community member “andi_sco” explains the benefits of the T-Buffer technology and its effects on anti-aliasing (AA), motion blur, deep of field blur and soft shadows and reflections. The author also provides a lot of basic knowledge about 3D graphics in computer games.

Reader's article

  • “The T-Buffer – Next Step for Cinematic Effects”

Gary Tarolli, then Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at 3dfx and the mastermind behind the technology that bears his name , was quoted as follows when presenting the VSA 100 graphics processor with T-buffer technology.

The difference in render quality is dramatic when using the effects of T-Buffer technology.

Users will no longer be confronted with sharp, jagged polygon corners and the unrealistic motion effects of current 3D accelerators.

Instead, customers will now experience near-photorealistic, real-time rendered images.

Gary Tarolli, 3dfx

Further details can be found in the official 3dfx T-Buffer Whitepaper (PDF).

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