Classic 3D Rendering Tech Lives Again in the "World's First 3dfx-Powered Laptop"

If you've got a laptop with an MXM GPU slot, sdz's reimagining of the 3dfx Voodoo 4 will get it running Glide games in no time.

Gareth Halfacree
1 month agoRetro Tech

Pseudonymous vintage computing enthusiast "sdz" has done what 3dfx Interactive never did, and put the company's classic graphics architecture in a laptop — by building an MXM-format variant of the 3dfx Voodoo 4 M4800.

"[This is an] MXM3.0/3.1 Type A VSA-100 video card," sdz explains of their creation, "for finally making a laptop with 3dfx graphics. It's not that straightforward shoving a VSA-100 into a laptop. I intend to use the card in a Dell Precision M4800, which has the LVDS connector close to the MXM slot, so for keeping the solution as much as plug and play possible, I added an LVDS connector on the MXM card."

If, like sdz, you miss the 3dfx graphics card range, why not slap one into your laptop for Glide on the go? (📹: sdz)

3dfx will be a familiar name to readers of a certain vintage: founded in 1994, the company's Voodoo graphics cards were a major winner in the early battle to deliver hardware-accelerated 3D graphics for games and more on personal computers — using an unusual pass-through design that would allow the system's existing graphics processor to handle 2D tasks then switch the video feed to the Voodoo card when accelerated 3D was required.

The later Voodoo 4 and Voodoo 5 cards used a more familiar design, offering both 3D and 2D capabilities in a single package. The company's bankruptcy in 2002, after NVIDIA had acquired the bulk of its assets two years earlier, put paid to further development — and meant 3dfx remained a desktop-only technology, until sdz came along and built a laptop variant based on the Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) format.

The resulting compact graphics module incorporates all the key parts of a 3dfx Voodoo 4 graphics card including 64MB of dedicated video memory and the GPU itself, salvaged from an old card. Despite its considerably smaller size, though, it also includes a lot more: a PCI to PCI Express bridge, an FPGA to create an HDMI output, a scaler designed for use with the integrated display on the Dell Precision M4800 into which it's to be installed, a microcontroller, "various flash ICs/EEPROMs," and more.

The result is what sdz describes as the "world's first 3dfx powered laptop" — detailed in full in a thread on the Vogons forum and on sdz's website; sdz has said they will release the design under an open-source license, but source files were not available at the time of writing.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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