Upgrade Your Voodoo With More Memory

In 1996, the 3Dfx VooDoo VGA chipset changed computer graphics forever. Because of the high cost of memory, most of the boards had only 4 MB of memory — which seemed a lot back then. However, the chipset could actually handle up to 8 MB. [Bits and Bolts] couldn’t stand that his board only had 4 MB, so he did what any good hacker would do: he figured out how to add the missing memory!

The mod has been done before using the “piggyback” technique, where you solder the new RAM chips on the old chips and bend out a few pins out to directly wire them to chip selects elsewhere on the board. [Bits and Bolts] didn’t want to try that, so instead, he developed a PCB that slips over the chip using a socket.

Of course, this presumes the chips have enough clearance between them to fit the sockets. In addition, the board is pretty specific to a particular VGA board because each board has different memory chip layouts. The sockets also had plastic support structures that blocked the insertion, so a little surgery removed them.

The board can add more memory to either the frame buffer or the texture mapping memory. There are jumpers to set up, which you want to do.

While we’ve seen piggybacking done a few times — we’ve even done it ourselves — we haven’t thought of using a socket instead of just soldering on top of the memory. You still have to do the tiny soldering to graft the chip select, but that’s much easier than soldering each and every memory pin. Obviously, you need to lay the board out and place the sockets precisely so everything fits together. It looks easy on the video, but at the end, he shows some of the things that didn’t go so well. But in the end, it worked, and it worked well.

It isn’t that hard to build a VGA, but the trick is performance, and that’s what the 3Dfx chips provided. Not that you can’t do it in Excel, but it will probably be slower.

23 thoughts on “Upgrade Your Voodoo With More Memory

  1. This got me thinking, how many old things that use memory do I have that could actually run more ram than the manufacturer deemed it necessary to fit. All those memory controllers and chip sets not living u to their full potential

    1. +1

      I’m thinking of early Super VGA cards with merely 256 KB of video memory.

      With just a little upgrade to 512 KB, they can finally make use of all those extended video modes.

    2. RAM was horrifyingly expensive then, which is why this was the case.

      This brings back memories of my first Voodoo Card. I decided to buy on a whim and was totally utterly awed when I played the demo game that came with the card, EF2000.

      1. “RAM was horrifyingly expensive then, which is why this was the case.”

        Depends on the point-of-view, I think. It’s not like as if RAM was always more expensive in the past.

        That’s a dangerously lazy concept, I think (I mean simplification; ie, thinking that in early times things must have been more primitive/expensive per se).

        The same flawed logic is often applied to human civilization, I think.
        We assume that we’re more intelligent/creative than people from 5000 years ago or so. As if it was a natural thing. At the same time, we forget that those people of old didn’t have access to knowledge as we do have today.

        Ok, back on topic. If memory serves, there was a memory shortage in the late 80s, caused by a badly planned transition/switch to higher density production processes. That caused prices to skyrocket for a while.
        See https://tedium.co/2016/11/24/1988-ram-shortage-history/

        I would even dare to say that in the mid-80s, RAM had been multiple times cheaper than it was in the early 90s. Even when it comes to thinking of same capacity.

        Same happened with the flood ~10 years ago,I think. HDD prices went through the roof and the HDD market never completely recovered. A high capacity HDD from 2010 did cost three to five times less than it did in 2015, even when we talk about same storage capacity.

        1. Wow. You’re not only wrong, you wrote an entire essay pointlessly. RAM was more expensive when the board came out. Plain and simple. Your argument is akin to me saying that 1996 RAM is more expensive than prehistoric RAM. It’s a pointless argument, does nothing, and has no value.

  2. Just in case anybody is interested, I have released an updated version of the PCB. It should help with assembly in case you want to get those boards yourself to tinker with your old Voodoo cards: https://youtu.be/KW54q8Su17E

    I am still tying to find games that benefit from the extra memory. I am at the beginning of this journey and haven’t really found a good justification (Quake can be played in 800×600 with the extra memory), but I do not do this to necessarily get more performance. This is for entertainment and to revive old memories of a very interesting time in PC history!

    Thanks for sharing and writing a nice article!

    1. I would expect any 3DFX supporting game would benefit from the extra memory to enable 800×600. Unreal would look great in 1024×768
      The VooDoo IIs had 8MB as a base with a 12MB option. The 8MB cards could play up to 800×600 while 12MB opened up 1024×768 (VooDoo II cards generally all have the spots for 12MB and 8MB cards can simply be populated with the correct RAM chips in the missing footprints)

      1. V2 didnt do that. 8MB version had 4MB framebuffer and 4MB texture memory divided into two Texture chips. 12MB version had 4MB framebuffer and 2x 4MB texture.
        To play in 1024 you had to SLI two V2 cards.

    2. 3Dfx_Aslinger did extensive testing 4 years ago with Miro 6MB and Skywell 8MB https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmmSBFVeF3I. The biggest difference in Unreal is less severe frame drops when loading new textures resulting in higher lowest FPS.
      Afaik here is only one single DOS Glide title actually playable at 800×600 on Voodoo 1 8MB, Motorhead (Gremlin Interactive, PC, 1998). 25-40fps on fast cpu :o. Youtube video V2fVDDj_WRo

  3. Wow blast from the past Voodoo Ads and posters were so cool… And to think voodoo… 486/pentium era was when I started building and I just installed a GPU w/12gb for a customer…man I think I maybe starting to get old??

  4. Whilst they produce VGA compatible RGB video signals, Voodoo cards aren’t “VGA cards” and don’t have a “VGA chipset”. That is, they don’t sit on the same I/O and memory addresses as a VGA card and so you can’t use one as your only video card and you can’t see BIOS boot messages on it.

    They are 3D accelerators with VGA pass-through. Although yes, there were some hacks to use them as second displays once you were in Windows or Linux.

    *pushes glasses up nose*

  5. I once used my employer’s brand-new US$40000 (1991/2; can’t remember!) hot air rework station to take the chips off of 3 extra 1 MB memory cards for the Macintosh Portable and remount them onto a 4th card. They were so happy someone was using it! If I remember correctly, this gave the Mac 5 MB total, which was fantastic back in the day.

    A side note the Mac Portables at work – a division of our sister company (who managed the purchases) would test each one, removing the plastic battery shipping insulator sheet from them… and not replacing it before putting the unit back on the shelf for months until someone needed one. No one was happy with the battery life we were getting. One day, I managed to get one that was “untested” with the sheet in place; I had never known there was supposed to be one. A call to the purchasing division revealed their process and I realized *they* were causing the issue by running down and leaving the battery in a discharged state. One more phone call and all future Macs had much better battery life!

  6. I have an old rig (the first PC I ever built) still to this day, and it has two Creative VooDoo 2 12Mb cards in SLI along with a Matrox Millennium 4Mb card (always regretted not springing for the extra 4Mb upgrade part) for the 2D graphics. It also has a Creative Soundblaster 32 and an Aureal 3D soundcard in it. Wonderful PC, could play things you’d think it wouldn’t…wonder if I could get it running again…

    1. Probably could, provided the capacitors have not degraded or popped it should be ok. If they have, there will be nothing that cant be bought and swapped in failing the board having any dammaged track from electrolytic capacitor leaks. The hard-drive should still be new enough to not have lost its data. Those soudblaster cards are fairly bomb proof and I have several that still work from that era.

  7. I had a Canopus Pure 3d. It came with 6 mb instead of 4mb. In it’s day it didn’t matter. There was no performance gain. By the time memory might have helped with newer games you’d likely have upgraded to a voodoo 2 or 3.

  8. The 3DFX Voodoo cards were awesome, and they had pretty good linux support as well. Good times!

    On the other hand, I always felt the 3DFX Voodoo series heralded the down fall of SGI, so much power at such a low entry point and SGI didn’t pivot to keep up.

    1. The founders were SGI employees who pitched a low-end accelerator for the mass market, and were denied. Between that and the Itanium disaster, SGI brought on their own demise.

  9. ooohhh, I’ve been on the lookout for a Canopus Pure 3D because those had 6mb of RAM but they are not cheap when they show up on the market. I was totally unaware of these mods. I’ll have to look into this for me retro box.

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