3dfx buys up GigaPixel

— 12:28 AM on March 28, 2000

GigaPixel's technology was rumored to be heading for Microsoft's X-box before NVIDIA snatched away that distinction. Now, 3dfx has announced the acqusition of GigaPixel. I found several things about 3dfx's spin in its press release intriguing.

First, the press release is full of talk about the emerging 3D market in consumer devices like cell phones, handhelds, etc. 3dfx seems to think GigaPixel's technology licensing model could be useful in this market. Reading about it, I seem to think somebody at 3dfx is hitting the crack pipe waaaay too hard. GLPalm anyone? Uhh, yeah.

Second, this justification for the purchase is englightening. From Dr. Alex Leupp, head voodoo honcho:

"This will augment our existing engineering staff and allow us to produce highly innovative products on a rapid schedule. In many ways, this acquisition is about speed," Leupp continued. "We will increase the speed we bring products to market by being able to leverage the talented GigaPixel engineering team and their state of the art design methodology.
The short product cycles in the graphics market are killing.. well, NVIDIA's competitors. Another team of engineers at 3dfx should make it easier for multiple design teams to work on sucessive generations of graphics chips simultaneously. In fact, GigaPixel seems to have become rather adept at managing parallel development efforts; check out this white paper on the subject at their web site.

Finally, there's the canned statement from 3dfx's tech guru, Scott Sellers, on GigaPixel's technology:

"We view the GigaPixel technology as a disruptive capability in the 3D market," said Scott Sellers, founder and chief technology officer of 3dfx Interactive. "By reducing memory bandwidth requirements by up to a factor of 10, we can now perform true 32-bit full-scene anti-aliased rendering at previously unseen performance levels. This technology is not theoretical - it is real and exists in GigaPixel prototype silicon right now."
If 3dfx knows what's good for 'em, they'll have a production board available in 2 months. The question is, how does GigaPixel's design fit into the coming 3dfx lineup? Could this move signal a problem with the next-gen "Rampage" design effort?

Perhaps not, but we do know roughly what 3dfx got out of the deal. The GigaPixel GP-1 design is a tile-based rendering architecture that sounds, on paper, similar to the VideoLogic PowerVR architecture that powers the Sega Dreamcast. You may want to read this excerpt from the Peddie Report about the GP-1, which I saw linked at the HardOCP. The report claims the GP-1 is a screamer in Quake 3—up to 200fps at 1024x768 in 32-bit color with anti-aliasing. As the Peddie excerpt says, the tile-based rendering scheme solves some bandwidth/fill rate problems, but to date, production tile-based chips haven't really shown themselves to be worth the trouble.

Thing is, if the GigaPixel tech was good enough to impress 3dfx, it must be the real deal. Heck, those guys aren't impressed by 32-bit color rendering or hardware-based transformation and lighting.

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