Today’s video cards are super-powered processing behemoths that guzzle electrons and render dozens of 4K frames per second. The video rendering hardware of yesteryear is comparatively simple, but classic hardware is always the best way to play classic games. For those still holding onto a 90s-era 3Dfx Voodoo graphics card (or “3D accelerator,” as they were called at the time), it may be possible to increase the RAM to make the cards more powerful than they were when new. YouTube channel Bits und Bolts has detailed a project to raise the Maxi Gamer 3D Voodoo memory from 4MB to a whopping 8MB.
The original generation of Voodoo cards came in various OEM configurations, and while the underlying board supported up to 8MB of RAM, very few cards came fully loaded. The original impetus for this project was a forum post from a decade ago in which a classic hardware aficionado completed a messy but functional mod to raise the memory on a Voodoo card. Bits und Bolts aimed to do the same in a cleaner way, using a Guillemot Maxi Gamer version of the card because its 4MB of memory modules are generously spaced.
This card cost about $300 when released, but the versions with more RAM were almost as expensive as today’s video cards at $650 or so. Adjusted for inflation, it’s like paying $1,200, the launch price of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4080 late last year.
Like all good mods, this one started with careful measurement. Bits und Bolts designed a small daughter board that fits over top of the original memory modules, essentially doubling the capacity. According to HotHardware, the original Voodoo cards had an unusual design, featuring a separate texture mapping unit and a frame buffer interface (FBI) chip. Each chip had its own block of RAM — 2x2MB in the Maxi Gamer 3D Voodoo. For this mod, Bits und Bolts only upgraded the texture memory, but the same trick should work for the other chip, too.
It took some tedious micro-soldering, cutting, trimming, and scraping to get the chips seated correctly, but Windows correctly recognized the modded card as having 6MB or total memory; 2MB for textures and 4MB for frame buffer. In 3DMark 99, the enhanced card showed a 15% boost in framerates for some tests. Games of the day didn’t have sky-high frame rates, so even a small boost can make a retro game much more playable. Bits und Bolts plans to add another bank of RAM chips to the card eventually, boosting the frame buffer memory to 4MB. That would make the frankencard the most powerful 3D accelerator of 1996.