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Brief history of SLI – Did Nvidia started it all

History of SLI

In 2004, Nvidia released their multi-GPU interface, Scale-Link Interface or SLI. This technology makes use of more than 1 GPU, allowing machines to produce more detailed renders. But was it Nvidia who started this technology?

(A 2-way Nvidia SLI setup)

During the 1990’s, there are three major key players for 3D acceleration cards; ATI which was soon acquired by AMD and was called Radeon Technologies Group, Nvidia and 3dfx. Out of these 3, we are going to focus on 3dfx.

3dfx’ logo

3dfx was widely known for its Voodoo line of 3D acceleration cards. Its raw performance gives them the edge in rendering 3D graphics, but the lack of 2D rendering means you will rely on a separate card to render 2D graphics. Nevertheless, the Voodoo graphics product and its follow up, the Voodoo2 were popular as it became the standard for 3D games to offer support for their proprietary, Glide API.

Voodoo2 in SLI

In 1998, 3dfx released their follow-up card, the Voodoo2. This release allowed them to dominate the 3D acceleration card market, as this proved that their cards can render 3D graphics with more details. While there are cards that offer both 2D/3D in a single chip, Voodoo2’s 3D rendering was outstanding and gives the user some flexibility for a better 2D card. This, together with the introduction of Scan-Line Interleave, proves Voodoo2 as the best card during its time.
Voodoo2 introduced Scan-Line Interleave, in which two Voodoo2 cards can be connected together, each drawing half the scan lines of the screen. While it does increase the rendering power of the card and increased the max resolution to 1024×768, the fact that a single Voodoo2 card costs $249 during its time, proves that a SLI setup will cost you a fortune, together with a separate 2D card. Hence, the first SLI was not a financial success. While 3dfx released newer versions of their Voodoo cards, SLI was only implemented within the Voodoo2 cards.
So, how did Nvidia acquired the SLI technology? In the late 1990’s, 3dfx has been rapidly declining in terms of technology and sales. This leads in the late 2000’s, wherein several of 3dfx’s creditors decided to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. 3dfx, knowing that they have no chances of successfully contesting these proceedings, has instead opted to be purchased by Nvidia, acquiring most of their intellectual property rights.

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