I’m always keeping an eye out for old parts on eBay. One of my saved searches, of course, is for the string “3dfx”. I’ve always had a soft spot for the original king of 3D gaming, but just about everything made by 3dfx is collectable and commands a hefty price premium these days. I usually try to steer clear of things marked “untested” or “for repair” but sometimes a deal is just too good to pass up.
When I came across this as-is, untested 3dfx Voodoo 2 for a great price, I decided to take a chance on it. It did show some obvious signs damage in the eBay listing pictures, including some visible scratches and a bent PCI bracket. I could also see some of the chip legs were bent, which can sometimes be tricky to get straightened out. I knew it would probably not work without a repair or two, but maybe I’d get lucky?
The most obvious sign of damage to the card was a bent PCI bracket and some deep scratching that may have damaged traces near the VGA output connector. Some of the solder joints for the VGA connector pins have also been crushed and look to be shorting out.
Another pretty clear problem are the tiny legs on all three 3dfx component chips. Each had several bent legs that were shorting out. These would need to be carefully straightened out with a fine-edged knife and magnifying glass – not a fun job.
Next comes the disappointing part that wasn’t visible in the eBay listing – missing surface mount components. I counted a total of five surface mount capacitors that had snapped off. The picture above shows capacitor “C9” which is clearly broken off.
The closer I looked, the more I found. After close inspection, I found no fewer than five missing:
- C9 (rear, near SLI connector)
- C48 (front, bottom right corner)
- C128 (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip)
- C81 (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip)
- C108 (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip)
Thankfully, there is an awesome community out there and many 3dfx hardware fans to lean on for help. Someone named sdz posted a very helpful Voodoo 2 component map, with capacitor and resistor specifications for anyone looking to replace some. The component map was for the reference design board, but four out of the five capacitors were listed there. After posting some pictures and a question in the thread, I quickly received the information I was looking for.
Let the Repairs Begin!
The first thing I did was straighten out all of the legs on the three component chips. This proved to be more challenging than I had original thought. The TMUs were not too bad, but the 500-0009-01 proved to be a real pain due to how many legs there are and their close proximity to eachother. After what felt like an eternity with a magnifying glass and a straight-edge I was confident that all of the shorts were addressed.
Now that there was nothing visibly shorting out, I thought I’d try to run the card in a test system to see if it was at all functional. The first problem was that there was no pass-through VGA output. I had to connect my monitor to the 2D card in the system to see anything. Despite this, it was detected fine and I was able to install drivers in Windows. Maybe there was some hope after all?
Since there was no passthrough VGA output, my attention was immediately turned to the trace damage. Using a multimeter, I discovered that two traces had lost continuity and would need to be repaired. One of those traces joins the two VGA connectors for passthrough use. I decided to do a quick and dirty jumper cable repair just to see if I could get continuity again.
It doesn’t look pretty, but it was successful! Passthrough VGA was now working again. Now comes the real question – does 3D graphics processing work despite all of the missing capacitors? Nope. The system would hard-lock every time I tried to launch anything that uses Glide. Even the Voodoo 2 control panel tab would hang the system.
Surface Mount Capacitor Repair
Next came the difficult part. My soldering skills aren’t the greatest and these capacitors are absolutely tiny. With the help of some folks on the Vogons forum, I was able to identify the capacitors as:
C9 broken off (rear, near SLI connector, 3.3-4.7uF, minimum 6.3V, 1206 cap)
C48 broken off (front, bottom right corner, 1nF 25V 0603 cap)
C128 broken off (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip, 100nf 25V)
C81 broken off (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip, 1nF 25V 0603 cap)
C108 broken off (rear, near 500-0010-01 chip, 1nF 25V 0603 cap)
For about $3, I was able to buy everything I needed from Digikey. The shipping was actually twice the cost of the components. In addition, I bought a practice PCB from Amazon with a cariety of surface mount components to get some practice with. I really didn’t want to learn on the Voodoo 2!
Above you can see C108 and C81.
The end result turned out quite well! All of the replacements made it on without too much difficulty. Once you get the method down, it really isn’t too difficult.
The End Result
In the end, despite my best efforts and triple checks, the card is still dead. It continues to freeze up my systems whenever it attempts to switch into 3D mode. I used a utility called MOJO.EXE, which is a Glide diagnostic tool released by 3dfx years back. With verbose mode enabled, I was able to see that the card freezes up during initialization.
I really felt like I had a chance to get this card working again, but such is the reality of dealing with old and neglected hardware. I suspect that any further diagnostics and repair would be beyond my skill level or beyond the tools I have at my disposal.
I’m not sure what I’ll do with this card, aside from keep it as a collectors item. At any rate, it was a great learning experience for me and I felt that my soldering skills have definitely improved because of it.
RIP Creative 3dfx Voodoo 2.