AFB/Elite 3DTM

Michael Frank Deering: Hardware: AFB/Elite 3DTM

Company: Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Year of Commercial Product Release: 1997

Product Code Name/Production Name

The internal code name for this project by was “AFB”. For various reasons, there was no separate SIGGRAPH paper on the Elite 3D’s architecture, but two important technologies used in the product did result in SIGGRAPH papers: 3DRAM (3DRAM) and geometry compression (compressed geometry).

Engineering Teams

The Elite3D product made use of the 3DRAMTM product. External vendors supplied custom CMOS circuits as well as back-end support, chip fabrication, and testing. On the software side, other teams supplied OS drivers, XGLTM and OpenGLTM drivers and support, and extensive test cases. My role on Elite3D was as chief architect, but many other people contributed at a high level, most prominently as consulting architects: Mike Lavelle, Scott Nelson, Wayne Morse, and Kevin Rushforth.


Elite3D was my third Sun 3D graphics accelerator product. At the time of release it was the fastest 3D rendering machine in the world (6 million lit triangles per second, vs. 3 million for the SGI RealityEngine2TM (which was limited by the its host’s bandwidth)).


Elite 3D was the first product designed to use 3DRAM (although the later designed Creator3D came to market earlier). Elite3D was the first product to support  real-time decompression of compressed geometry, but because of several hardware implementation glitches, the feature was not supported in the first two years of production.


The main publications are the SIGGRAPH papers on 3DRAM and geometry compression.

Michael F. Deering. Geometry Compression. In Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 95.

(link to pdf file of paper)

Below is the presentation on 3DRAM made at HotChip VI.

Michael F. Deering, Michael G. Lavelle, and Steven Schlapp. A Cached VRAM for 3D Graphics. In HotChips VI (1994). (Commercial product name 3DRAM.)

pdf (70 KB)

The main publication on 3DRAM is the SIGGRAPH paper.

Michael F. Deering, Steven Schlapp, and Michael G. Lavelle. FBRAM: A New Form of Memory Optimized for 3D Graphics’. In Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 94.

pdf (105 KB)