Michael Frank Deering: Hardware: FFB1/Creator3D

Company: Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Date of Commercial Product Announcement: November 1994

Product Code Name/Production Name

The internal code name for this project by was “FFB1″. The commercial name FFB1 sold under was “Creator3D”. This card was designed to be released with Sun’s line of Ultra workstations, and thus had a fixed deadline to hit. Because of the extensive pre-release debugging and integration of the software for the Ultra workstations, the Creator3D actually had to be working in limited production nearly a year before the workstations were released.

Engineering Teams

Mike Lavalle was the architect for Creator3D; I was a consulting architect.

Engineering Details

Creator3D was the first product to use 3DRAMTM. It came in two versions: single 24-bit image buffer with no z-buffer, and double buffered 24-bit images with a 24-bit z-buffer.


Creator3D only included triangle set-up and rasterization hardware; triangle vertex transformation and lighting had to be done by the host UltraSPARCTM processor (the same technique as did 3D game hardware for many more years to come). Although up to 12 3DRAM were attached to the rendering chip, it had to access them through multiplexed pins, so the peek RGBZ read-modify-write fill rate was well less than the capability of the 3DRAMs. Nevertheless, the fill rate was an impressive 60 million (or so) pixels per second, quite fast for any machine of that time, let alone a single chip renderer. All this made the card quite inexpensive to build and sell; quite a large number of these cards were sold (relative to the engineering workstation market); this card probably sold more individual units than any other architecture that I was involved in.


There were no direct publications about the Creator3D architecture, but there were two papers about the 3DRAM technology:

Below is the presentation on 3DRAM made at HotChips 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:

M. Deering, Steven Schlapp, and Michael G. Lavelle “FBRAM: A New Form of Memory Optimized for 3D Graphics”, in Proc. SIGGRAPH ’94.

pdf (105 KB)