S3's DeltaChrome

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The S3 DeltaChrome S8 & S8 Nitro
A Veteran Re-Enters The Fray...

By, Marco Chiappetta
March 9, 2004

Anyone with even the slightest interest in PC graphics is aware that NVIDIA and ATi have had a virtual stranglehold on all segments of the add-in card market for the last few years.  For hardcore enthusiasts, the names "3dfx" and perhaps even "Matrox" may come to mind as well, when talking about the dominant players in PC graphics of the recent past.  However, there is another company that once reigned supreme for a short period of time as an early gaming card evangelist.  That company was S3 Graphics.

Many of the veterans among you will surely remember the day when your first Diamond Stealth64 Video arrived.  Powered by the S3 Vision 968 controller, the Diamond Stealth64 Video line of cards was once the pinnacle of performance.  In fact, we burned through the Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 days with a Diamond Stealth64 Video 3000 pushing the pixels in our main rigs.  But those were the days of low-resolutions and 2D acceleration.  The game completely changed when it became time to accelerate 3D.  They tried, but back then S3 produced what was to be dubbed the first "3D-Decellerator" by some, the ViRGE series of graphics processors.  While they had excellent 2D performance and quality, their 3D performance was simply not up to par, when compared to competing products of the time.  Sometime later, S3 followed up with their Savage line of 3D accelerators, which were far better performers, but by then it was too late.  3dfx and NVIDIA were embattled at the high-end, and S3's reputation had be tarnished so badly by the ViRGE, that many enthusiasts simply wouldn't purchase another card powered by an S3 processor.  S3 ultimately ended up getting acquired by VIA, who then incorporated S3's technology into their line of IGPs.

So here we are in the current day.  3dfx is dead and gone, NVIDIA remains strong, along with the now dominant ATi, and S3 is trying to break back into the business with a new DirectX 9 compliant architecture, dubbed "DeltaChrome".  We've seen and heard quite a bit about DeltaChrome for the last few months, and were eager to see the technology in action.  On paper, DeltaChrome seems to have what it takes to be a winner.  The 'S8' models sport eight DX9 class pixel pipelines, just like ATi's R3x0 line of GPUs, and they fully support Pixel and Vertex Shader 2.0 specifications.  We all know that paper specs certainly aren't what push polygons, however.  We need hardware in our hands to draw any kind of meaningful conclusion.  So, today on HotHardware, we're going to take two pre-production DeltaChrome evaluation cards for a spin, to see just how far S3 has come with DeltaChrome.

Specifications & Features of The S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro
DirectX 9+ Specs
Vertex Shader 2.0+ and Pixel Shader 2.0+
  • DirectX 9.0 VS/PS hardware
  • 128-bit (4xFP32) vertex precision and 96-bit (4xFP24) pixel precision
  • PS - 16 concurrent texture map references per pass
  • Shadow Volume acceleration with two-sided stencil
  • Unconditional non power of 2 textures
  • Floating point render target / texture formats
  • High accuracy floating point render target for cinematic quality image rendering
  • High quality advanced 16x anisotropic filtering
  • High performance anti-aliasing with 4x multi-sampling up to 1024x768
  • Volume and cube maps for photo-realistic reflection
  • Programmable per pixel gamma correction (PS 2.0+)

Advanced Deferred Rendering

  • Hierarchical Z
  • Front-to-back, Back-to-front Z occlusion culling
  • Incorporated zero-cycle clear
  • Reduced Z buffer write and read
  • Triangle mask optimization (Vertex elimination) V8 Pixel Pipeline
  • Full 8 pixel pipeline
  • 2.4 Trilinear filtered Giga pixels per second fill rate
  • Full floating point calculation precision
  • Programmable cache for engine speed and efficiency
  • Unified super wide pipeline for seamless 2D/3D/Video context switching
  • Optimized advanced shading dependency read pipelines
  • Programmable render target blending (PS2.0+)
  • Programmable depth shader (PS 2.0+)

Chromotion Programmable Video engine

  • IDCT hardware support
  • Motion compensation
  • S340 uncompressed format support
  • Per pixel adaptive de-interlacing (PS2.0+)
  • MPEG -2/-4 hardware acceleration
  • Windows Media Video hardware acceleration
  • 4x4 programmable kernel filter video scaling (PS2.0+)
  • Microsoft Video Mixing Renderer support
  • Real time post processing (PS2.0+)
  • ArtisticLicense real-time video effects (PS2.0+)

Highly Integrated Mobile Features

  • 7th Generation DuoView (extended desktop)
  • Up to 128 MB of integrated frame buffer memory
  • 2 channel LVDS transmitter for LCD panels up to 2048x1536
  • 2 Channel 165MHz, 12-bit digital TMDS port
  • Full Clock gating for major functional blocks
  • Dynamic voltage and frequency scaling
  • Pulse width modulation for panel lighting control
  • High quality bilinear LCD panel scaling
  • CRT display up to 2048x1536 75Hz resolution
  • DVI display up to 1600x1200 resolution
  • AGP 8X
  • 256 MB frame buffer
  • 128 bit DDR memory interface
Integrated Hi-Def HDTV & Standard TV Encoder
  • 480p/720p/1080i/1080p component (YPbPr) output
  • 4:4:4 conversion with 10 bit DAC resolution
  • Full desktop view in HDTV mode
  • 480i standard TV output (S-video, composite)
  • Macrovision enabled for 480i/p mode
  • 2/3 tap flicker filter with programmable coefficients
  • PC2001 specification support
  • NTSC/PAL support for standard TV mode
  • Vertical over-/underscan compensation
  • 2x Oversampling for premium image quality
  • Adaptive aperture correction
  • Full range RGB to YUV color space conversion with Hue, Saturation and Contrast adjustment
  • Smooth vertical overscan compensation with programmable contraction factor

High Performance 400MHz 10-bit CRT DAC

  • 1+ billion colors (Giga-Palette)
  • 2048x1536 QXGA (3.1M) display resolution capable
  • Ultra low power consumption
  • Excellent INL/DNL characteristics (+/- 1 LSB)
  • Dual mode compatible (HDTV/CRT)

Advanced Display Features

  • Hardware display rotation for TabletPC (90°, 180°, 270°)
  • Dual CRT support
  • Hardware color cursors
  • Up to 256 MB frame buffer
  • First class utilities with S3 Screen Toys

S3 DeltaChrome
Chipset Gallery
 

 


     

     

  
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

S3 DELTACHROME S8 NITRO:
325MHZ CORE - 2.6GP/S
325MHZ MEMORY (650MHZ DDR) - 10.4GB/S

The card pictured above is a pre-production S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro.  This is the faster of the two cards we'll be looking in this article.  It is built upon a 6-layer PCB which is populated by 128MB of Samsung DDR RAM (8x16MB) clocked at 325MHz (650MHz DDR).  The exact part number of the RAM is Samsung K4D263238E-GC2A.  A quick trip to their site reveals that these particular chips are rated for operation at up 350MHz, so once the tools become available there should be some overclocking headroom with these cards.  The GPU, which incidentally is also clocked at 325MHz on the Nitro model, is actively cooled by a relatively simple orb type cooler, which never got excessively warm throughout testing.  We suspect that S3 has clocked these pre-production boards conservatively for the sake of stability, but we think that final retail samples may be clocked a bit higher.


     

     
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

S3  DELTACHROME S8:
300MHZ CORE - 2.4GP/S
300MHZ MEMORY (600MHZ DDR) - 9.6GB/S

Although the label on the rear is this card says otherwise, this particular DeltaChrome is not a "Nitro" model.  The card above is the standard DeltaChrome S8.  This part is built upon a less complex 4-layer PCB, and is populated by 256MB of less expensive TSOP memory chips (Hynix HY5DU561622CT-28 to be exact).  The core and memory clock speeds for the standard S8 are a bit lower as well, coming in at 300MHz / 300MHz (600MHz DDR) respectively.  We should mention that at 300MHz, the DeltaChrome S8 generated very little heat.  In fact, when we removed the simple active cooler, we found that our sample didn't have any thermal paste applied to GPU.  Even so, it didn't exhibit any heat related issues whatsoever.  With lower clock speeds and a less complex design, it should come as no surprise that this is the cheaper of two cards showcased here.  Both cards do have some features in common, like the three video outputs (DVI, DB15, S-Video).  And both cards can also output directly to an HDTV, using the included dongle.

A Closer Look at DeltaChrome

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