As an attempt to show the strength of its architecture, NVIDIA chose to implement various cheats and optimizations into its drivers to boost the performance in specific applications. Those applications that hardware testers and PC manufacturers use to determine the best graphics cards.
3DMark is traditionally among them. The version of this benchmarking suite from the year 2003 is a highly demanding application, the results of which reflected well enough the rankings in popular games like Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Half-Life 2.
The suite uses pixel shaders of versions 1.4 and 2.0. So, it was no wonder the results of GeForce FX-series chips were miserable, especially in the last gaming test, “Mother Nature”. NVIDIA decided to “improve” the driver to have more acceptable results, but it didn’t work. Futuremark exposed NVIDIA with its long list of tricks for 3DMark03 as well as ATI Technologies with its single attempt at boosting the speed (see our news post from May 23, 2003, for details). Futuremark also nips every future attempt at “cheating” in the bud by releasing a new patch and promising to be checking for 3DMark03-targeted software optimizations in the future.
Although the situation was clear for everyone who had eyes, NVIDIA refused to plead guilty saying that the tests from Futuremark were prejudiced and specifically designed to trample the GeForce FX down into dirt. Admirers and minions of NVIDIA were all indignant, accusing ATI in bribing Futuremark. Some NVIDIA-close mass media spurned the newest version of the industry benchmark. ATI had boosted its 3DMark03 score by only 1.9% and in a relatively fair way, but later agreed that this method was unacceptable and removed the cheats from the next driver versions. NVIDIA was still optimizing for Benchmark No.1 with a purpose, as some say, to straighten out its results. As more cheats were being exposed in a number of other well-known benchmarks, few were still listening to those people.
Q3 2003: ATI on Top, XGI Appearing, New GPUs from Matrox Graphics
The second half of 2003 starts out quiet. There are no new products announced, but the leading graphics companies are grappling for the market share. Computex Taipei used to reveal the main trends of the industry, but it is postponed for September (SARS is abroad!). So, the industry has nothing else to do but showcase their products at their websites and release rumors into the Internet.
SiS, Xabre, XGI – Three’s a Crowd?
Silicon Integrated Systems, known for its chipsets in the first hand, decided to test its strength in the graphics processor market for once. Back in 2002 the company gave birth to the Xabre series. Cheap enough, these chips were never a success mostly due to the bad drivers. The notorious turbo-texturing mode provided enough speed, but jumbled most of the textures into a kind of soap. There were other drawbacks, so the Xabre never really took off.A year had passed since the announcement of the Xabre. Having failed to conquer the graphics market, SiS spun off its graphics division into an independent company called eXtreme Graphics Innovation or XGI. XGI started working from June 1, 2003. About a month later, the newly-baked company voiced its intention to buy the graphics division of Trident Microsystems to enhance the assortment of the offered solutions and lure some specialists on the way.