by Alexey Stepin , Anton Shilov
12/29/2005 | 12:11 PM
S3 Graphics previous attempts to re-enter the desktop market have not been as successful as they had hoped. While S3 Graphics Company – a subsidiary of VIA Technologies – has developed quite a number of graphics processing units (GPUs), mass market card suppliers in Europe and the U.S. did not adopt S3 Graphics processors and most users did not get a chance to even buy them. Nevertheless, the company has had some success in China and other Asian countries due to pretty competitive price to performance ratio.
Another set of reasons why S3 Graphics was not successful in the well-developed markets included facts of early designs problems with drivers and board compatibility. Moreover, some of the samples we received had issues such as hang ups. Another limitation we noted was S3 chips only supported super-sampling, even though high quality it consumes a lot more resources than the common multi-sampling.
S3 Graphics doesn’t want to give up, though, and is trying to get a slice of the graphics hardware market for itself. Our today’s review is about the new graphics processor called Chrome S27 and the graphics card that uses it. The new solution from S3 is supposed to challenge mass-user-oriented products from ATI Technologies and NVIDIA like RADEON X700/X1300 PRO and GeForce 6600 DDR2, respectively. The new GPU is the senior model in the new S3 Chrome S20 series which includes Chrome S25 and Chrome S27 processors that will be coming on three graphics card models differing in the type and amount of memory as well as in the clock rates. We’ll talk about the senior S3 Chrome S27 card.
The graphics architecture of the new GPU from S3 seems to be an improved Delta/GammaChrome capable of working at a very high frequency and supporting high-speed GDDR3 memory (for details see our article called S3 GammaChromeS18 Graphics Processor Preview ).
Using Fujitsu’s new 0.09-micron tech process, S3 Graphics managed to push the core frequency up to an unprecedented 700MHz! This sets a new record for desktop graphics hardware as the previous frequency leader, ATI’s RADEON X1800 XT, clocks the GPU at 625MHz.
Well, of course increasing the core frequency alone is not enough for a successful product and the developer went further and equipped the Chrome S20 series with a new memory controller that supports all existing types of graphical DRAM, from DDR to GDDR3. The size of the caches and the number of the chip registers has also been increased. In other words, the Chrome S20 can execute longer instructions. We are talking about the internal instructions the GPU actually executes because, just like in ATI’s and NVIDIA’s solutions, the GPU is supplied the instructions by the driver’s software compiler which performs on-the-fly translation of the original shader code into the native code of the graphics architecture the compiler is optimized for. Quoting S3 Graphics representatives, the efficiency of the shader compiler in the new driver that supports the Chrome S20 has been increased, but we are yet to discover how efficient it really is.
Coupled with 8 pixel and 4 vertex processors and GDDR3 memory clocked at 700 (1400) MHz, this should help the new graphics card be competitive in its category. Since the new product is architecturally a direct descendant of the DeltaChrome and GammaChrome, it can only work with Shader Model 2.0. More exactly, the chip and its predecessors support the extended specification Shader Model 2.0+ (do not confuse it with Shader Model 2.0b), but this is of no practical use to us since these extensions are totally ignored by game developers.
Among other innovations we want to single out the support of S3 MultiChrome technology, similar to ATI’s CrossFire and NVIDIA’s SLI. S3 Graphics being a subdivision of VIA Technologies, MultiChrome-compatible graphics cards are expected to be mostly used on the recently announced VIA K8T900 platform which supports the PCI Express x8 + x8 formula. S3 claims that there are no obstacles to joining two S3 Chrome S27 cards into one graphics subsystem on other platforms, but we can’t yet check this out because we have only one sample of the card.
The S20 series also features the updated video engine Chromotion which is already version 3.0. It supports all HDTV standards, including 1080i/p, and offers some thrilling features like scaling a standard 4:3 image to fill a widescreen 16:9 display. The video engine supports hardware WMV9 decoding, including the WMV HD standard, but the H.264 codec is not supported, and RADEON X1000 remains the only graphical architecture to offer hardware decoding of the new HDTV format.
Another new technology, AcceleRAM, is available only in the Chrome S25 and is similar to NVIDIA’s TurboCache and ATI’s HyperMemory. Easy to guess, its point is in using some of the computer’s system memory to store graphical data. Of course, there are no hardware restrictions against using AcceleRAM with the Chrome S27 which is architecturally the same as the Chrome S25, but the higher-performance Chrome S27 comes already equipped with enough of onboard memory, either 128 or 256MB. We won’t discuss AcceleRAM for long since this review is about the S3 Chrome S27. Suffice it to say that this technology was made possible by the new memory controller which makes its debut in this new GPU series.
We are now going to verify that S3 Graphics has got rid of the deficiencies of its earlier products and to estimate the performance of the Chrome S27 in today’s applications. Let’s have a closer look at the new graphics card.
Since we’ve got an engineering sample rather than a final version of the product, the graphics card was accompanied with just a CD with the driver. We can proceed right to the PCB design and the cooler.
Fujitsu’s 0.09-micron tech process helped S3 Graphics reduce the power consumption of the Chrome S27 even below the level of the GammaChrome S18. There was no need for a complex power circuit and the PCB design of the new graphics card has become even simpler and its size smaller.
Most of the PCB is just blank: the left part is occupied by a few power elements and even this simple circuit is not fully assembled – there are two switching transistors instead of four. The nearby holes suggest that the transistors were supposed to be cooled by small passive heatsinks, but the heat dissipation must have proved to be so low that no cooling was thought necessary. You can also see a single-channel TMDS transmitter from Silicon Image which is responsible for the card’s single DVI-I connector. There is a place on the PCB for a second connector, but it is occupied with an ordinary D-Sub output that is not so often installed on today’s graphics cards.
The right part of the PCB seems even more desolate – it is mostly screened since the memory chips are very near the GPU. The path between the memory and the GPU is short to minimize interference and ensure stable operation of the memory chips at high frequency. On the reverse side of the PCB there are only seats for additional memory chips to increase the memory amount from 128 to 256MB.
Despite the eight pixel pipelines, the die area is very small thanks to the 0.09-micron tech process. The new chip’s codename, 86С830, reads like a typical codename of an S3 GPU. Our sample of the Chrome S27 was dated the 20th week of 2005. The chip doesn’t have a frame, like the one on the GammaChrome, to protect the die from chipping and we don’t like it. The final version of the graphics card will be equipped with a rather massive cooler on heat pipes and the GPU may be easily damaged if the card is handled carelessly. The GPU on our sample works at the specified frequency of 700MHz which, again, was made possible by the advanced tech process developed by Fujitsu.
The memory marking is a sign that S3 Graphics is now really keeping up with the times. The card carries Samsung K4J55232QG-BC14 chips of GDDR3 memory in the modern 136-pin packaging. Four 256Mb chips with 2Mx32 design suffice for 128-bit memory access. The empty seats on the reverse side of the PCB suggest that the Chrome S27 may come with either 128MB or 256MB of memory. The chips has an access time of 1.4 nanoseconds which corresponds to 700 (1400) MHz frequency they are actually clocked at by the card. The fast memory ensures a bandwidth of 22.4GB/s which should positively affect the performance of the S3 Chrome S27, but the cost of such chips is rather high and may negatively affect the cost of the product which is positioned into the below-$100 sector. The memory chips are not cooled on the engineering sample of the Chrome S27, but are going to be cooled on the final version of the card.
The card will also be equipped with an aluminum cooler consisting of two heat-spreaders connected with a heat pipe, and a small fan, but our sample carries a once-popular Thermaltake Orange Orb cooler, painted black and rather noisy (the specified noise level is 30dB). The fan connector has three pins and the Chrome S27 is evidently able to keep track of the fan speed or even control it if necessary, but the cooler installed on the engineering sample lacks a tachometer and the third pin of the connector is not in use.
The S3 driver utilities haven’t changed much since the GammaChrome S18 (for details see our article called S3 DeltaChrome S8 Gets Nitro Acceleration: Review of the Revamped S8 ); the main difference is the color of the control panels which is now blue rather than yellow. There is, however, very little new behind the pretty interface. You are still offered nine tabs with the same settings as we described in our earlier reviews of products from S3 Graphics.
The tabs give you access to all the user-adjustable parameters of S3’s graphics cards, but we think it would be easier and simpler for the user to work with a single menu (like NVIDIA’s ForceWare) or with an independent applet (like ATI’s Catalyst Control Center).
The number of video and 2D-related settings is still impressive, but full-screen antialiasing remains unavailable for OpenGL applications. There are very few OpenGL-related settings. You can only choose the level of detail and anisotropic filtering level and to enable/disable VSync. DirectX settings are somewhat more numerous and include 2x and 4x FSAA modes but this is still only super-sampling. FSAA is actually not very important for graphics cards of this class as they can’t deliver a playable frame rate in today’s games even in low resolutions if you turn this feature on. However the competing solutions do offer full FSAA support and the end-user may prefer them just because they offer more functionality for the same money.
We have noticed great improvements in terms of stable operation of the driver as opposed to version 18.104.22.1684-15.14.10e that we used in our tests of the S3 GammaChrome S18 Pro. The version 22.214.171.1243-15.17.14h driver that we received with our sample of the S3 Chrome S27 is stable, despite its prototype status. We only met two problems: Battlefield 2 hung up when loading a level if FSAA was turned on. Another problem was the image quality in Age of Empires 3 :
S3 Chrome S27
The card was absolutely stable in all other cases, providing the same image quality as the competing products. These problems have been reported to S3 Graphics and they have responded that these issues will be addressed by a driver update.
We couldn’t omit checking the power consumption of the new product. The test platform was configured like follows:
We measured the consumption with a digital multimeter Velleman DVM850BL (0.5% accuracy). First we launched the third test from 3DMark05 in 1600x1200 resolution and with enabled 4x FSAA and 16 AF. Then we created a very high 2D load on the GPU by running the 2D Transparent Windows test from PCMark05. Here are the results:
The S3 Chrome S27 is a very, very economical device. It consumes a mere 23.7W under the maximum load. This is an excellent result considering the eight pixel pipelines and the super-high GPU and memory clock rates, and without a doubt it is largely due to Fujitsu’s tech process. For example, the RADEON X1300 PRO, manufactured on TSMC’s 0.09-micron tech process, consumes almost 7W more even though it works at lower frequencies and has 4 pixel and 2 vertex processors. So the S3 Chrome is the most economical entry-level graphics card and Fujitsu’s tech process is the most perfect one in terms of power consumption.
The new graphics card from S3 Graphics seems to be the perfect choice for a home multimedia system as besides its extended video-processing functionality it consumes very little power and does not require a big and noisy cooler, the latter factor being very important for an entertainment-oriented home PC. The lower-performance, Chrome S25-based models will probably consume even less power and will get along with just a simple passive heatsink.
We tested the performance of the S3 Chrome S27 on our standard AMD64 platform configured as follows:
The anisotropic filtering algorithm implemented in the Chrome S20 series has been improved since the previous products from S3.
The filtering quality has remained high, but the samples seem to be now taken not from one mip level like on the DeltaChrome and GammaChrome, but from all levels like GPUs from ATI and NVIDIA do. As a result, the problem with the coloring of mip levels has vanished. This may have a negative effect on the performance of the Gamma S27, but it is not likely to be noticeable at the 700MHz GPU clock rate.
We’d want to note that the anisotropic filtering method from S3 Graphics doesn’t have “inconvenient” angles of view and, as a result, produces a better-looking picture in some games than the methods employed by ATI and NVIDIA do. Moreover, the mip-levels on the Chrome S18 and S27 begin at a rather big distance. This makes the textures sharper, but may sometimes result in the annoying “grainy” effect.
The S3 Chrome S27 boasts a high fill rate due to its high core frequency, even though its 8 pixel pipelines are accompanied with only 4 TMUs and 4 ROPs. The card has some problems when it comes to work with the Z-buffer, though. The fill rate goes down and we can’t explain why. For example, we can’t blame the ROPs because the NV43 (GeForce 6600) has the same number of ROPs. Low efficiency or small size of the Z-caches or some specifics of the ROP architecture probably lead to this result. In other cases, even at mapping four textures simultaneously, the new graphics card is head above its opponents.
The strange slowdown with the version 1.4 shaders may be due to some software problems – the shader compiler from S3 seems to need some more polishing-off. Otherwise the new GPU performs well, especially when executing long pixel shaders. The Chrome S27 is faster than its competitors even at running per-pixel-lighting shaders. Well, it can all be explained by one fact – even if the 8 pixel pipelines of the new chip are not as efficient as those of the GeForce 6600 and RADEON X1300, this is well compensated by their sky-high frequency of 700MHz.
Xbitmark isn’t so positive about the GPU from S3. The Chrome S27 successfully handles math1ematically complex shaders like Dot Product Bump Mapping + Specular or 27-Pass Fur, but has some difficulty with certain shaders like Wood that uses only one texture. The card is also slow when executing shaders with numerous textures – not surprising, considering it has only four TMUs. The new solution from S3 seems quite competitive overall, but only due to its high frequency. The performance-per-megahertz ratio of its pixel pipelines is obviously lower than that of RADEON X1300 PRO, not to mention GeForce 6600.
Version 1.1 pixel shaders are not a cutting-edge technology anymore, yet the Chrome S27 can execute them quickly enough. It is not any worse than the GeForce 6600 and, in high resolutions, than the RADEON X700.
The problem of the new S3 card with version 1.4 pixel shaders we noted in Marko Dolenc’s Fillrate Tester shows up in 3DMark 2001 SE, too. The results are very low and the GeForce 6600 is far ahead of the Chrome S27. Processing simple pixels shaders isn’t a strong aspect of the RADEON X1300 PRO which also has only 4 pipelines. As a result, it is just a little faster than the GeForce 6200 here.
More realistic than Marko Dolenc’s Fillrate Tester, this test shows that the Chrome S27 isn’t very fast at executing version 2.0 pixel shaders. It is only ahead of the GeForce 6200 and RADEON X1300 PRO. Can it be due to some imperfection in the card’s driver?
It was the 3DMark05 results that made us suspect some driver imperfections. The Chrome S27 easily delivers the performance of the GeForce 6600 or RADEON X700 here, although the shaders employed in the test are not at all simple.
The 4 vertex processors of the Chrome 27 clocked at 700MHz deliver the same or higher performance than the 3 such processors of the GeForce 6600 clocked at 300MHz only. We begin to suspect the driver again, or rather their incompatibility with 3DMark2001 SE, and that’s why:
It is quite different from the 3DMark2001 SE standings: the Chrome S27 is only second to the RADEON X700 which has 6 vertex processors on board.
This test performs transform and lighting functions over several highly-polygonal models. The total number of vertices is about 6 millions and this is a real burden on the GPU’s vertex processors. The Chrome S27 is fantastically fast in this test, outperforming the RADEON X700 that has more vertex processors. This is probably because the test just requires nothing else but high speed of simple vertex shaders. This is what the Chrome S27 can do, especially with that high core frequency of it!
The Complex Vertex Shader test is much more sophisticated as it uses vertex shaders to render some vegetation, each grass-blade being processed independently. The S3 Chrome S27 seems to have some caching-related problems as its performance degenerates more than the other cards’ as the resolution grows. On the other hand, even in 1600x1200 it is only slower than the RADEON X700 – quite an achievement considering that the latter has as many as six vertex processors.
The Ragtroll test shows you the balance of a graphics card, i.e. its ability to distribute the load between the central and graphics processors. The CPU processes the physical model in real time mode, while the GPU works with vertex shaders, i.e. renders the models. Ragtroll can be viewed as a check of the performance and scalability of the vertex processors. Despite its fast 700MHz memory with a bandwidth of 22GB/s, the S3 Chrome S27 suffers the same performance drop in high resolutions as the GeForce 6600 does. The RADEON X700 and especially the RADEON X1300 PRO do not lose their speed so quickly.
To check the video decoding capabilities of the S3 Chrome S27 with various formats we carried out a few tests using the popular Windows Media Player 10 (with the patch that enables DirectX video acceleration for WMV HD content available here ) and our standard selection of video clips:
The CPU load during video playback:
We didn’t observe any big differences from the S3 GammaChrome S18. The CPU load at video playback was almost the same and some discrepancy in the results is within the measurement error range. As for decoding the H.264 clip, the CPU load was 35% on average, similar to the result of the graphics cards with the RADEON X1000 architecture. Overall, the S3 Chrome S27 is sufficiently skilled at video acceleration, but is still somewhat worse than the RADEON X1300 PRO which comes with the advanced Avivo video-processor.
These games and applications were used as benchmarks:
First-Person 3D Shooters
Third-Person 3D Shooters
S3, ATI and NVIDIA drivers were set as follows:
S3 Chrome 126.96.36.1993-15.17.14h:
ATI CATALYST 5.12:
NVIDIA ForceWare 81.95:
We chose the maximum graphics quality settings in games for all the graphics cards and the maximum possible rendering mode, too: Shader Model 3.0 for GeForce 6 and RADEON X1000 architectures and Shader Model 2.0 for S3 Chrome and RADEON X700. We used the in-game benchmarking tools to record and reproduce a demo and measure the reproduction speed in frames per second, if possible. If not, we used the FRAPS utility. We also measured minimal as well as average fps rates whenever possible.
We turned on 4x FSAA and 16x anisotropic filtering for the “eye candy” test mode using the game’s menu or from the graphics card driver. If the game engine didn’t support FSAA, we didn’t test the cards in the “eye candy” mode.
The following graphics cards were selected as opponents to the S3 Chrome S27 in gaming tests:
The RADEON X700, RADEON X300 and GeForce 6600 graphics cards were emulated by down-clocking the RADEON X700 PRO, RADEON X600 XT and GeForce 6600 GT, respectively.
The Chrome S27 has a high enough speed at the beginning – almost on the same level with the RADEON X1300 PRO and the GeForce 6600 GDDR2, but then slows down to below the level of the GeForce 6600 in 1280x1024. Even the high frequencies of the GPU and memory can’t help here much. S3’s driver probably needs improvement as is also suggested by the hang-up when the level is loaded at the “eye candy” settings. You can still play this game on the S3 Chrome S27 in low resolutions, but the frame rate may bottom out below the comfortable 30fps in some scenes. By the way, a frame rate of 30fps is the playable minimum for any game, but you’ll want an average performance of 50-60fps for comfortable play in first-person 3D shooters.
The new graphics card is surprisingly fast in The Chronicles of Riddick , considering that this is an OpenGL application and only NVIDIA currently has an effective OpenGL driver. The S3 Chrome S27 even leaves the GeForce 6600 behind – the older model with 250 (500) MHz DDR memory. The newer GeForce 6600 GDDR2 is almost as fast the new S3 card in high resolutions. S3’s driver doesn’t support FSAA in OpenGL applications, so there are no “eye candy” results here.
The new version of the popular shooter Call of Duty doesn’t use the obsolete Quake 3 engine anymore. The new game engine supports DirectX 9 and uses a number of advanced special effects that make it a very difficult application. As you can see, none of the entry-level graphics cards allows playing this game with comfort at the max graphics quality settings even in the lowest resolution. Note, however, that the Chrome S27 keeps up with the rest of the cards and even outperforms the RADEON X1300 PRO and GeForce 6600 GDDR2 in 1600x1200 (this is not much of a victory if you recall that the ATI card has only 4 pixel pipelines and works at lower GPU and memory clock rates).
Our turning on full-screen antialiasing proved the supposition that S3 still implements super-sampling in its GPUs. Despite the tremendous memory bandwidth of 22.4GB/s (very high for this class of devices), the Chrome S27 is slower still than the sluggish GeForce 6200 in this test mode.
The OpenGL driver from S3 Graphics isn’t as good as results in The Chronicles of Riddick may induce you to think – the Chrome S27 is a little, but slower than the GeForce 6200 across all resolutions. This is a total defeat indeed considering the difference between the technical characteristics of the two cards. However the specifics of the Doom 3 engine may have something to do with that defeat as you’ll see below.
As we have already learned, the pixel shader performance of the Chrome S27 is quite high and this is reconfirmed by its results on the Pier map where the graphics card has to render a realistic water surface. The card is at first as fast as the RADEON X700 but then breaks away from it thanks to the fast memory. The S3 graphics card ensures comfortable speed even in 1280x1024 which is an achievement for an entry-level product. Against our expectations, the Chrome S27 didn’t sink to the last place at the “eye candy” settings, but was just a little slower than the RADEON X1300 PRO and RADEON X700.
The new graphics card from S3 does almost as well on the Research map, too, where it has to deal with long pixel shaders that create per-pixel lighting. You can play in 1280x1024, but selecting 1024x768 resolution would safeguard you against any slowdowns on the Chrome S27 in the most difficult scenes. The “eye candy” mode, unlike on the Pier map, shows the deficiency of S3’s approach to full-screen antialiasing. On the other hand, only the RADEON X1300 PRO and the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 can yield more than 40fps in this mode.
The S3 Chrome S27 is no slower than the older GeForce 6600, ensuring a rather high speed in resolutions up to 1280x1024 and even in 1600x1200 to some extent. In the “eye candy” mode the performance of the card goes down to the level of the GeForce 6200 (that super-sampling again!), while the GeForce 6600 and both the RADEONs allow playing the game comfortably with turned-on FSAA.
There are no changes on the d3_c17_02 map where the RADEON X700 is in the lead, again. There are numerous enemies in the scene, so the performance of the cards is generally lower. You should use 1024x768 resolution with an S3 Chrome S27.
The improved shader code compiler and the longer maximum length of an instruction seem to affect positively the performance of the new GPU from S3. In this shader-heavy game the Chrome S27 left behind the 8-pipelined RADEON X700 and the complex-shader-optimized RADEON X1300 PRO, and the new GeForce 6600, too. Of course, the clock rates contribute a lot to this result, especially in high resolutions. None of the participating graphics cards can give out a playable frame rate in this game, though, so the numbers are of purely theoretical interest to us.
The S3 Chrome S27 follows behind the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 in this test, and is also outperformed by the RADEON X700 in 1280x1024. Even in the “eye candy” mode the new graphics card is as fast as 36-40fps – the performance hit from super-sampling is compensated by the fast memory this card is equipped with.
The OpenGL driver from S3 is not so bad as the Doom 3 results may suggest. In Quake 4, which is an OpenGL application too, the Chrome S27 is no worse than the GeForce 6600, especially in higher resolutions. However it is only in 1024x768 that we have a comfortable frame rate.
Graphics cards without Shader Model 3.0 support are always slower in Serious Sam 2 than cards that can process such shaders. Moreover, the game is very difficult even by today’s standards, so you will have to reduce the resolution to 800x600 to play it on an entry-level graphics card, if you don’t want to reduce the level of detail instead. The game runs more or less smoothly only on the GeForce 6600 GDDR2, yet there’s still no talk about comfortable play.
The Chrome S27’s high fill rate and high core frequency help it leave the rest of the participating graphics cards far behind (except for the GeForce 6600 GDDR2) in this rather old and pixel-shader-free game. The “eye candy” mode is unavailable even on the Chrome S27, however, due to the big performance hit the card suffers. The GeForce 6600 GDDR2 on its part can offer you a speed of 80fps and higher with FSAA enabled. We guess if the S3 Chrome S27 supported multi-sampling, it would be that fast, too. Don’t forget that its memory works at 700 (1400) MHz!
The same is true for the Metallurgy map, but the frame rate is generally higher here, the scene being less complex. The Chrome S27 is 20-25% ahead of the RADEON X1300 PRO.
The Chrome S27 is similar to the RADEON X700 in the lowest resolution, but then it falls behind despite having 4 vertex processors clocked at 700MHz – the memory bandwidth is not as important for this game as the number and efficiency of the vertex processors. The new graphics card seems a worthy rival against the GeForce 6600 GDDR2, though – these two cards differ by only 1fps in 1600x1200. The game is playable on the Chrome S27 in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions and, with some reservations, in 1600x1200, because 40fps should be enough for a third-person-view shooter.
The graphics card from S3 delivers the same frame rate as the GeForce 6600, but we should not forget that it is the older GeForce 6600 – the newer version of this card is much faster here and, moreover, the Chrome S27 uses the Shader Model 2.0 mode of this game, with simpler visuals if compared with Shader Model 3.0 mode. The speed of the S3 card is too low for comfortable play even in the lowest resolution. The RADEON X1300 PRO can’t cope with this game, either, even though it has a somewhat higher speed.
The Chrome S27 and the RADEON X700 are competing as equals in low resolutions, but the latter turns in a better result in higher display modes. The GeForce 6600 GDDR2 does the same, though. High frame rate is as important for a car simulator as it is for first-person-view shooters since it is on this factor that the smoothness and accuracy of your steering depends upon. With the S3 Chrome S27, 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions are playable, but there’s no speed reserve in the latter mode – the minimum of speed is lower than 25fps.
The quite efficient OpenGL driver and high operating frequencies make the S3 Chrome S27 a nice value product for all people who play flight simulators created at Maddox Games. Of course, the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 is even faster, yet the Chrome S27 makes the resolutions 1024x768 and 1280x1024 playable. The current driver from S3 doesn’t support FSAA in OpenGL applications (and we don’t know when this support is going to be added), but it is no big deal because the “eye candy” performance of the card would be too low anyway.
The improved architecture, high clock rates and new shader compiler put the Chrome S27 on top in Age of Empires , making it the only graphics card among the participating ones that gives at least a minimum of comfort on this game. 25-35fps is quite enough for a strategy. The new graphics card was not brilliant in the “eye candy” mode due to super-sampling, yet it was still faster than its opponents.
Unfortunately, this victory is of small value since Age of Empire is that very game that the current version of the driver had issues. The game started up normally and was stable, but the image quality was unacceptable, we reported the bug to S3 and they have said it will be fixed by a driver update.
The S3 Chrome S27 is always somewhere around the RADEON X700 in this test, both cards delivering a playable frame rate in every resolution. The GeForce 6600 has too low operating frequencies, while the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 with its higher clock rates can challenge the RADEON X700 and the Chrome S27. The graphics card from S3 isn’t even the slowest in the “eye candy” mode – its fast memory helps it hold to the top position, but the performance is below comfortable level.
It is the vertex shader performance of the graphics card that largely determines its result in Aquamark 3 . The Chrome S27 manages to win somehow – thanks to the sheer frequency of its processors if not to their efficiency. It even leaves the RADEON X700 with 6 vertex processors behind in high resolutions. Super-sampling reminds of itself in the “eye candy” mode where the S3 card is not faster than the GeForce 6200.
The high core frequency and, accordingly, the high scene fill rate help the S3 Chrome S27 deliver excellent performance in this semi-synthetic benchmark that displays game scenes from Final Fantasy XI .
The new graphics card from S3 has a surprisingly high performance score in 3DMark03, stopping a little short of the 7000 points mark. The GeForce 6600 GDDR2 scores 6468 points, which is smaller than the Chrome S27’s score. But let’s get a more detailed view of the results.
The absolute victory in the “pure speed” mode and the defeat in the “eye candy” mode are logical enough: high fill rate is important in the former, while in the latter case the Chrome S27 is hamstringed by its resource-consuming super-sampling.
The S27 has only 4 texture-mapping units and 4 raster operators and does not support any kind of Z-buffer acceleration technology like NVIDIA’s UltraShadow II, yet it is victorious in the second test, too. The GeForce 6600 GDDR2 isn’t much slower, though. Anyway, the Chrome S27 is as fast as the RADEON X1300 PRO even at the “eye-candy” settings. The record-breaking GPU frequency helps the new card a lot here.
The third-test scene is geometrically more complex than the scene from the second test, and the rather low efficiency of the four vertex processors in the Chrome S27 GPU shows up here. Although the card is still only inferior to the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 in the “pure speed” mode, the other cards are as close to it as 1-3fps. The S3 card can’t compete with the RADEON X1300 anymore at the “eye candy” settings and takes the third place, after the RADEON X700.
The RADEON X700 used to win this test, but loses its leadership now. The Chrome S27 is faster at executing numerous version 2.0 vertex and pixel shaders, and the gap between these two graphics cards is almost the same irrespective of the resolution. S3’s card is poor in the “eye candy” mode due to its super-sampling.
The S3 Chrome S27 deservedly has a high 3DMark03 score as it wins the first two tests. However, this victory is not confirmed by the results of gaming applications, so it is quite possible that the driver has some special optimizations for 3DMark.
3DMark05 has little in common with 3DMark03 as its tests stress efficient execution of numerous complex shaders and support of other advanced graphical technologies. The Chrome S27 beats its opponents here, though, notching a score of over 3000 points. Let’s see where this victory comes from.
The RADEON X1000 architecture was designed to give the maximum performance at executing complex pixel shaders, so the results of the RADEON X1300 PRO are quite understandable and are only worse than the results of the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 which has 8 pixel pipelines. The models of soldiers and a complex lighting model are the GPU load here, too, and the new graphics processor from S3 can handle all of that well enough thanks to its improved shader compiler and high core frequency. The only exception is the lowest resolution where it is slower than the RADEON X700 for some reason.
The second test loads mostly the vertex processors of the graphics card. The RADEON X1300 PRO has 2 of them against 4 of the Chrome S27 which becomes the winner. Clock rate is more important than the quantity of the processors, so the RADEON X700 is also slower than the new graphics card from S3. The memory subsystem load is relatively low in comparison with the first test and the S3 card doesn’t slow down much at the “eye candy” settings and is only second to the RADEON X1300 which uses the more economical multi-sampling method rather than the resource-consuming super-sampling.
The third test uses the longest and most complex shaders, but the new graphics card from S3 Graphics wins here, too, and enjoys a nice advantage over the RADEON X1300 PRO as well as the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 at that. The Chrome S27’s eight pixel pipelines clocked at 700MHz and its improved shader compiler ensure a 30-35% lead over the mentioned solutions from ATI and NVIDIA in the “pure speed” mode. The S3 card deservedly wins in 3DMark05 like it also did in 3DMark03, but we don’t quite refuse the supposition of some driver optimizations for this particular benchmark.
So we have tested the new S3 Chrome S27 graphics processor and the graphics card based on it, and to what result? S3 Graphics has done much work since the GammaChrome announcement and the new Chrome S20 architecture, if not absolutely new from ground up, is still a big step forward over the company’s earlier products. The low clock rates of the graphics cards on Delta and GammaChrome processors are to be forgotten – the advanced 0.09-micron tech process from Fujitsu helped S3 set a new record reaching a GPU frequency of 700MHz! Combined with a new GDDR3 memory controller, larger caches and more registers, this proved to be enough to make an appealing entry-level graphics card.
The gaming tests suggest that the S3 Chrome S27 is quite competitive against ATI RADEON X1300 PRO, RADEON X700 and GeForce 6600 GDDR2, thanks to its amazingly high GPU and memory frequencies and despite of lower-than-expected efficiency of execution. The power consumption of the new card is the lowest in its class. Even the RADEON X1300 PRO with 4 pixel pipelines and 2 vertex processors clocked at a lower frequency consumes more power than the Chrome S27, with its 8 pixel and 4 vertex processors, does.
The Chrome S27 also did well at video processing tasks, keeping the CPU load low during playback of WMV HD, DivX and MPEG-2 video formats. With its updated Chromotion engine the graphics card seems to be an excellent choice for a home multimedia center.
Unfortunately, there are still some issues that we found a while back with the DeltaChrome product, particularly the lack of useful FSAA, very few OpenGL driver settings and so on. We found two games that did not work perfectly with the Chrome S27, one had some instability issues on the Chrome S27 and the other had image-quality problems. We know of such problems with the 3D shooter Battlefield 2 and the real-time strategy Age of Empires 3 , but there may also be compatibility issues with games not on our benchmarks list. It is probable that a driver update will solve all these problems, it is essential to fix issues like this to allow the board to be accepted by the market, otherwise the prospects of such product will definitely not be bright.
The control panel of the S3 driver needs to be improved. The design of the panels has become more up-to-date, but the concept has remained the same. We think that nine independent panels are less convenient to work with than a single menu like in NVIDIA’s ForceWare or a separate applet like ATI’s Catalyst Control Center.
Besides the interface, the lack of normal support of full-screen antialiasing seems to be a grave problem. Like the previous series of graphics processors from S3, the Chrome S20 series supports only super-sampling which offers high antialiasing quality but at the tradeoff of a tremendous performance hit. In most games the frame rate sinks below playable if you turn it on. The entry-level cards from ATI and NVIDIA use the more economical multi-sampling and allow you to enjoy an anti-aliased picture at a high enough speed on, at least, mature games. . S3’s driver doesn’t support FSAA in OpenGL applications and this should be corrected, too.
The new product from S3 Graphics is interesting overall, yet it is not free from some drawbacks. If these are promptly corrected, the Chrome S27 may make a worthy opponent to GeForce 6600 GDDR2 and RADEON X1300 PRO. We don’t know yet the cost of the product. The PCB design of the Chrome S27 isn’t very simple, and the 1.4ns memory isn’t very cheap, and producing chips on Fujitsu’s facilities can hardly be cheaper than on TSMC’s. Considering the price cuts from ATI Technologies and the low price of GeForce 6600/6600 GDDR2, the S3 Chrome S27 only has any chance at all when it is going to sell in mass quantities at a price of less than $100. This will also depend on how well S3 Graphics collaborates with graphics card manufacturers.