by Alexey Stepin , Tim Tscheblockov, Anton Shilov,
07/14/2004 | 05:29 PM
Despite the numerous announcements of the DeltaChrome graphics processors, we still do not feel the presence of S3 Graphics in the desktop graphics market. We tried searching for any offers of the kind with the help of Xbitlabs.Dealtime.com, PriceWatch.com and PriceGrabber.com, but all in vain: we found not a single offer connected with DeltaChrome. Moreover, this graphics processor was simply absent in the list of search results. The situation seems to be a little bit better in Europe and Asia, as S3 Graphics based products seem to be available for purchase, although you will still have to overcome a number of difficulties on the way to getting this solution in possession.
We get the impression that the company is not at all interested in pushing its products to the store shelves. In fact, this pretty categorical statement is not quite correct: do not forget that getting to the desktop graphics market requires a lot of effort and financial investments. And all this is very unlikely to pay back within a short period of time. That is why the intention of S3 Graphics to “return” to the market deserves certain credit.
However, besides, retail sales the DeltaChrome architecture also has one more interesting prospective: this solution has every chance to become a part of the integrated chipsets, since S3 Graphics actually belongs to one of the largest chipset developers: VIA Technologies Company. The new graphics core is exactly the component that VIA Technologies currently needs more than anything else for its new integrated solutions. So far they are using the pretty outdated UniChrome graphics core, which dates back to the times of S3 Savage, and looks absolutely uncompetitive especially against the background of such integrated graphics rivals as Intel Graphics media Accelerator 900, ATI RADEON 9100 IGP and NVIDIA nForce2 IGP. This is exactly why the development and introduction of the new graphics core is so important for VIA nowadays.
Our today’s article is devoted to one more representative of the S3 DeltaChrome family – S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro graphics processor. One of the modifications of this processor is most likely to replace the currently used UniChrome core in the upcoming integrated chipsets from VIA Technologies. From the architectural standpoint DeltaChrome S4 Pro is just like any of its elder brothers, DeltaChrome S8 and S8 Nitro, except for working frequencies and the twice as small number of vertex and pixel processors. Of course, we got hold of the VGA card implementation of the DeltaChrome S4 Pro designed for AGP 8x, but this will hardly prevent us from evaluating properly the prospects of this VPU as a stand alone solution as well as an integrated one.
S3 Graphics DeltaChrome S4 graphics processor
It doesn’t make much sense to repeat everything we have already said about DeltaChrome architecture in our previous reviews. Please see our articles about S3 DeltaChrome S8 and S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro for more details.
So far let me simply remind you of the major features DeltaChrome architecture boasts, which put it on the same level with the solutions developed by the leading graphics chip designers. The list below is a brief summary of the DeltaChrome graphics core:
Theoretically, DeltaChrome S4 Pro does not yield to any of its potential competitors, namely ATI RADEON 9600 and NVIDIA GeForce FX 5600/5700. However, we still have to double check if this is true or not, before making any definite statements. As most of readers probably remember, during the tests of S3 DeltaChrome S8 it still yielded to RADEON 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra even though it had 8 pipelines against the 4 pipelines of the rivals, which was mostly resulting from the unfinalized drivers.
Just like in case of any other graphics adapter that arrives into our testlab, we are going to find out how fast the new solution performs in games. However, before we set the new S3 Graphics Value product to the test let’s take a closer look at the card based on S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro.
Just like S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro, the new solution we are reviewing today arrived in an aristocratic black box saying “S3 Graphics”.
Besides the card we also found there a splitter intended to connect HDTV-compatible devices equipped with a YpbPr Video-Out, a CD-disk with the drivers, doc-files and a patch for Halo game. Unlike the two first S3 Graphics video adapters, which we have already tested in our lab, DeltaChrome S4 Pro solution looks very much like a product ready to go to the store shelves right away. We got this impression due to the fact that there were no additional resistors soldered to the PCB, not temporary elements or free spots calling to be filled with the components later. A small cooler like those we often see on RADEON 9600 PRO based graphics cards is set to a layer of high-quality thermal paste. I assume that a passive heatsink could be more than enough for a four-pipeline solution, especially since DeltaChrome products are known for being pretty economical in this respect. But S3 seems to have decided to take all possible security precautions just in case.
DeltaChrome S4 Pro reference graphics card
Unlike its elder fellows DeltaChrome S4 pro is equipped with TSOP memory chips, which is not so typical for a contemporary solution. However, in graphics cards of the kind the memory usually works at relatively low frequencies, which do not require BGA packaging that is why the use of low-cost TSOP chips is absolutely justified. In our case the memory has 3.3ns access time, which means that it can work at 300MHz (600MHz DDR) frequency. The VPU core also works at 300MHz. The DDR chips do not have any additional cooling on them, and in fact they do not need any. Even when the graphics card is under very heavy workload, the memory doesn’t heat up that much, just like the graphics processor. Throughout the entire test session the VPU remained just slightly warm.
Yet another PCB design for DeltaChrome S4
On the reverse side of the PCB there are a few very interesting stripes, which remind us of the ABIT Overclocking Strips concept. By ABIT mainboards these strips should increase the stable functioning of the mainboard by screening away the EMI distortions and reducing the resistance in the CPU power circuitry. We cannot claim that these stripes serve the same purpose but if we try to assign the stripes on the reverse side of the PCB with the elements located on the front side of the PCB, then we will be able to see that all of them crowd around the graphics card voltage regulator, which might be a proof of our hypothesis.
Unfortunately, we have a few not very positive comments about the soldering quality: there are some soldering paste drops around the notorious stripes, although in all other spots all the electronic components are soldered up quite carefully. Moreover, they seem to have washed the PCB not well enough, as there is still quite a bit of rosin on the PCB surface, which you can not just feel but also even see. Luckily, we are testing an engineering sample and not a ready retail piece that is why all these production drawbacks should not be regarded as something critical. The version of DeltaChrome S4 Pro, which will appear in stores should not suffer from any of the above mentioned drawbacks, if S3 Graphics ever ships it to retail market at all.
DeltaChrome architecture features a number of unique features, most of which have already been discussed in great detail in a few articles devoted to S3 Graphics products. For more details please see our reviews of S3 DeltaChrome S8 and S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro.
This time we are going to touch upon such interesting but pretty rarely used function as hardware image rotation. This function will be of interest to those owners of LCD panels, which base construction allows changing the mode from landscape to portrait and vice versa.
The change of the screen position can be pretty helpful when you are browsing through certain web-pages, work with text, and in a few more, that is why all contemporary graphics adapters know to support this feature. However, there is one detail you should keep in mind. The thing is that this is software “feature” and is performed by the driver, which should allegedly cause certain problems especially if you are working with 3D graphics. In particular, the 3D scene can get rotated incorrectly, and some textures may simply fall out. Moreover, when working in portrait mode, the system CPU gets loaded much heavier.
S3 Duo Rotate technology allows eliminating all above described problems because it performs the image rotation on the hardware level. The possible rotation angles are 90, 180 and 270 degrees and the table of graphics modes supported by the operation system and the graphics card drivers remains undisturbed. Duo Rotate technology allows working with the video streams and 3D graphics in the portrait mode, which makes it pretty handy for the owners of those LCD panels that support image mode change.
Well, this is one more point DeltaChrome scores today. However, since there are no S3 graphics cards in the market yet it is still of purely theoretical interest to us. The situation is very likely to change in the near future, but so far it looks exactly as I have described to you.
Another very important capability the DeltaChrome graphics processors can boast is S3’s unique Chromotion engine for digital video playback. The technology allows to reduce CPU workload when playing video in different formats, including HDTV. With rising popularity of this standard the vast majority of graphics processors are likely to feature the same capability as well.
As we usually do with new GPUs, we tested S3’s latest graphics chip – the DeltaChrome S4 Pro – in Windows Media Player 9 by playing HDTV, MPEG-4/DivX ? MPEG-2/DVD files. In order to test the Chromotion engine we used a specially optimized version of InterVideo’s WinDVD 5.
The file we tested was the usual one we use: the Magic of Flight downloaded from Microsoft’s web-site, it comes in 1920x1080 resolution and 8Mb bit-rate. All graphics cards demonstrated pretty equal CPU workload, which is not a news, as the lion’s share of resources is wasted to decode the HDTV stream using central processing units, while graphics cards only display the final result.
MPEG-4 playback revealed that there is massive advantage can be delivered by S3’s Chromotion engine. CPU load when using special version of WinDVD falls to 15%, which is an impressive result. It is interesting to note that S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro reduces CPU workload to an even lower point.
As expected, DVD playback test did not cause any issues. All graphics cards demonstrated equally low CPU load, but the Chromotion engine allowed to reduce it to tiny 7%-8% for S3-based graphics cards.
To sum up, S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro perfectly plays video in different formats and demonstrates CPU load in line with competing offerings from ATI and NVIDIA. But the DeltaChrome chips have an important trump: Chromotion engine that reduces load on microprocessors to minimal levels once enabled.
The original S3 DeltaChrome S8 and S8 Nitro brought pretty positive impression about the chips, but did not prove to be the best performers among mainstream GPUs in today’s games. As a consequence, we could only recommend the products to those, who were looking forward the unique peculiarities the S3 Graphics’ DeltaChrome can deliver. With that said there are probably going to be a lot of questions about the DeltaChrome S4 Pro market positioning.
We decided to ask S3 Graphics itself about the positioning of its new product for the entry-level market and enquired the company’s John David.
X-bit labs: What are the primary target markets for S3 Delta Chrome S4?
S3 Graphics: The DeltaChromeS4 Pro will represent one of the highest specification boards in its price range so its appeal should be relatively broad, but there are some market segments which will have special appreciation of the S4 Pro – owners of HDTV will be able to enjoy the native HDTV component video output , users creating media centric home PC will benefit from the Chromotion programmable video.
S3 Graphics has a large installed based of graphics cores in the corporate sector which have enjoyed high reliability and stable drivers – we will also target these users with the DeltaChrome S4 Pro.
To top all this , the S4 Pro will represent the best value for someone seeking hardware support for DirectX 9 vertex shaders and pixel shaders – so it also targets entry-level 3D gamers.
X-bit labs: Which graphics solutions do you consider as competitors for the DeltaChrome S4 Pro?
S3 Graphics: Currently we have been positioned against the GeForce 5200 Ultra and the RADEON 9600 SE, based relatively on price point and performance.
X-bit labs: Do you have any add-in-board partners to make the DeltaChrome S4 Pro products?
S3 Graphics: We are currently working with a number of AIB customers for DeltaChrome S4 (including customers like Club 3D and IO Data, who are already shipping the DeltaChrome S8). There are a number of new customers who are evaluating DeltaChrome for
X-bit labs: Can we find the DeltaChrome S4 Pro in different consoles/set-top-boxes and similar devices eventually?
S3 Graphics: S3 Graphics is currently talking with a number of manufacturers' on the use of DeltaChrome family in the game console and other similar devices.
X-bit labs: Will you offer the DeltaChrome S4 Pro for mobile PCs?
S3 Graphics: We are also in discussion with a number of OEMs about the DeltaChrome family of mobile GPUs. As you know, the design cycle for mobile products have a longer lead time than desktop products. Hopefully you willl be hearing more information soon.
X-bit labs: Since the DeltaChrome S4 Pro a cut-down version of your DeltaChrome S8 architecture that will shortly be replaced with more advanced GammaChrome architecture, should we treat the S4 as a base for next-generation of chipsets with integrated graphics core?
S3 Graphics: While there was a brief mention of S3/VIA’s next-generation DirectX 9 IGP at VIA Technology Forum this year, specific details have are yet to be disclosed.
To sum up, the DeltaChrome is a product for
Well, it’s high time we finally checked out the potential of our today’s hero in contemporary applications. Let’s find out what the new S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro is worth in real conditions. As usual, we will see it competing with a few rivals:
For a better comparison we also included graphics cards based on S3 DeltaChrome S8 and S3 DeltaChrome S8 Nitro. All the tests were run on the following test platform:
As for the games we will use to test the performance of our today’s participants, we selected those applications which support API DirectX 9 and use its features to the full extent. Moreover, we also added a few popular OpenGL compatible applications, the latest versions of two next-generation games, and Aquamark3 and 3DMark03 test packages. Here is a complete list of software and applications we are going to use today:
First Person 3D Shooters:
Third Person 3D Shooters:
3D Real-Time Strategy Games:
Since most contemporary games are very demanding and S3 DeltaChrome S4 is a Value solution we gave up the tests in 1600x1200 resolution, because it is hardly possible to play in this resolution with a Value graphics adapter installed in your system. Especially, since we are talking about comfortable and pleasant gaming experience.
“EyeCandy” mode has been also excluded from the tests, because the new S3 drivers still do not support multisampling and the only available FSAA mode for DeltaChrome remains the 2x super-sampling, which is extremely resource hungry. And it would definitely be incorrect to compare it with the 4x multi-sampling supported by the other manufactures’ solutions.
In the first game that uses pixel shaders for water surface the DeltaChrome S4 Pro appeared to be behind the rest graphics cards. The good thing is that you will still be able to play pretty comfortably in 1024x768, but performance you will get is still be much lower compared to the leading mainstream offerings that prepare to become entry-level chips shortly: the RADEON 9600 and the GeForce FX 5700.
Looks like S3 Graphics’ OpenGL driver still needs some more work, otherwise it is pretty hard to explain why the RADEON and the GeForce with 4 pixel pipes can outperform the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro with 8 rendering pipelines.
Note that performance difference between the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro and S4 Pro is not that dramatic in this game. But stay tuned – we have got some more advanced benchmarks with loads of pixel and vertex shaders ahead!
As usually, we use two demos in Unreal Tournament 2004 game: one that largely depends on TMUs’ performance, another that relies on vertex shaders.
Outdoor territory, a lot of objects above the horizon, massive textures and loads of players, buildings and vehicles is not an easy task for an entry-level graphics card. The DeltaChrome S4 Pro delivers massive speed advantage over the RADEON 9200, but falls behind its more powerful S8 Nitro and S8 brethren along with the RADEON 9600- and GeForce FX 5600-based graphics cards.
Eight rendering pipelines in addition to relatively high clock-speed allow S3 DeltaChrome S8 and S8 Nitro to outperform the less powerful RADEON 9600 and GeForce FX 5700. But there is nothing to do in this test with four pixel and two vertex processors even in 1024x768 resolution, the results tell us, indicating that the DeltaChrome S4 Pro is seriously behind its competitors.
Halo utilizes pixel shaders 2.0, which is why the RADEON 9200 could not participate in this test.
Since the game is flooded with pixel shaders and variety of special effects, higher-end offerings from S3 Graphics demonstrate pretty competitive results due to 8 pixel and 4 vertex pipelines.
S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro that has only 4 pixel pipes cannot provide minimally desired frame-rate at all. This crash is conditioned by pretty low core-clock along with inefficient architecture. It seems that modern games with realistic graphics and stunning effects cannot work fast enough on the DeltaChrome S4 Pro.
Good news! S3 DeltaChrome S4 Pro delivers decent performance even in 1280x1024 resolution, while the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro brutally outperforms the GeForce 5700, but falls behind the RADEON 9600.
Unfortunately for S3, it does not seem that sufficient speed achieved by the DeltaChrome S4 Pro should be attributed to the hardware. It all points out that People Can Fly team managed to create an engine that can work fast enough even on entry-level hardware, but still offer impressive image quality.
FarCry with all its glory enabled demonstrates a painful sight: all graphics cards except RADEON 9600 produce slide-show in both resolutions we used. In order to improve speed, ATI RADEON 9600 and NVIDIA GeForce 5700 owners may try to reduce image quality; those, who have slower graphics cards, including the DeltaChrome S4 Pro, should probably think about a new graphics card…
This game did not run on the RADEON 9200, while the GeForce FX 5600 worked in DirectX 8.1 mode and offered higher performance compared to the GeForce FX 5700
As expected based on Halo and FarCry results, next-generation computer games are too hard for DeltaChrome S4 Pro. The low-end offering from S3 cannot deliver minimally acceptable performance in the game. The same can be said about all entry-level graphics cards available today, probably with an exception of the RADEON 9600.
Highly Anticipated DirectX 9.0 Game 2
Another demo version of a next-generation game prefers graphics cards with rapid geometry and texture engines. In general, the game’s engine is not that demanding at this point and even low-end graphics cards are able to deliver pretty playable performance.
All graphics cards with exception of the RADEON 9600 and RADEON 9200 score above 60fps in 1024x768 resolution.
The GeForce FX 5700 is the winner, while the DeltaChrome S8-series products are only a bit behind. The DeltaChrome S4 Pro is outperformed by more powerful graphics cards by a tiny margin, which is a good sign for S3’s new chip.
Loads of pixel shaders are used in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, which is the reason why graphics cards should work efficiently with pixel shaders in order to run fast enough in this game. To tell you the truth, none of the cards tested today deliver normal speed in this title, but the DeltaChrome S4 Pro is the slowest one.
The new incarnation of the legendary Prince of Persia game offers us post-effects along with complex geometry. The DeltaChrome S8 Nitro is nearly as fast as the GeForce 5700 here, but S3’s DeltaChrome S4 Pro can hardly compete against the RADEON 9200 as well as GeForce FX 5600 and does not deliver comfortable frame-rates.
S3 Graphics’ high-end offering S8 Nitro succeeds in showing off the best possible performance among the graphics cards participated in the test. We should remember, however, that the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro is positioned as a mainstream part and its rivals are the RADEON 9600 PRO or more powerful SKUs.
Even though the DeltaChrome S4 Pro scores 55fps in 1024x768, which is enough for gaming, from competitive standpoint the product looks pale, as it cannot outperform even with the GeForce FX 5600. For the sake of truth we need to remember that S3 advices to compare the S4 Pro to the GeForce 5200-series that is much slower compared to the FX 5600-series.
ATI RADEON 9200 did not launch the game and we could not test this simulator with ATI’s low-end offering as it does not support Pixel Shaders 2.0 required for water surface rendering.
In the latest version of Il2 Sturmovik S3 Graphics’ DeltaChrome chips surprisingly demonstrate pretty impressive results: both S4 Pro and S8 Nitro chips manage to seriously outperform competing GeForce 5700 and RADEON 9600 solutions. However, the reason why S3 Graphics’ DeltaChrome S8 Nitro work as fast as the GeForce 6800 Ultra seems to be a result of a driver bug.
ATI RADEON 9600
Apparently, the new Il2: Sturmovik’s engine does not recognize DeltaChrome’s support for DirectX 9 capabilities. As a result, all the “eye-candy” features were not enabled, which resulted in poor quality of water along with less-detailed landscape, but higher speed. Furthermore, probably because of driver issues multi-layered clouds were rendered incorrectly.
The game did not launch on ATI RADEON 9200, which is why we excluded it from this racing simulator.
Nothing can compare to the RADEON 9600 in the Colin McRae Rally 04 among entry-level graphics cards. The DeltaChrome S4 Pro is showing an impressive result being in-line with the GeForce FX 5600. In case you do not demand high fps when you play rally games – the speed of the DeltaChrome S4 Pro will be enough for you. In case you desire something better – you should pay attention to the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro or RADEON 9600.
Unlike some other strategy games, C&C Generals: Zero Hour requires a powerful graphics card with pixel shaders 2.0 support along with efficient geometry engine, TMUs and memory controller to run the game in high resolution and all its glory.
In 1280x1024 resolution none of the entry-level graphics cards from ATI, NVIDIA and S3 Graphics can deliver decent frame rates; though, the RADEON 9600 and the GeForce FX 5700 are close to 35fps.
In 1024x768 the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro, RADEON 9600 and GeForce FX 5700 may give you about 45 ~ 50fps. The DeltaChrome S4 Pro can only outperform the RADEON 9200 and is behind the rest DirectX 9.0 graphics cards in the test.
Final Fantasy XI requires efficient texture processing and memory controller from graphics cards in order to play with comfortable fps. Neither of S3 Graphics-based graphics cards seem competitive against the rivales in this test. The only thing the DeltaChrome S4 Pro can leave behind is outdated RADEON 9200.
Aquamark3 cannot boast with complex pixel shaders, but its scenes contain loads of geometry and massive overdraw. Therefore, it is not a surprise why the GeForce FX 5700 delivers the highest performance here. If the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro manages to offer speed close to the leader, the DeltaChrome S4 Pro cannot beat even the GeForce FX 5600.
The score achieved by the DeltaChrome S4 Pro cannot be called otherwise as “disappointing”. The only thing that is slower compared to the S4 Pro is the RADEON 9200 that cannot even pass the Mother Nature test. Let us now take a more detailed look at the 3DMark03’s game tests results:
The first game test relies on fillrate and efficient memory sub-system, which is why S3's DeltaChrome S4 Pro manages to stay very close to faster options, such as the RADEON 9600.
The second 3DMark03 gaming benchmark is more complex, as it uses pixel and vertex shaders and performs the rendering in a few passes. Due to low efficiency of internal micro-architecture, the DeltaChrome S4 Pro cannot compete against the RADEON 9600 or the GeForce FX 5600/5700, though, it still manages to outperform the RADEON 9200.
In the third test, which is not very much different from the second one, actually, the situation repeats.
As previously said, the fourth gaming test reveals the architectural drawbacks of all graphics processors in the most efficient way. Only the architectures that boast optimal pixel shader performance can win here. As you see, the DeltaChrome S4 Pro again can hardly be called really efficient when it comes to complex 3D graphics...
S3 Graphics has expanded its DeltaChrome lineup with a value offering that sports the same capabilities as the DeltaChrome S8-series graphics processor, but is available at a more affordable price-point. Target customers for the DeltaChrome S4 Pro graphics processing unit are likely to find the product pretty decent, as the DeltaChrome S4 Pro provides all the capabilities users concentrated on overall set of features at a price-point from $79 to $129 in retail are looking for:
All in all, customers, who get graphics cards for entertainment PCs should be satisfied with the DeltaChrome S4 Pro. Provided that the DeltaChrome S4 Pro-based graphics cards are available, S3 Graphics is likely to have all chances to find a niche for its product.
Clients, who are interested in the fastest possible performance in games at an affordable price-point, should thoroughly check performance of their favourite games on the DeltaChrome S4 Pro visual processing unit, as in some cases the product delivers pretty good speed, but in others it does not.
S3 Graphics positions the DeltaChrome S4 Pro against the RADEON 9600 SE and the GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. Based on our benchmark results, we believe that such comparison is viable. However, we should keep in mind that ATI and NVIDIA constantly lower pricing on their products and soon enough the S4 Pro will have to fight against more powerful rivals: the RADEON 9550 and GeForce FX 5600-derivatives.
Will the DeltaChrome S4 Pro become the “come back” of S3 Graphics on the market? It will hardly grow to be. But this is certainly a signal for the market and other graphics companies that S3 Graphics is capable of making chips that can serve entry-level and mainstream market segments.