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VIA UniChrome KM400

S3 Graphics, a daughter company of VIA Technologies, develops graphics cores for VIA’s integrated chipsets. Well, “develops” is too optimistically spoken. VIA obtained integrated graphics quite a long time ago: the various integrated and mobile graphics solutions like ProSavage, Twister and others have all been based around the discrete graphics chips Savage4 and Savage2000, released back when S3 was an independent company. Since then, VIA’s chipsets have been evolving according to the requirements of the times, but the integrated graphics remained nothing more than a hybrid of Savage4 and Savage2000 adapted for integration into system chipsets.

There was some stir following the release of the DeltaChrome, a rather well-made discrete GPU with hardware DirectX 9 support, and VIA Technologies with S3 Graphics started setting up a line of discrete processors (DeltaChrome, GammaChrome, OmniChrome), started making plans for the future and even came up with a new name for their integrated graphics (see our review called The Return of S3: DeltaChrome Graphics Card Review). Regrettably, the point hasn’t changed in the least: the UniChrome is not the result of integration of the new architecture, but only a renamed ProSavage.

The basic characteristics of the UniChrome KM400 graphics core follow:

  • 1 pixel pipeline with two TMUs;
  • Support of bi-linear and tri-linear texture filtering;
  • Rendering of up to 2 textures per pass;
  • Motion compensation and iDCT for DVD playback;
  • 250MHz RAMDAC.

Considering that this chipset has only a single-channel memory controller, its speed in 3D is rather doubtful. The VIA UniChrome KM400 doesn’t impress as system logic, either. The number “400” in the name is misleading since the chipset doesn’t support the 400MHz FSB or DDR400 SDRAM. And this is the most advanced widely-available integrated chipset from VIA for the Socket A platform!

The A7V8X-MX SE mainboard from ASUS is going to participate in our today’s tests:

Slots and connectors:

  • Socket A for Athlon/Duron CPUs with 200/266/333MHz FSB;
  • 2 slots (1 channel) for PC2100/2700 DDR SDRAM;
  • 1 AGP 4x/8x slot, 3 PCI slots, 1 CNR slot;
  • 2 ATA 66/100/133 slots;
  • 1 RJ-45 10/100 Fast Ethernet connector (VIA VT6303);
  • 3 audio connectors: Line-out, Line-in and Mic-in (AD1980);
  • 1 VGA connector;
  • 1 parallel and 1 serial port, 4+2 USB 2.0 connectors.

This product is obviously a low-end and cheap solution for undemanding users.

So, we’ve taken a look at each of the participants. Let’s get to our tests!

Testbed and Methods

I took two quite fast processors from Intel and AMD for my today’s tests. In fact, this somehow goes against the main line of the review: an integrated chipset is nearly always a compromise between speed, quality and price and few people will prefer to use an expensive and high-performing processor with such a chipset.

Still, the use of the fast processors is good for testing purposes since such CPUs put less restrictions on the integrated graphics, which is initially impeded by the slow memory bus.

So, the testbed was configured as follows:

  • Processor 1: Intel Pentium 4 3000MHz (Northwood core, 800MHz FSB);
  • Processor 2: AMD Athlon XP 3000+ (Barton core, 333MHz FSB);
  • 2x512MB TwinMOS PC3200 DDR SDRAM, CL2.5.

Software:

  • Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 1;
  • DirectX 9.0b.

I used the latest official versions of the chipset drivers in my tests.

I performed my tests in 3D games using two operational modes offered by the game engines.

The first mode meant medium graphics quality settings and 32-bit color depth of the frame buffer. This is a compromise variant, imposed by the low speed of the integrated graphics, which cannot provide playability at the maximum quality settings.

The second or “speedy” mode used the lowest graphics quality settings and 16-bit color to achieve the maximum fps rates.

So, gaming tests come first.

 
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