S3 tackles entry-level, mainstream graphics market in North America

Beijing (China) - S3 today announced a new family of graphics processors that may offer an alternative for graphics enthusiasts on a budget. The chips will appear on sub-$100 graphics cards and promise to offer more performance per watt than any other card on the market today.

S3 once was a dominating player in the graphics market, but was pushed back in a small market niche. Under the roof of Taiwanese semiconductor firm Via, S3’s share of the total graphics chip market was estimated to hover around 8.9 percent. According to Jon Peddie Research, this put S3 into fourth place of the global ranking - clearly behind Intel, ATI and Nvidia.

The new Chrome S20 series has a shot at bumping up S3’s market share as Via will aim for a larger target audience and be more aggressive in placing the product on store shelves outside the Asia-Pacific region. While the S20 series was officially launched in Beijing, China, today, company officials told TG Daily that the US and European market will receive a greater focus than in the past few years. "It’s not a paper launch," Keith Kowal, Marketing Manager for Via, said. He said that the new cards will be available at US etailers and retailers in November.

S3’s product design approach is very different form what we see from ATI and Nvidia today. The 90 nm graphics chips S27 and S25 integrate only "50-70 million" processors - which compares to the 300+ million in the most recent ATI and Nvidia processors. The flagship model S27 runs at a clock speed of 700 MHz, the highest currently available on the market. The clock speed does not automatically translate in industry leading performance, as the S27 targets Nvidia’s GeForce 6600 class of graphics cards and ATI’s X1300 Pro as main competition. The S27 will outpace both competitors, depending on the benchmark by at least 10 and as much as 50 percent, S3 claims.

The selling point of the S20 series however is not really performance, but much more performance per watt, a discipline that typically is not important in the enthusiast desktop graphics space. Via says that the GPU will consume 11.6 watts, which is less than half of Nvidia’s mobile 6600 part - according to S3. To our knowledge, Nvidia’s mobile 6600 consumes 18 watts - still substantially more than the S27. The entry-level S25 chip, which runs at "more than" 600 MHz, consumes less than 10 watts, the company said. One secret of the low power consumption of the graphics processor comes from the integration of Transmeta’ Longrun 2 technology that S3 was able to access through a partnership with Fujitsu. Longrun, originally developed for the Crusoe processor, has been licensed by Fujitsu.

Other features of the S27 include a 128-bit memory bus with support for DDR1, DDR2 or DDR3 memory. The entry level S25 is a shared memory solution which compares to ATI’s "Hypermemory" and Nvidia’s "TurboCache" products. S3 has come up with another nice term for shared memory : AcceleRAM. Both the S25 and S27 support DirectX 9 and high-definition video output in 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) and Shader Model 2.0 with some extra extensions. Company officials said that S3 felt that it was not worth the transistor-expense to integrate Shader Model 3.0, given the amount of currently available applications that support the technology. Instead of supporting 3.0, S3 said it will integrate Shader Model 4.0 in 2006.

S25-based cards will cost between $50 and $60 and aim at lower mainstream PCs, and home theater units. The S27 will look for mainstream gamers, video and multimedia editors, Via said. Both chips will be able to run Aero Glass animations in Windows Vista, according to the company.

Later this month, Via said it will unveil "MultiChrome," the firms technology to run dual-graphics cards in one computer system. Initially, the technology will require to identical cards, but extensions for allowing two different cards are planned, according to company officials.

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