The graphics card market has been a two horse race for such a long time now that I’d begun to forget that it was ever anything else. The last time that there was even a hint of a graphics chip challenger other than nVidia and ATi, was in 2001 when the Kyro II chipset reared its head and gave the GeForce2 MX a good kicking. But since then it’s just been ATi and nVidia slugging it out.
It therefore came as a huge surprise when I was invited to a demonstration of a new graphics chipset that’s manufactured by neither nVidia or ATi. The DeltaChrome chipset is the newest graphics solution from S3, yes you heard me right, S3.
There was a time when S3 was a force to be reckoned with in the graphics market, but that was long ago, and there’s probably a new generation of PC users that don’t even recognise the name. Under the ever watchful eye of VIA (S3’s parent company), S3 has rebuilt itself and is about to come to market with a new product.
The DeltaChrome chipset will come in two distinct flavours, one with eight pipelines and a budget version with only four. The first product to hit the streets will be a mid-range card based on the S8 (eight pipeline) chipset. This will come in two formats, the standard S8 and the S8 Nitro. The Nitro will sport slightly faster clock speeds in the same vein as the nVidia Ultra and ATi Pro cards. The standard S8 will have a core speed of 300MHz with the memory running at 600MHz, while the S8 Nitro core speed will be between 315 and 320MHz with the memory between 632 and 640MHz.
The S8 will be battling it out in the volume market place against the nVidia 5700 and ATi 9600Pro chipsets. The low-end S4 (four pipelines) chipset will have the ATi 9200Pro and nVidia 5200 Ultra in its sights. There’s also a high-end card waiting in the wings in the form of the DeltaChrome F1. The F1 will support up to 256MB of memory compared to the 128MB limit of the S8.
S3 appears to have a pretty solid roadmap for the DeltaChrome for the coming year and it’s adopting a unified driver model like nVidia and ATi in order to keep things simple.
Of course the success of DeltaChrome depends greatly on support from board partners. At present Club3D is the only confirmed board partner, although S3 says that it’s in negotiations with several others.
We should get our hands on a board early in the new year, so check back for a full report on S3’s new baby in January.