S3 Savage3D Preview

by Anand Lal Shimpi on May 10, 1998 9:29 PM EST
The 1998 year saw the return of Michael Jordan to the top of the basketball world one last time, and now it will see the return of yet another legacy to the lime light.  nVidia, move aside, the affordable king of the market is ready to make its appearance.  S3 is back with their Savage3D chipset...

A single chip 2D/3D solution, the Savage3D, like virtually all other next-generation combo chipsets, takes full advantage of the AGP 2X specification.  The specifications for the Savage3D don't make it the elusive "Voodoo2-killer" on paper, however they do allow for it to be an extremely affordable alternative like the Matrox G200 while offering more performance than its Canadian competitor, the G200. 

Chipset Specifications

High Performance 3D/2D/Video Accelerator

  • New Single Cycle 3D Architecture
  • 5M triangles/second Triangle Setup Engine
  • 128-bit Dual Rendering Pipeline
  • 125M pixels/sec Trilinear Fill Rate
  • Full AGP 2X Implementation including Sideband Addressing and AGP Execute Mode

3D Rendering Features

  • Single Cycle Trilinear Filtering
  • S3. Texture Compression
  • True Color Rendering
  • Void and Cluster Dithering for 16-bit Modes
  • Specular Lighting and Diffuse Shading
  • Alpha Blending Modes
  • MPEG-2 Video Textures
  • Edge Anti-Aliasing
  • Vertex and Table Fog
  • 16- or 24-bit Z-buffering
  • Sprite Anti-Aliasing, Reflection and Environment Mapping, Texture Morphing, Shadows, Procedural Textures, and Atmospheric Effects

2D Acceleration Features

  • Highly Optimized 128 bit Graphics Engine
  • Full Featured 2D Engine for acceleration of Bitblt, Rectangle Fill, Line Draw, Polygon Fill, Panning/Scrolling and HW Cursor
  • 8, 16, and 32 bpp Mode Acceleration

High Speed Memory Interface

  • 125MHz SDR SGRAM with Block Write
  • 64-bit Synchronous Memory Bus
  • 2-, 4-, or 8MB Frame Buffer
  • SDRAM for cost savings
  • SO-DIMM Memory Upgrade
  • 512Kx32 or 256Kx32 Memory Parts

Motion Video Architecture

  • High Quality Up/Down Scalar
  • Motion Compensation
  • Subpicture Blending and Highlights
  • Optimized Software DVD Decoders
  • Streams ProcessorTM for on-the-fly stretching and blending of multiple video streams
  • Multiple Video Windows
  • Brightness, Hue, and Saturation Controls
  • 60MHz VIP Video Port allows HDTV Resolutions
  • Glueless Interface for HW MPEG-2 Decoders and Video Digitizers

High Quality TV Out

  • Integrated NTSC/PAL Encoder
  • Optional Macrovision. 7.1 Support
  • Programmable 3-tap Flicker Filter
  • Vertical Overscan Compensation
  • Simultaneous CRT and TV Display

Full Software Support

  • WHQL Certified Drivers
  • Windows. 95 and 98 Display Drivers
  • Windows NT 3.5, 4.0, and 5.0 Display Drivers
  • Windows 3.X and OS/2. 2.1/3.0 Display Drivers
  • Direct3DTM, DirectDrawTM, and DirectVideoTM
  • OpenGLTM ICD for Windows 9X and NT
  • Comprehensive SDK, Utilities and ISV Tools
  • ISV Marketing and Bundling Programs

Additional Features

  • 33MHz PCI 2.1 Bus Support
  • Flash ROM and I2 C Serial Communications Bus
  • 250MHz RAMDAC with Gamma Correction
  • PCI Power Management
  • DDC Monitor Communications
  • 256-pin, 27x27mm PBGA

Discussing the Features

The true color rendering and the standard set of 3D Rendering Features mentioned above indicate that the image quality of a Savage3D should be at least on par with a Voodoo2.  In actuality there is a very small difference between the Savage3D and a Voodoo2, it tilts the balance of image quality in favor of the Savage3D yet not enough to make you want to give up a Voodoo2 just for the image quality.  

S3's texture compression technology was worked on with Microsoft for introduction in the upcoming July 27th release of DirectX 6.0.  This texture compression technology allows for incredibly large textures to be compressed into a much more manageable size that can entirely fit in the frame buffer of a video accelerator then later decompressed from local memory on the fly allowing for higher quality textures to be used in games.  For the sake of demonstration of this feature, S3 created a special Quake 2 level using close to 30MB of Textures.  When using such large textures other video cards, including the Voodoo2 will have to store/retrieve textures stored in the System RAM area which provides for a fairly large performance hit.   It is based on the same principle that disk swapping is based upon, for example, if you exceed the amount of available system RAM for data storage/retrieval, instead of storing/retrieving data from system RAM your computer is forced to do so from your slower Hard Disk resulting in a massive performance hit.  So instead of retrieving the textures from your local graphics memory (that which is present on the card) your graphics chipset will do so from the slower system RAM (memory local to a device is always faster than that which must be accessed via another bus). 

For those that actually care about getting some work done with their systems as well as playing games, the 250MHz integrated RAMDAC and 1600 x 1200 2D resolution support of the Savage3D (8MB) will be sure to provide for a crisp and clear visual experience even on the largest of desktop monitors. 
Fortunately, unlike 3Dfx's Voodoo2, the Savage3D is an integrated 2D/3D combination chipset meaning you can kiss all of those dreaded pass-through cables goodbye as a single AGP slot is all that's necessary to tame this savage monster.

The Revision 'A' Savage3D reference board that S3 graciously supplied AnandTech with for testing ran with 8MB of SGRAM at 125MHz which is its rated clock speed, meaning the board itself was physically running at its full speed.   The chipset, once released, will be available on boards offering configurations of 4MB or 8MB of local RAM at an unbeatable price of around $100 for a 4MB card and no more than $150 for an 8MB card.  Compared to the Riva TNT's estimated street price of $250 the Savage3D has a nice little niche shared currently only by Matrox.  Matrox's availability advantage is obviously the Achilles' heel of the Savage3D, hopefully, for S3's sake, this weakness won't be present for long as the market's watering mouths are beginning to shift to other alternatives.

The main room for improvement with the current Savage3D hardware lays in its stability/reliability which can be expected from an alpha reference board such as this one.  In comparison to the Riva TNT Diamond reference board that was tested, the Savage3D was simply unusable as a video card in 3D games due to simply unacceptable stability.  While S3 supplied a full test system, the tested conducted by AnandTech were performed on the standard AnandTech video comparison system using a Pentium II 400.  The only modifications to the test system that had to be made were with the motherboard as the Rev. A board wouldn't work on any motherboard other than the Intel SE440BX Motherboard, meaning two things: 1) Super7 tests were out of the question, and 2) the benchmark results will vary within a few percent of the same tests had they been conducted on the standard ABIT BX6 test system (not a noticable difference). 

The infant nature of the board is also accented by the new-born drivers that were provided by S3, while the performance of the board can't be expected to improve too much under Direct3D games, the Quake2 scores may improve by the time the cards ship courtesy of an improved OpenGL ICD.  Supporting 3D resolutions up to 1024 x 768 x 32-bit color, the Savage3D closely mimics the Matrox G200...but does this imitation continue to the gaming/2D performance of the chipset?  Let's find out...

The Test
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