The same way Gainward chose a reference PCB design, the CARDEXpert SG4 also uses 100% straight up reference drivers. Gainward has done this in the past with their video cards, and as long as the chipset manufacturer, S3 in this case, continues to release updated drivers to the public, there's no problem with relying on reference drivers. Of course, you don't get some of the cool tools and utilities offered by a custom driver set like Diamond's InControl Tools 99, but there are always freeware utilities out there that will accomplish most of the same tasks.
The standard S3 reference drivers do provide the basics - gamma correction, TV-Out control, and driver information. Pretty bare bones compared to some other manufacturers, but it will get the job done. There's no VSync toggle or control over any other 3D features, but they can of course be toggled via registry keys. However, that can be a pain if you like to play around with things all the time, and that's where a utility like Powerstrip can really come in handy.
A major concern here is that one of the biggest problems with the original Savage3D was the driver situation. They were always fairly immature and not too stable. Fortunately, S3 has learned from their Savage3D mistakes and has made great strides with their drivers for the Savage4. With the Savage4 core based fairly closely on the Savage3D, S3 got quite a head start in the driver writing process. That's translated into fairly stable 2D, D3D, and OpenGL driver support. They've always had a full ICD and that hasn't changed here. S3 Texture Compression (S3TC) is of course supported again on the Savage4 and will be incorporated into DirectX eventually. There are, however, still a few image quality issues, even with the latest beta drivers (version 8.03.11 dated 5/14/99). Again, these are S3 issues since the Gainward uses a reference PCB and reference drivers.
With Gainward's focus clearly on OEM's, it's no surprise that there is no game bundle with the CARDEXpert SG4. For some this is a welcome cost saving measure, but others would prefer to have some games to show off on a brand new card. Each person will have to make the call for himself on this touchy subject.
AnandTech tested a Gainward CARDEXpert Savage4 card clocked at the S3 spec'ed 110/125. For a complete set of benchmarks, see AnandTech's comprehensive S3 Savage4 Review. AnandTech's Slot-1 test configuration was as follows:
- Intel Intel Pentium II 400 and Intel Pentium II 266
- ABIT BH6 i440BX Motherboard
- 64MB of Memman/Mushkin SEC Original SDRAM was used in each test system
- Western Digital 8.4GB Ultra ATA/33 HDD
- Microsoft Windows 98 SE
- DirectX 6.1a
- S3 Savage4 Reference Drivers 8.03.11 (5/14/99)
The benchmark software used was as follows:
- id Software's Quake 2 Version 3.20 using demo1.dm2 and 3Finger's crusher.dm2
- Monolith's Shogo using 3Finger's RevDemo
Each benchmark was run a total of three times and the average frame rates taken. Vsync was disabled.