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accelenation.com /// 7 Years of Graphics
Page 1 of 51
2003.02.20 : 01:02
7 Years of Graphics /// Thomas Monk
Introduction
In the natural course of events information on older products becomes increasingly difficult to find. As
web pages modernize this material is submerged in ancient archives, summarized in a few precious
articles or dropped altogether. Companies are naturally unwilling to discuss anything prior to their
current range and some seem positively ashamed of their earlier products.
Because the past is never quite as one person remembers it to be and because most people haven’t
the faintest idea who ATi or NVIDIA are, let alone their history, last year I decided to gather together
as much information as possible before it all faded into the electronic ether. I ’ve tried to create a
timeline that explains how the PC graphics industry has reached its current state. Obviously I have
not been able to include every product or every event, but I have tried to include as many as possible.
This article should really be called "7 years of PC 3D graphics in the home", but unfortunately I
couldn’t squeeze all of that into my title image. Nevertheless, 3D acceleration did seem a suitable
starting point and for this reason I decided to chart the endeavors of those companies that have
produced 3D graphical processors. Some of these have also produced their own boards, but to cover
all of the board manufactures would be too great an undertaking. For this reason most of the images
in this article refer to the chip used and not the board name. Here are the names of those chipmakers
mentioned in this article:
3Dfx
ATi
Intel
Matrox
NVIDIA
NEC/ST Micro/PowerVR
Rendition
3Dlabs
Trident
Number Nine
S3
SiS
BitBoys *cough*
My apologies for omitting the following companies (past & present), but I had to draw the line
somewhere guys
:
l
l
l
l
Tseng Labs
Gigapixel
Neomagic
Arklogic
Please note that generally I have tried to make a distinction between the date that a chip was first
announced and the date that a board based on that chip became widely available. Where possible I
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have used the actual press releases from the companies concerned.
The following graphic represents a timeline for those products that have appeared on consumer -level
video cards. Products used solely for mobile or integrated solutions are not shown, but have been
discussed on the final page. Each red line spans the time from first announcement through to public
availability.
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For a printable version click on the following thumbnail:
Figure 1.2 /// Consumer graphics technology used on discrete cards. [ http://accelenation.com/?
im.vw.2738 ]
That was the easy bit — now for the other 15,000 words!
Pre-Voodoo (1995/6)
Year 1995
PCI bus
DirectX v1.0
Intel Pentium 75MHz to 133MHz
AMD Am486 100MHz to Am5x86 133MHz
Year 1996
PCI bus
DirectX v1.0 to v3.0
Intel Pentium 150MHz to Pentium Pro 200MHz
AMD K5 75MHz to 100MHz
Some might say that the modern era of 3D game acceleration began with the release of the first
Voodoo boards in October 1996 (first demonstrated at E3 in May). It was certainly the case that the
gaming world could think of nothing less for the following twelve months. But what of the other 3D
cards that were around at this time, and what of the names that have now become synonymous with
the graphics industry. Here are a few reminders...
¡
¡
¡
¡
¡
¡
¡
¡
¡
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
The
Imagine 128 board and chip from Number Nine in 1995.
R3D/100 chip from the Lockheed-Martin subsidiary REAL3D in 1995.
Diamond Edge 3D board in 1995 sporting NVIDIA's first chip the NV1.
Gigi chip from 3Dlabs found on the original Creative 3D Blaster VLB board in 1995.
Matrox Mystique board in 1996 utilizing their own MGA-1064SG chip.
Hercules Terminator 3D board in 1996 using the ViRGE chip from S3.
ATi 3D XPRESSION board in 1996 using their first 3D RAGE chip.
second 3D Blaster board from Creative in 1996 based upon Rendition's Vérité1000 chip.
Apocalypse 3D from Videologic in 1996 using the PCX chip from NEC/PowerVR.
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So you see all the players were there in 1996, and each had a card with at least some degree of 3D
functionality. In fact the NV1 from NVIDIA a year earlier was extremely advanced for 1995.
Unfortunately NVIDIA had adopted a rendering strategy that was incompatible with the polygon
approach incorporated into the new API from Microsoft called DirectX. Support for the product waned
and this left the door open for 3Dfx. The following article from ZDNet written in December 1996
managed to capture the mood just after the release of the Voodoo chipset.
AcceleNation Link /// http://accelenation.com/docs/3d4free.htm
The Voodoo boards were unique in their design having been targeted solely for 3D games and
incorporated no 2D capability whatsoever. These cards simply switched the output from a second card
over to their own whenever a suitable application was run. Many in the industry, including Microsoft,
doubted whether people would be prepared to pay the projected 500US$ price tag simply to improve
their gaming experience. Whether this belief was founded was never proven because in the spring of
1996 the price of computer memory crashed and the first Voodoo boards eventually retailed at the
more agreeable price of 300US$.
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To this day there has never been a single impact on PC gaming to equal that delivered by the first
Voodoo chip -set. Overnight the gaming world went from a scenery popping, 8 -bit, blocky 15fps, to a
Z-buffered, 16-bit, texture filtered 30fps. This transformation was demonstrated in no better way than
with the very first game to natively support the Voodoo chipset, the newly released Tomb Raider from
Core.
At Siggraph in August 1996 Microsoft tried to dictate the future path of 3D rendering technology by
announcing their Talisman project. The philosophy behind Talisman was to reduce bandwidth by
introducing a tile -based rendering approach similar to the one being developed by PowerVR. Microsoft
was supported by no less than Samsung, Fujitsu and Cirrus Logic, all of whom pledged silicon to
implement the technology. Unfortunately over the coming months rendering philosophy would be
defined by the likes of 3Dfx and not by some vision of the future from Microsoft. One by one each
chipmaker pulled out of the project and although some of the technology would eventually be licensed
by Trident, the Microsoft dream was dead.
Unfortunately the Talisman project had sidetracked Microsoft and shifted their attention away from
the development of DirectX. If Talisman had taken off, history may have witnessed a completely
different path for DirectX. As it was, the failure of Talisman meant that it took Microsoft another
twelve months to admit defeat, reverse and then forge ahead with the de facto rendering approach. It
would not be until the end of 1997 that the world would finally see a competent API from Microsoft in
the shape of DirectX version 5.
At this point I could go on to write a book on the development of graphics over the intervening years,
but instead I will try to constrain myself to the more significant events.
Year 1997
AGP1X bus
DirectX v3.0a to v5.0
Intel Pentium MMX 166MHz to Pentium II 300MHz
AMD K5 166MHz to K6 233MHz
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One name that isn’t heard much these days in relation to gaming is 3Dlabs. The reason is because
they have principally designed boards for the professional workstation market, and these have
generally been too expensive for most gamers. A good example was the GLINT 300SX chip announced
in April 1994 (shipped that November) and claimed to be the very first 3D hardware accelerated
product for the PC. Shortly afterwards 3Dlabs announced their first attempt to bridge the gaming gap
with a cut down version called the “Gigi” or “Game Glint” chip. The very first 3D Blaster board from
Creative Labs released in August 1995 was based on this chip. The principle crossover from 3Dlabs
however came in the form of their Permedia range. The first Permedia chip was announced in October
1995, but it was not until the beginning of 1997 that the first boards appeared. The most memorable
of these was the Fire GL 1000 from Diamond which was 30% faster in 3D than a Matrox Millennium II
card, but unfortunately still slower and more expensive than a 3Dfx Voodoo card.
3Dfx dominated the market for the first part of 1997 and in February entered into a secret agreement
with Sega to produce the chip for their forthcoming Dreamcast console. Unfortunately this would all
end in tears when, in September, Sega unexpectedly pulled out of the agreement in favor of using the
PowerVR technology from NEC and Videologic. 3Dfx sued for breach of contract and the whole
unhappy affair dragged on until the following summer.
ATi shadowed 3Dfx with their Rage II chip for the first quarter of ’97 but in March announced the first
real challenge to Voodoo dominance in the form of their improved Rage Pro chip (available in July).
Let down only by poor initial drivers (especially for OpenGL) ATi’s [email protected] range of cards were very
popular and under DirectX produced both superior performance and almost equal visual quality to that
of its rival. Unfortunately for ATi, everyone was just Voodoo-crazy at the time.
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In April NVIDIA then entered the fray with their NV3 or RIVA128 chip (available in August) which
considerably outperformed the Voodoo under DirectX. This was especially true when using large
textures at resolutions beyond 640x480, helped by the RIVA’s wider memory bus and built-in
compatibility to DirectX. The RIVA128 even managed to edge out the RAGE PRO from ATi in the
performance stakes (although with reduced visual quality), and due to its low cost found favor with
system builders.
Note: In case you were wondering, NVIDIA’s NV2 was an ill-fated console chip.
Also in April Creative Labs shipped their Graphics Blaster 3D board based upon the first 3D chip from
Cirrus Logic. The CL -GD5464 or Laguna 3D chip had been announced toward the end of 1996, but in
1997 it faced some stiff competition from 3Dfx, ATi and NVIDIA. The board's low cost failed to
compensate for its poor performance, despite its use of RAMBUS memory. Other boards would come
to utilize the Laguna chip, but this would prove the last significant 3D venture for the once dominant
2D chipmaker Cirrus Logic.
Trident has produced graphics products since 1987 and is still producing them to this day, mostly for
the integration market. Unfortunately Trident is yet another of those lesser companies that have been
largely ignored by the media over the years. In May 1997 they shipped their first 3D chip called the
3DImage975. This was a low cost PCI or AGP1X solution with very limited 3D functionality that
generally performed no better than a Cirrus Laguna or Trio3D chip from S3. Trident continually
tweaked the 975 and toward the end of the year released the 3DImage985 chip with AGP2X and DVD
support.
Nothing is certain in this industry. Today NVIDIA look dominant, but then so did a company by the
name of Number Nine back in 1995/96. Founded in 1982, narrow profit margins eventually led this
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board manufacturer to produce its own chips. At Comdex in 1994 the company announced its famous
Imagine 128 board that utilized the industry ’s first 128bit graphics chip appropriately called
“Imagine”. At this time 3D functionality was very basic, but the 128bit memory interface gave the
card exceptional 2D performance. This fact, coupled with the card ’s high price (999US$), meant that it
was targeted solely toward the professional workstation market. In 1996 Number Nine released its
Imagine 128 Series 2 board for both PC and Apple MAC platforms. These boards sported the
company’s new Imagine 2 chip and retailed for around 700US$. Concerned over the raft of cheaper
products released in ’96, Number Nine announced a cut down version of its Series 2 card called the
“2e” that retailed for just 399US$. Concurrently Number Nine was also producing boards based on the
popular Virge chip from S3 and so in May ’97, when they announced their third generation product,
everything looked rosy.
This series 3 chip was called “Ticket to Ride” and was used on their Revolution 3D board that was first
demonstrated in June and won the “Best of PC EXPO ‘97” award that same month. In August Number
Nine shipped their first AGP version of the board and that year the company was named as one of the
fastest growing and most influential in the PC industry. NIVIDA should take note, because today
Number Nine no longer exist!
So what went wrong? Was Number Nine beaten into submission by the likes of 3Dfx, ATi and NVIDIA?
Well the short answer is yes, but not because of anything that the competition did, rather something
that Number Nine did not do; namely texture mapping. Number Nine’s director of communications Phil
Parker was asked what would happen if a chip company went one way and Microsoft went another:
"This happened to us. Our Imagine 2 chip didn't have texturing, and the requirement for Direct3D was
texturing. We said 'Oh, my god,' but by that time, we couldn't compete with the likes of S3 or
NVIDIA."
This lack of texturing was corrected in the T2R chip, but as Phil states, by that time the competition
was producing twice the 3D performance and no one seemed to care about 2D image quality any
more. Worse still, those professionals that were looking for a high quality yet low cost 2D solution,
turned instead to cards like the Permedia 2 that also produced a reasonable 3D performance.
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If you were wondering why the chip was called “Ticket to Ride”, this was because most of the
products from Number Nine were named in relation to the Beatles. So we got names like Revolution,
Imagine, and before that, Pepper, Rita and Tina. There were even secret references hidden within the
board BIOS and circuit layout. Another company quirk was its use of controversial ad campaigns as
shown above. For these reasons the company was quite popular in its day. Unfortunately its day was
done.
Another company that started out in the business sector but increasingly pandered to the gaming
community is Matrox. Following the success of their first Millennium board at Comdex in April 1995,
the company ’s graphics department separated out and became Matrox Graphics Inc. In order to
target the gaming community the company announced their Mystique card in June 1996 (available in
August) and this was demonstrated at Comdex in November. The MGA-1064SG chip that Matrox used
on this board had a slightly reduced specification compared to the original Millennium chip (MGA 2064W). Supporting a maximum of only 4MB of SGRAM as opposed to 8MB of dual-ported video RAM,
the card was quickly reduced in price to just 179US$ to make it more attractive to the gaming
community.
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In May 1997 Matrox announced the Millennium II board for the business market (available in July)
and quickly released an AGP version that September. Also in September Matrox announced a board
targeted solely to the gaming community called the m3D. This board used the recently announced
PCX2 chip from NEC/PowerVR and is the only time that Matrox have used a 3rd party core. This move
was especially surprising given that a month earlier, in August, Matrox had already announced its new
Mystique 220 gaming card. Matrox probably adopted the PCX2 chip due to the lack of 3D features in
its own chips, including the MGA-1164SG found on the new Mystique. At the time, features such as
bilinear texture filtering and mip -mapping were included purely for gaming and had therefore not
been incorporated into the business oriented products from Matrox. In games both the Millennium II
and Mystique 220 boards produced only half the performance of a Voodoo card, with the more
capable m3D board coping slightly better.
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In June we heard of a new entry in the form of the SiS6326 from Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS).
Finally available at the very end of the year it demonstrated a good image quality, but had a dire
performance that was nowhere near that of a Voodoo card. However as others would fall by the
wayside over the intervening years, SiS would doggedly stick to producing low -end solutions that
would eventually be integrated into successful motherboard designs.
One company that had always targeted the 3D gaming market since its formation in January 1993
was Rendition. Its first Vérit é 3D chip announced in September ’95 (shipped August ’96) and later
renamed as the V1000 was quite impressive for an inaugural product. In August ’97 Rendition
announced its V2X00 range of chips. The faster of these, the V2200, first appeared on the Diamond
Stealth II card in October and turned in a similar performance to that of a Voodoo card. Unfortunately
this was one year after the initial Voodoo release and 3Dfx had not been sitting idle.
3Dfx continued its market dominance throughout 1997 despite some stiff competition from the likes of
NVIDIA and ATi. This was due in no small part to its loyal fan base, good visual quality and developer
support of its own proprietary API called GLIDE.
In August 3Dfx attempted to incorporate some 2D functionality into their 3D-only product with the
announcement of the Voodoo Rush chipset (available in October). I say “3Dfx” attempted, but in
reality the 2D part came from Alliance Semiconductor. Effectively this was two cards in one and each
seemed to trip over the other. The result was a product with a substandard 2D image quality and a
3D performance that was 10% less than a standard Voodoo board. Although not quite as bad as some
would have you believe, the Voodoo Rush was still one product that most 3Dfx fans would rather
forget.
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Back in May 3Dlabs announced their Permedia 2 chip, and in October one of the first boards to use
this was the Fire GL 1000 Pro from Diamond. This board performed on equal terms to a Voodoo board
under Direct3D, but as to be expected from a professional card, it excelled under OpenGL. However,
at the time, most gamers were content playing games specifically ported to the Voodoo chipset under
its own GLIDE API or mini OpenGL driver. The high price of a Permedia 2 card also prevented its
widespread uptake, but it did allow many professionals to have a good game of Quake in their lunch
break
. Some of the initial success of Quake probably derived from its accessibility in the workplace.
In November S3 announced the successor to its popular Virge3D chip. The new 128-bit Trio3D chip
would support SGRAM memory running at 125MHz. However, when boards finally shipped in the first
half of 1998, their performance fell woefully short of the leading boards for that year. S3 had begun
its slide.
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In the winter of 1997 3Dfx announced its successor to the Voodoo chip -set, aptly named the Voodoo2
(but not available until the following March). This chip-set included a second texturing unit and a
faster clock that effectively doubled its performance and shot it way ahead of the competition.
Additionally, the ability to produce quadruple performance by connecting two boards together (SLI)
presented a temptation that many testers found difficult to resist. For this reason 3Dfx continued to
dominate in league tables throughout 1998 despite the continued presence of some stiff competition.
Year 1998
AGP2X bus
DirectX v5.2 to v6.0
Intel Pentium II 333MHz to 450MHz
AMD K6 300MHz to K6 -2 400MHz
In February Intel decided to stick its toe into the 3D waters when it announced the i740 chip
(available in April). Intel developed the chip in partnership with REAL3D a spin -off from Lockheed Martin who produced the R3D/100 chip in 1995. In fact Intel had just purchased a 20% minority
interest in REAL3D. In games the performance of the i740 was about half that of a single Voodoo2
board, despite 3D Winbench 98 placing it on equal terms.
Also in February PowerVR/NEC announced their 2nd generation technology for console and PC.
However it would not be until December that the PC version would eventually be named as the
PVR250 and then a further eight months before the first cards would surface.
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NVIDIA were now into their familiar six monthly stride of producing a new product around August and
a tweak around February. So in February they announced a tweak on their RIVA128 chip called the
RIVA128 ZX (available in May). However, just one month later in March, NVIDIA caused a real stir by
announcing the specification of their next wonder-chip the RIVA TNT. The clear intention of NVIDIA
was to spoil the Voodoo2 party during 1998, in preparation for the release of this new product in the
fall. Unfortunately NVIDIA failed to deliver on the TNT’s projected clock speed and this generated a lot
of ill feeling and a reputation for hype. Despite this fact the RIVA TNT still managed to match the
performance of a single Voodoo2 board when running under DirectX.
ATi also produced a product tweak in February 1998 in the shape of their 3D RAGE PRO TURBO chip.
In reality this was just a re-branding of their previous RAGE PRO chip combined with their latest
“TURBO ” drivers. ATi's serious Voodoo2 competition came in the form of their RAGE128 GL & VR chips
in October of the same year. The faster GL chip managed to match the performance of a single
Voodoo2 board, but this was slightly disappointing given the resources of ATi in comparison to either
3Dfx or NVIDIA at the time.
On the 4th May Trident announced that it had shipped over one million 3DImage975 chips. Game
players may scoff at products targeted toward the lower end of the market, but that doesn’t mean
there isn ’t money to be made at that end.
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In April Matrox had announced its 64bit G100 chip that was the first Matrox product to include
features such as texture filtering and vertex fogging. Then in May the G100 was quickly followed up
by the 128bit G200 chip. Of the principle contenders in 1998 the G200 produced the weakest
performance, but as expected from Matrox, it had a very solid 2D performance and an excellent all round image quality.
Back in 1995, or was it 1996, a small Finnish company by the name of Bitboys Oy announced their
Pyramid3D chip. As the months rolled by there emerged successive technology reports that detailed
such things as a geometry engine (transform and lighting) and projected speeds well in excess of the
first Voodoo card from 3Dfx. What was never seen however was the actual product itself. Were
BitBoys for real, or was it all a hoax? As I understand it, BitBoys approached a company by the name
of VLSI Solutions with a chip design that later turned out to be written on the back of an envelope.
TriTech Microelectronics then purchased that envelope with the intention to design the chip
themselves. VLSI would then fabricate the board and another company program the drivers.
Eventually some pre -production models were produced and demonstrated at Assembly '97, but just
before the cards went into mass production in 1998 Tritech pulled out of the project killing it stone
dead.
So it would seem that the Pyramid3D project did eventually become legitimate, even if Bitboys never
were. The following left -hand image is purported to be a pre -production version of the card, but the
right-hand image has been sent in by Mark Vojkovich who actually owns one today. It has 8MB of
SDRAM and a pass-though connection similar to that found on a Voodoo board.
In May 1998 BitBoys Oy raised their heads once again and announced their Glaze3D chip. This chip
would have a projected performance four times greater than that of the current all-conquering
Voodoo2 chipset! At the time this statement caused a considerable stir, especially considering the
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fiasco surrounding their previous attempt. However once everyone realized that the chip would not be
produced for over a year, this interest soon dissipated.
On the 26th May and the 16th June Number Nine announced its forth generation product the Ticket to
Ride IV chip and associated Revolution IV graphics card respectively. Despite a conservative price tag
of 219US$ for the 32MB model, Number Nine refused to pitch the card to the gaming community, but
instead targeted the desktop publishing market where 2D image quality is paramount. To this end the
Revolution IV was also bundled with a digital flat panel 1600SW display from SGI. In tests the card
did produce a crystal clear image, but unfortunately its 128bit 2D performance was no longer unique
and easily matched by cards based on the TNT chip from NVIDIA or the Rage128 chip from ATi. These
products also outpaced the Revolution IV card in games, sometimes by more than 200%. Number
Nine was pinning its hopes on the 2D market, but this was simply too little too late to save the
company.
In July 3Dlabs announced their Permedia 3 chip, but it would not be until May 1999 that the first card
would ship. The reason for this delay was probably due to the company's decision to make its own
boards — not the only company to make this decision in '98.
Also in July 1998, before either of the two serious offerings from NVIDIA or ATi, it was S3 with their
Savage3D chip that was arguably the first to market with a realistic threat to the Voodoo2.
Unfortunately the Savage3D drivers took a while to stabilize and S3 sold fewer cards than they had
expected, squeezed as they were by the other three principle players. The slide continued.
So what of Rendition in 1998? Well a V érit é V3300 almost saw the light of day but unfortunately the
company had financial worries and in June of 1998 it became part of the Micron group. Finally in
November Rendition announced that they had shelved the V érit é V3300 and were concentrating
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instead on a new V4400 chip to be released early in 2000. Yeah promises, promises.
Although 3Dfx seemed unstoppable, the Voodoo products were falling behind in other respects. They
required more than one chip. They had no 2D functionality. They did not support the new AGP bus.
They were restricted to a 16 -bit color output and could handle only small texture sizes. In addition to
all of this, they relied heavily upon custom APIs in the form of GLIDE and the mini OpenGL driver that
was written specifically for them. The likes of ATi and NVIDIA were already ahead in some of these
areas and this fact would become a significant advantage once the Voodoo2 had run its course. The
competition was about to pounce.
3Dfx tried to address some of these issues with its Voodoo Banshee released in the fall of 1998.
Supposedly based on Voodoo2 technology it did incorporate a 2D core and did plug into an AGP port
(although it lacked AGP texturing). Unfortunately the Banshee had one big drawback — it only
possessed a single texturing unit. This crippled its performance for the increasing number of games
that required dual texturing, most significantly Quake2. By the end of 1998 most of the principle
players had a dual texturing capability and so the life span of the Banshee was short to say the least.
However despite this fact 3Dfx somehow managed to sell over one million Banshee chips. People just
couldn't get enough of 3Dfx!
On 22nd September, having just settled one courtroom battle with Sega, 3Dfx then decided to sue
NVIDIA over an alleged patent infringement concerning the implementation of multi -texturing on their
TNT chip. As it would turn out this would come to nothing, just as the rabbit that tries to eat your
prize carrots, ends up in the pot itself.
On 10th November Trident announced their 128 -bit Blade 3D chip. This was the company ’s first
serious attempt at 3D acceleration and it proved to be a reasonable low-end solution. Although it
produced a performance that was 40% less than the TNT chip from NVIDIA, it did produce a good
image quality. Unfortunately when cards finally arrived the following March they failed miserably to
compete with even the lowest performing solution of ’99. The chip did however match the
performance of the i740 from Intel, and was likewise integrated into future motherboard chipsets.
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By the end of 1998 there were big changes afoot at 3dfx … and not just a lower -case ‘D’. The company
had decided to merge with STB so that it could exclusively manufacture its own boards. At the time
people were concerned that this might restrict the distribution and availability of Voodoo products.
Regardless, 3dfx marched onward and in November announced its much -anticipated successor to the
Voodoo2.
The Voodoo3 specification came as a big disappointment to fans of 3dfx because it offered precious
little in the way of additional 3D innovation. It did incorporate a 2D core and produced Voodoo2 SLI
performance within a single chip solution. However, as with the Banshee, it still possessed limited AGP
compatibility, and came with no support for 32 -bit color, no textures greater than 256x256, and no
memory configurations higher then 16MB. To compound this, the release of the Voodoo3 would be
delayed five months to allow the merger with STB to be finalized. Handing the competition five
months on a silver platter was a generous gift indeed.
So 1998 was one hot year for gaming hardware, but it was also one hot year for the games
themselves. We began the year with the release of Quake2, which was then followed up by Starcraft,
Unreal and Battlezone. Then in the fall came the eagerly awaited Shogo, Sin, Half -Life, Heretic II,
Grim Fandango and Thief. Wow what a year! But by the time Christmas had come the market was
suffering from heat exhaustion and things turned decidedly chilly. Distributors like EIDOS caught a
cold over the Christmas period and 1999 turned into a decidedly poor year for games.
Although 1999 turned out to be a bad year for games, graphics hardware was about to go ballistic!
Year 1999
AGP4X bus
DirectX v6.1 to v7.0
Intel Pentium III 550MHz to 700MHz
AMD K6-2 450MHz to Athlon 700MHz
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Amidst much Voodoo3 speculation the year kicked off with the announcement of the SiS300 on the
2nd January. Did anyone notice? The SiS300 was actually a 128bit AGP2X compatible accelerator with
support for 64MB of memory, 32bit color, and trilinear filtering. Remember now? Multi-texturing, DX6
compatibility, hardware DVD decoding, TV-out and digital flat-panel support. I must have still been
recovering from the New Year’s Eve party, because I don’t remember a thing about it. Demonstrated
in April, this chipset (SiS300+SiS301) had excellent visual quality, but due to its single pixel pipeline,
had a performance that struggled to match that of even the previous year’s contenders. Despite this
fact, SiS would go on to integrate this technology into many of their forthcoming core -logic chips
(530,620 & 630). 3D integration would become a trend that many would follow.
On February 16th Number Nine announced the first AGP4X graphics card, the SR9, built around the
Savage4 chip from long -term collaborator S3 Graphics (available in May). Also in May they
demonstrated the industry’s first DVI interface for the card. However in June Number Nine risked
being stranded when S3 announced a shift in its market focus. In August Number Nine announced its
intention to pull out of the graphical chip market and concentrate instead on the design of a high-end
board built around the Fuzion 150 chip from PixelFusion. The phrase “last gasp ” comes to mind. In
December Number Nine finally gave up the ghost and sold out to long -term partner S3 Graphics. Five
months later in May 2000 it was officially announced that Number Nine had ceased trading. So the
company that had given us the first 128bit chip and had been tipped for greatness, did eventually
expire.
March saw the announcement of the TNT2, TNT2 Ultra and cheaper Vanta from NVIDIA. In the TNT2
we finally had the chip that NV had promised almost a year earlier. When the cards finally arrived in
late April they heralded the end of the dominance of 3dfx. The TNT2 had everything that we have now
come to expect from a graphics processor. It had solid 32-bit color and Z -buffer support, good image
quality, good drivers, and great performance. The TNT2 Ultra forced even the most ardent of Voodoo
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devotees to admit that NVIDIA had finally delivered.
In March NEC finally demonstrated its PVR250 chip utilizing the second generation of tile-based
rendering technology from PowerVR. First announced some thirteen months earlier and finally named
in December ’98, this initial demonstration of the card would merely provide a taster before the NEON
250 from VideoLogic eventually hit the stores in August. In the most part this delay was caused by
the phenomenal success of the Sega Dreamcast console, which also happened to use the same chip
and consumed them as fast as NEC could bake them. Unfortunately this delay in getting the PC
product to market, coupled with a few driver problems, put many people off, despite the PVR250
having near TNT2 performance.
Also in March Matrox announced their G400 board, which turned out to be the top-performing product
in '99 until NVIDIA gate -crashed the party in August. The G400 had vastly superior memory
bandwidth and produced the best image quality and 32 -bit performance on the block. If Matrox had
managed to produce more G400MAX versions throughout ’99 the company may have drawn more
people away from 3dfx and NVIDIA. Unfortunately, by the time the MAX versions were available,
everyone was talking GPU. In the end the G400 sold well, but ironically not to the gaming community,
but to the business market where its dual monitor support found favor over its gaming prowess. I felt
that the G400 represented a missed opportunity for Matrox, who have since withdrawn back into the
business sector from whence they came.
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In April ATi announced their RAGE 128 Pro chip (GL & VR), however we had to wait until August for
the Rage Fury Pro board that utilized this chip. When it did arrive it managed to match the
performance of a standard TNT2 card, but this was too little too late to catch the pre -millennium
market. In October ATi announced a board that would equal the performance of even a TNT2 Ultra
board. Called the RAGE FURY MAXX, it employed two RAGE 128 Pro chips, but even this level of
performance would be insufficient in light of NVIDIA’s autumnal bombshell.
Also in April Intel announced its i752 chip, the successor to its i740 chip released a year earlier. Cards
using this chip finally became available in August, but with a performance less than half that of the
competition, Intel ’s detour outside the world of integration came to an abrupt end.
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Back in 1998 S3 produced a very capable chip in the form of their Savage3D, unfortunately the
performance of this chip was held back by unstable drivers. You might therefore imagine that the next
product from S3 would have these problems sorted and would therefore be a killer chip. On the 1st
February this did indeed look likely when S3 announced their Savage4 GT and slightly over -clocked
Savage4 Pro chips. Unfortunately by the time boards were available in May it was clear that S3 had
missed to boat yet again. Despite producing an excellent image quality the chip seemed to perform no
better than ATi’s RAGE 128 or NVIDIA ’s TNT and was totally trounced by the TNT2 and Voodoo3 which
hit the streets just one month later. In June S3 announced their plans to purchase Diamond
Multimedia, probably as a reaction to 3dfx purchasing STB, but without a decent chip, few cared. In
August S3 announced their Savage 2000 chip, which did seem quite respectable on paper.
Unfortunately there it would remain until the very end of the year.
Back in March the first boards using the Blade 3D chip from Trident appeared. Even though they
represented a low-end low-cost solution they still looked pathetic compared to the cards that would be
released that year. To correct this, in May Trident announced the Blade 3D Turbo with a boosted clock
speed of 150MHz compared to the original 110MHz. This did at least keep the product competitive
with the i752 from Intel.
Still in May and almost two years after the first Permedia 2 board hit the streets, 3Dlabs finally
shipped their Permedia 3 Create! board. In games the new board performed about 10% less than the
TNT chip from NVIDIA or the Rage128 chip from ATi. However in professional packages such as 3D
Studio Max where the rendering time of more complex single frames is important, the workstation
heritage of 3Dlabs shone through. In such applications no other card released in 1999 could beat it on
performance under OpenGL or Direct3D. This disparity between gaming and professional performance
clearly highlights the difference between each discipline. In games the focus is on maximizing the
performance of comparatively simple images that use a limited number of functions under Direct3D or
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OpenGL. However professionals render more complex scenes and therefore require compatibility to a
much broader range of rendering functions. It is this robust driver, software and user support that
makes professional products more expensive compared to their gaming counterparts. Where the same
manufacture is concerned the hardware can actually be identical between the two markets. As for the
Permedia 3 it basically fell between the two stools and was best suited to professionals who liked to
play the odd computer game. To date, this has been the last foray into the gaming sector by 3Dlabs,
however they are still forging ahead successfully in the workstation market.
At Siggraph99 in August the Bitboys were back. This time with an updated Glaze3D specification that
included every feature under the sun, including 9MB of embedded DRAM memory and four pixel
pipelines capable of rendering 600Mpixels/sec and 1.2Gtexels/sec. In addition to this, the new chips
could be connected in parallel to produce a phenomenal 1.2Gpixel/sec and 2.4Gtexel/sec. Was it
merely a coincidence that this specification seemed to mirror many of the forthcoming features from
NVIDIA and 3dfx. Would we ever see a Glaze3D chip? Don't hold your breath
.
Okay, so I have now cleared the ground for arguably the two most significant releases in 1999. First
the Voodoo3 from 3dfx.
Today most producers try to release a product shortly after it is announced. However a few years ago
this was not the case and often a considerable period of time would elapse before an announced
product would actually hit the streets. The Voodoo3 was a case in point. It was first announced in
November 1998 in order to keep to the traditional date for a Voodoo release. The company even
demonstrated the new product at Comdex98, however due to the merger with STB and in order to
avoid the premature disruption of Banshee sales, the Voodoo3 was withheld until April 1999.
3dfx was one of the first manufactures to re-label their product range in order to target different
sectors of the market. So instead of getting a Voodoo3 we were treated to a Voodoo2000, 3000 &
3500 (sound familiar?). Sadly the five-month delay in their release had allowed the competition to
catch up and for this reason the new range failed to inspire. It performed well enough. However, this
performance derived from a legacy of direct industry support via the GLIDE and mini-OpenGL
interfaces (APIs). Unfortunately 1999 would witness both the demise of GLIDE and the introduction of
competent OpenGL support from the rest of the industry. Strip these away and suddenly the Voodoo3
range was no better than competing cards such as the NVIDIA TNT2 or Matrox G400 released shortly
after. In fact the lack of 32-bit color support and AGP texturing led some to conclude that it was 3dfx
that needed to catch up. Despite these shortcomings the Voodoo3 sold well, but not quite as well as
the TNT2 from NVIDIA.
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This unfamiliar situation that 3dfx found themselves in would be further exacerbated by the second
significant release in 1999; namely the GeForce256 from NVIDIA. First hinted at in April, but
announced in August and demonstrated at ECTS in September, the GeForce256 captured the
imagination of the industry by performing the transformation and lighting calculations in hardware
(know as Hardware T&L or TnL). Thus the humble graphics chip had been elevated to the status of
GPU or Graphical Processing Unit, and although it would be a couple of months before the first retail
cards would surface, this innovation alone managed to steal most of the limelight.
3dfx tried to counter this by simultaneously announcing their new parallel T-buffer technology
intended for their forthcoming Voodoo4 range. But lack of actual silicon betrayed the fact that 3dfx
were nowhere near ready for a release and NVIDIA stole the show.
Ironically, although it was the TnL engine that caught the public imagination, in the end it was the
superior fill rate of the GeForce256 that finally established the chip. NVIDIA already had the best
selling and one of the best performing chips on the market in the form of their TNT2 chip (equaled by
the Voodoo3 but beaten by the G400). The GeForce256 was like two of these chips strapped together.
Its ability to render four single-textured pixels in one pass resulted in some impressive scores,
sometimes exceeding the performance of a Voodoo3 or G400 by as much as 40%. In December,
when DDR memory arrived, this performance gap was further increased to 75%. These performance
figures alone held the attention of the market until the following April, when NVIDIA unleashed their
second killer chip.
As previously mentioned, August saw S3 announce their Savage2000 chip. In November the first card
using this chip was released and came in the form of the Diamond Viper II. The story of the
Savage2000 from S3 demonstrates quite clearly the impact of NVIDIA. Everyone had been waiting for
the Savage2000 and when it finally arrived it had the second best performance on the street (about
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equal to a Matrox G400MAX, but slightly less than a GeForce256). However over the following few
months the Savage2000 would fade into obscurity. Although troubled TnL support was partly
responsible for this, the principle reason was simply bad timing. At any other time the Savage2000
would have succeeded, but at this time everyone was talking about GeForce, Hardware TnL, and the
future of 3dfx. Few noticed the Savage2000, and those that did soon forgot about it.
In October Lockheed -Martin closed down REAL3D and sold all remaining assets to Intel who already
owned a 20% stake.
At Comdex in November 3dfx finally named their forthcoming products. The cards would be called the
Voodoo4 4500, Voodoo5 5000, Voodoo5 5500 & Voodoo5 6000. Each product would utilize one, two
or four of their VSA100 chips (Voodoo Scalable Architecture). It was this parallel design that would
implement the T-Buffer technology that had been previously announced at ECTS. Unfortunately this
new technology would require more memory than commonly used and toward the end of 1999
memory prices had rocketed. This was an ironic twist, because it was the initial fall of memory prices
in 1996 that had contributed to the company’s initial success. The development of a modular
approach also led to instability problems. This all resulted in the final release being delayed until the
following June and then only after a recall. Having to wait five months before releasing their
Voodoo3000 range was bad enough, but now having to sit back a further seven months and watch
NVIDIA climbed to the top of the hill, must have been totally demoralizing. Could things possibly get
any worse for the once golden boys of gaming? You bet your sweat bippy they could!
Year 2000
AGP4X bus
DirectX v7.1 to v8.0
Intel Pentium III 850MHz to 1133MHz
AMD Athlon 850MHz - 1200MHz
One company that does like to squeak up early in the year is SiS. January saw them announce their
305 graphics chip. Although a fully specified AGP2X product and supported by Gainward, it struggled
to produce even a fifth of the performance of the leading cards for the year.
As previously mentioned Rendition was purchased by Micron back in 1998 and shortly thereafter
shelved all thoughts of a Vérit é3300 chip in order to concentrate on a Verité4400E chip for release
early in 2000. This “killer chip” was supposed to have 125 million transistors and 12MB of embedded
cache memory. Although this embedded cache design was later used in Micron’s Athlon chip-set
codenamed Mamba, the actual graphics chip never surfaced. This proved to be the last gasp from the
Rendition design team and the Vérit é range was never heard from again. Micron subsequently
admitted to having no further plans to pursue 3D graphics, which in light of the GeForce phenomenon
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was hardly surprising — R.I.P. Rendition.
Apart from the SiS305 announcement in January nothing much happened for the first few months of
2000. Then suddenly in April … BAM!
On the 11th of April S3 announced their intention to enter into a joint venture with the chip-set
manufacture VIA to explore integrated and mobile graphic solutions. Although this partnership would
not be finalized until the beginning of 2001, in essence it meant that S3 was withdrawing from the
high -end graphics arena. Nevertheless, this union with VIA would come as much needed support for
the beleaguered S3 Graphics team.
Trident is one company that likes to constantly tweak its products. The Blade 3D chip became the
Blade 3D Turbo and this would eventually become the Blade T64 with a dual -pixel quad -texture
engine and support for AGP4X mode, 32MB of memory and DVD decoding. Nevertheless this remained
a 64bit solution and therefore on the 19th April Trident announced their 128bit Blade XP chip.
Although the chip would be ready by the end of the year it would not be until May 2001 that boards
based on the chip would eventually surface from manufactures such as Jaton and Innovision.
On the 24th of April ATi launched their first RADEON chip (available in July). With a spec list that read
from the Who’s Who of hardware features, the Radeon represented the only significant competition for
the GeForce256. The chip was promoted as supporting more DirectX7 features than any other
product: a marketing pitch that was later commandeered by NVIDIA. In 16 -bit tests the Radeon
produced similar results to the GeForce256, but pulled away in 32 -bit color thanks to its HyperZ
technology. Unfortunately for ATi, NVIDIA were to strike back just forty -eight hours later.
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On the 25th April Matrox announced their G450 graphics chip (available in July). Withdrawing from
the gaming market, Matrox had concentrated on producing an economical solution for business and
OEM markets. Buoyed by the success from their pioneering dual monitor support on the G400, they
tidied this up, and cut production costs by dropping the 128bit memory interface in favor of a more
conservative 64bit DDR interface. This produced a product no faster then their original G400, which in
itself revealed the company’s strategy for the future. Personally I fear for the long term success of
Matrox. It is easy to take a powerful core and force it into every other market segment, but far more
difficult to maneuver with a lesser product. Matrox may have withdrawn into their shell, but the likes
of NVIDIA have a huge crowbar in the form of their GeForce technology to pry that shell open. Luckily
rumors abound of a new chip to be released in 2002.
On the 26th April NVIDIA announced their successor to the GeForce256, namely the GeForce2 GTS
(available in May). Now I could go on to explain how GTS stands for “Giga Texel Shader” and how this
can be used to apply hardwired functions to vertices and pixels, but to be brutally honest I don ’t know
of a single game that exploited this technology. No, the success of the GeForce2 GTS derived from
only one significant advance and that was its ability to apply two textures to four pixels in one pass.
Its predecessor, the GeForce256, could apply only one texture to four pixels or two textures to two
pixels. In just twelve months it seemed that NVIDIA had taken their leading TNT2 technology and
quadrupled its performance. This monumental stride produced a product that has remained viable to
this day. In 16 -bit color the GeForce2 GTS outpaced even the Radeon card by as much as 65%.
However the card failed to outperform a Radeon in 32 -bit color. The explanation for this shortcoming
was quite simple: at the time 32 -bit performance was restricted solely by memory speed, especially at
resolutions higher than 800x600. As the majority of top cards had now come to use the same type of
DDR memory, it was hardly surprising that they all had similar 32 -bit performance. It would however
be unfair to criticize a graphics chip for the shortcomings of another component, and for this reason
we should take the exceptional 16 -bit performance of the GeForce2 GTS chip as an indication of its
true potential.
Okay I think I’m done with April now
.
NVIDIA would come to dominate in 2000. Their GeForce2 technology was so powerful that it was
pushed into almost every market sector. In June they announced their entry level GeForce2 MX for
the OEM market. In July they introduced their Quadro2 for the workstation market. In August they
exploited faster memory to produce their GeForce2 Ultra. Also in August they released their highly
optimized “Detonator3” drivers that resulted in a further performance boost. In November they
announced their GeForce2 Go chip for the mobile market. Oh, and I forgot to mention that in March
they had been selected to provide Microsoft’s X-Box chip. Did I leave anything out? Yes lots. Including
one maneuver that had everyone crying over their joysticks. But first…
Hurrah! On the 23rd day of the 5th month of this 3rd millennium of our Lord, the Voodoo5 5500 cards
were finally shipped. Unfortunately on the 25th day, due to a power supply problem, they were all
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recalled! But fear not, on the 9th day of the 6th month they were all release again. Hurrah!
In June STMicro announced their Kyro chip based upon Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR Series3
technology (available in October). Continuing the tile-based rendering approach of the Series2
technology, the performance of the little Kyro was much better than expected, especially from a chip
that was clocked at only half the speed of a GeForce2 Ultra. The little Kyro succeeded in matching the
performance of a Savage2000 and was only slightly less than a GeForce256. However, when
rendering a scene with many overlapping objects (e.g. an exterior cityscape), the Kyro blitzed all
competition. Despite having a poor general stability, the Kyro hinted at things to come.
On the 24th August it was announced that ATi had won the contract to supply the graphics chip for
the forthcoming Nintendo GAMECUBE Console. This was a bit of a cheat because ATi had simply
purchased the company that was already designing the chip.
Back to the crying. On August 28th, just a few days before the release of the Voodoo4 4500, NVIDIA
filled a lawsuit against 3dfx for alleged patent infringement. Many considered this to be a counterclaim
against the lawsuit that 3dfx had filed back in September '98. The principle concern was that 3dfx
might not have sufficient capital to pursue the case.
Despite this bombshell, the Voodoo5 5500 still managed to grab the “Best Hardware Product ” award
at ECTS2000 that September (to which NVIDIA just gave a wry smile). I was at the show that year,
and although 3dfx put on a brave face, it was not difficult to detect the back-stage air of depression.
During the following four months the Voodoo5 5500 proved to have the second best performance
available, squeezing in between the Radeon and a GeForce2 GTS. However, memory prices remained
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high and this performance came at a price. The very survival of 3dfx was pinned on the success of
their new technology, but all the delays had taken their toll. This time 3dfx had arrived just too late
and on the 15th December the company finally crumbled. It was decided that the best thing for
employees and shareholders alike, would be to settle the dispute and allow NVIDIA to absorb the
beleaguered company. R.I.P. 3dfx
.
In December SiS announced their 256 -bit SiS315 graphics chip that supported AGP4X and even
Hardware TnL (although an inferior version compared to NVIDIA’s implementation). The Gainward
SiS315 was certainly a viable low -end card with a full feature -set, but unfortunately it would not see
the light of day until mid 2001.
So by the end of 2000 we had effectively lost, S3 Graphics, Rendition, Matrox and 3dfx, either due to
collapse, absorption, or shifting emphasis. We moved into 2001 with NVIDIA and ATi as the main
players, with St Micro and SiS bringing up the rear.
Year 2001
AGP4X bus
DirectX v8.0a to v8.1
Intel Pentium 4 1400MHz to 2000MHz
AMD Athlon 1333MHz to Athlon XP 1600MHz (1900+)
Can you believe it, in January the Bitboys were back again. Don ’t these guys know when to stay
down! Having shelved their Glaze3D chip (surprise, surprise) they now announced their new XBA™ or
Xtreme Bandwidth Architecture! Yeah right. By this time few were taking the Bitboys seriously, as
demonstrated by the following press releases.
External Link /// www.3dspotlight.com
External Link /// www.somethingawful.com
Also in January VIA and S3 (now called SONICblue) finalized their partnership and resurrected S3
Graphics Inc. with the intention to concentrate on mobile and integrated solutions.
On the 22nd February NVIDIA continued their relentless onslaught with the announcement of their
GeForce3 technology (available in March). Building upon their sound GeForce2 platform, the GeForce3
heralded a new age in computer graphics. Up to this point, any potentially new feature had to be
passed back and forth between the game developers, the chip designers and the API programmers.
This whole process could take two years for a desired feature to be finally implemented within a
game. For example, bump-mapping was talked about in 1998, but four years on and it has still to be
widely implemented. The new technology, that NVIDIA dubbed their nfiniteFX™ engine, would allow
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game developers to program the graphics chip themselves; thereby allowing them to implement
whatever specific feature they required — instantly! More generally known as “programmable vertex
and pixel shaders ”, graphics cards would never be the same again.
In addition to this programmability the new GeForce3 chip had a few other performance enhancing
tricks up its sleeve. This saw its baseline performance rise another 30% over the previously
untouchable GeForce2 Ultra (despite being clocked slightly slower). Taking a leaf out of ATi’s book,
NVIDIA promoted the GeForce3 as a full DirectX8 implementation.
On March 12th ST Micro announced their Kyro II chip (available in April). The initial Kyro chip had
already turned some heads, and the Kyro II certainly caught the attention of NVIDIA. A leaked
internal marketing document from NVIDIA demonstrated how PR staff might discredit this new chip.
Was the mighty NVIDIA worried? Surely not.
Although the Kyro II chip was produced by STMicro, the rendering technology itself was licensed from
PowerVR, which itself is a subsidiary of Imagination Technologies, who also own the board
manufacture Videologic. Did you get all that
. Although the Kyro II used the same Series 3 tile based rendering technology as the first Kyro, it was now clocked at a much higher rate (175MHz
instead of 115Mhz). On paper the Kyro II failed to impress. It had no hardware TnL; no
programmable shaders and no AGP4X support. However it was clocked at the same rate as the entry
level GeForce2 MX and Radeon cards and this ensured that the Kyro II matched both in the
performance stakes. In fact the Kyro II actually exceeded these cards most of the time thanks to its
unique tile-based rendering approach. Although it fell a little short compared to a GeForce2 GTS card
and quite a way shorter than a GeForce3 card, it was never intended to compete with either. It was
priced squarely to battle with NVIDIA’s entry level GeForce2 MX card and in this regard it did succeed.
Kyro II boards from Videologic and Hercules kept pace with MX sales and in the U.K. actually
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exceeded them.
To counter this potential threat NVIDIA announced their GeForce2 MX 200 & 400 just a few days
before the Kyro II launch. These two products effectively split the original GeForce2 MX into two
products, the lesser of which (the 200) could be pitched at a very low price and hopefully entice OEM’s
and system builders away from the competition. Strangely, NVIDIA would never introduce a GeForce3
MX product. I guess they considered that this slot was best filled by their existing GeForce2 GTS chip.
On the 14th of March the VIA/SONICblue partnership, in the form of S3 Graphics Inc., unveiled its
SuperSavage graphics chip for the mobile market. This new part comprised a 128-bit 3D engine
running at 143MHz and supported 64 -bit DDR or 128-bit SDR memory and an AGP4X interface.
Support came from the likes of Sony, NEC, Micron, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Toshiba. This would not
be the last SuperSavage product the world would see.
In May the first boards based on Trident ’s 128bit Blade XP and 64bit Blade T64 chips started to ship.
Although today Trident claims speeds of up to 200MHz and 166MHz respectively for each chip, initially
boards ran at 166MHz and 143MHz. In tests the performance of the Blade XP fell slightly below that of
it ’s direct competitor the SiS315, which itself was 20% slower than the GeForce2 MX 200 from
NVIDIA. Today all three manufactures are integrating their respective technologies into core logic
designs.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles on the 16th May, ATi demonstrated their
technology for the Nintendo GAMECUBE console. Finally called the "Flipper" chip it was mostly
designed around graphics technology from a company called ArtX, whom ATi had purchased back in
2000.
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On June 19th Matrox announced their G550 product (available in August). Desperate to repeat the
success of their dual monitor support, Matrox this time came up with virtual conferencing or as they
called it, HeadCasting™ . Oh dear
.
On June 26th St Micro announced that they would extend their partnership with Imagination
Technologies to include the development and manufacture of a range of cards based upon the series 4
& 5 technology from PowerVR. At this point the future looked bright for the alternative tile -base
rendering approach.
Also in June NVIDIA launched their nFORCE motherboard chip-set with integrated GeForce2 graphics.
This strategy allowed NVIDIA to both compete in the core-logic market and also to directly address
any system-based bottlenecks. Unfortunately using system memory instead of dedicated graphics
memory is always the slower option.
On August 14th ATi struck back at NVIDIA with their new Radeon8500 chip (codename R200). Since
the launch of the GeForce3 back in February, DirectX8.0 had advanced to DirectX8.1, leaving the
NVIDIA product no longer fully compliant with the DirectX specification. Exploiting this fact, ATi
promoted their new chip as being fully DirectX8.1 compliant. This new chip from ATi actually
outperformed the GeForce3 by between ten and twenty percent. ATi had seemingly done the
impossible. In one giant step they had not only surpassed NVIDIA ’s GeForce2 GTS, but had also
overtaken their flagship GeForce3 technology. In essence they had done to NVIDIA, what AMD had
done to Intel. Like NVIDIA and 3dfx before them, ATi also relabeled their entire range. Their older
Radeon and a tweaked version now spread itself throughout their 7x00 range, and the newer
technology spread itself throughout their 8x00 range. Over the coming months ATi would target the
mobile market, the workstation market, the home cinema market, the mobile workstation market, the
high -end the low -end the OEM-end, in fact every damn end! In just 12 months ATi had become the
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twin to NVIDIA in every regard (or should that be the other way around?).
On the 1st October NVIDIA tried to spoil ATi's party by announcing their GeForce3 Titanium series.
However this was nothing more than a renaming exercise. A cynical marketing ploy, that failed to
impress the media. Effectively NVIDIA had split its GeForce3 into two new products: a slightly slower
and therefore cheaper GeForce3 Ti200 and a slightly faster GeForce3 Ti500. They had also taken their
GeForce2 Pro (clocked between a GeForce2 GTS and a GeForce2 Ultra) and re -badged it as a
GeForce2 Titanium chip (this acted as their GeForce3 MX substitute). NVIDIA also tried to convince
the market that their new Titanium range incorporated a few additional features, but these turned out
to be nothing more than driver tweaks. In reality the new GeForce3 Ti500 was nothing more than a
slightly over-clocked GeForce3. This small performance boost did however bring the performance of a
GeForce3 Ti500 up to that of a Radeon8500.
In September SiS announced that they had integrated their 256 -bit SiS315 graphics chip into their
award winning SiS645 Pentium4 chipset to produce their new SiS650 core -logic.
Year 2002
AGP8X bus
DirectX v8.1 to v9.0
Intel Pentium 4 2200MHz to 3066MHz
AMD Athlon XP 1666MHz to 2250MHz (2000+ to 2800+)
We entered the New Year in the unusual situation of the 8500 technology from ATi having taken a
slim lead over the GeForce3 technology from NVIDIA. On the 2nd January ATi continued this push
with shipment of their FIRE GL8800 workstation board, and on the 8th targeted the opposite end of
the market with their IMAGEON 100 display coprocessor for handheld devices. At the same time ATi
unveiled its 7000 & 8500 cards for the Apple MAC platform and later in the month presented its new
ALL-IN-WONDER 7500 card. ATi had certainly started the year as it meant to continue.
The 4th February saw a flurry of activity from firstly 3Dlabs, who introduced their impressive Wildcat
III 6210 & Wildcat III 6110 graphics accelerators for the workstation market (shipped in May). This
was followed by ATi announcing OEM access to their flagship R200 technology in the form of the
RADEON 8500LE chip. Although clocked slightly slower than a regular 8500 chip, the LE version was
nonetheless the same flagship product. However, despite this continued push from ATi, the sun had
not set on the 4th without a hint of things to come. On that same day Jon Peddie Research (JPR)
named NVIDIA “Company of the Year 2001 ” and the sun rose on a world packed with over one
hundred million NVIDIA GPUs. A new dawn was about to break.
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So on the 6th February 2002 NVIDIA launched its GeForce4 family of GPUs. The word “family ” is
particularly apt because the launched consisted of no fewer than six incarnations. There were the
three titanium versions (codenamed NV25): the GeForce4 Ti4200 clocked at 250/250; the Ti4400 at
275/275; and the GeForce4 Ti4600 clocked at 300/325. In addition there were also three entry-level
MX versions (codenamed NV17), which unfortunately were GeForce4 chips in name only, having
inherited none of the programmable technology introduced since the GeForce3 line. Cards based on
these newer MX chips performed no better than the GeForce2 Ultra released some 18 months earlier.
However, as an entry -level product, they still represented exceptional value. In a way, the lack of
support during 2002 for the additional features of the Ti range, avoided any disappointments that may
have arisen from this branding exercise. In the end however, it would be the Ti4200 products that
buyers would consider as the entry -level, and the MX cards would slowly faded away toward the end
of the year. Eventually even the Ti4400 cards faded away, leaving just the Ti4200 and Ti4600 cards
as the polarized choice.
Clock-for-clock the new NV25 chip from NVIDIA was about 20% faster than the 8500 chip from ATi.
This increase was a result of much of the new technology being targeted toward performance. NVIDIA
worked especially hard to bring the GeForce4 range to market and surely expected it to be totally
dominant throughout 2002. ATi had their own expectations.
On the 8th February 2002 ST Micro announced its intension to withdraw from the discrete PC
accelerator market. This obviously came as a complete blow to the KYRO project and placed the
development of Series 4 & 5 rendering technology from PowerVR in jeopardy.
Other announcements in February came from Matrox in the form of a PCI G450 card with DVI output,
and G450 X2 & X4 MMS cards (Multi Monitor Series). Toward the end of the month Trident
Microsystems Inc. announced a 200MHz low -power CyberBLADE XP2 graphics part for the mobile and
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integration markets.
Moving on into March: on the 11th Creative Technology Ltd announced their intention to purchase
3Dlabs. This acquisition would allow Creative to enter the graphics chip market via the backdoor and
so make them less reliant on other chipmakers such as NVIDIA. This would prove an especially clever
purchase if the next product from 3Dlabs was as good as rumors suggested.
Luckily ST Micro did not pull out of the discrete graphics market before helping to produce the
enhanced KYRO II SE chip for Imagination Technologies (Series 3 PowerVR technology). This new chip
was unveiled on the 13th March at CeBIT alongside two boards, the Vivid!XS Elite from VideoLogic
(who changed their name to Pure Digital on July 15) and the 3D Prophet 4800 from Hercules. Despite
an increased clock speed from 175MHz to 200MHz, the new KYRO II chip performed no better than a
RADEON 7200. Poorly optimized drivers were probably to blame, and although such teething problems
would normally be corrected, the withdrawal of ST Micro effectively pulled the rug from under the
poor little Kyro. Both boards from Videologic and Hercules never made it to market. The last word was
that PowerVR Series 4 would not be coming to the PC space, but Series 5 would be making an
appearance in 2003. Luckily for PowerVR, their integrated technology would go on to find other
partners, even one in the slot -machine market.
For those that just couldn ’t wait to get their hands on a GeForce4 card, a few pre -production models
were auctioned off for charity on the 15th March. The Ti4600 card sold for 2800 US$. Three days later
the boards hit the shops.
Announced in January, the RADEON 8500 MAC edition finally shipped on the 2nd of April. Well it could
have been worse — it could have shipped a day earlier.
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On the 15th April Trident Microsystems Inc. announced that it had started sampling its new XP4 3D
graphics processor for the mobile market. The objective, first conceived in 1998, was to produce a
modern functional product with low power consumption that did not require the active cooling (fans
for instance) typically found on comparative products. The chip is fabricated on 0.13µ m CMOS
technology with copper interconnects and a design strategy that implemented four rendering pipelines
using only half the number of transistors found on a GeForce4 chip. Despite consuming less than 3
watts of power, the chip still supports DDR500 memory at a core speed of 250MHz. Trident is another
company championing the tile-based rendering approach. More about the XP4 in August.
On the 17th April both NVIDIA and ATi announced their support for the future rival to the AGP & PCI
bus standards, now called PCI Express (formerly 3GIO). PCI Express derives from the Arapahoe
Workgroup team comprising executives from Compaq, Dell, Hewlett -Packard, IBM, Intel, and
Microsoft.
Apart from shipping their ALL -IN-WONDER RADEON 8500 card on the 22nd April, and the launch of
their IGP integrated solutions in June, ATi would fall silent until July, when they would wipe the smile
from the face of NVIDIA.
We couldn ’t escape April without SiS announcing its new Xabre range of graphics chips (codenamed
328, 332, 334 & 336). Heralded on the 24th as the only part at the time to support both DirectX8 and
AGP8X, it was to be the successor to the 315 graphics engine that was utilized in 2001. The range
included the Xabre80 (200/SDR333), Xabre200 (200/DDR333), Xabre400 (250/DDR500) and later in
the year the Xabre600 (300/DDR600). The Xabre400 was certainly more impressive than the
company’s previous low-end solutions, with a performance slightly less than that of a GeForce4 MX or
RADEON 7500 card.
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Forget ATi and NVIDIA, the month of May was dominated by the more refined and less vocal of
traders in the graphics market. On the 3rd 3Dlabs announced its powerhouse P10 graphics chip. The
P10 would combine over 200 SIMD processors throughout its geometry, texture and pixel pipelines to
deliver over one TeraOp of programmable graphics performance. The P10 certainly turned more heads
than just those in the workstation market. The first boards based on this new chip were expected in
the 3rd quarter of the year, however 3Dlabs had yet to ship its Wildcat III products to market, which
it finally did on the 7th. On the 16th the purchase of 3Dlabs by Creative Technology was completed.
The big news in May was the announcement by Matrox of the Parhelia graphics processor on the 14th
and associated cards on the 18th. On paper the 512bit architecture hinted at a performance much
higher than the 256bit solutions that were available at the time, including the GeForce4 Ti range from
NVIDIA. However paper was one thing, practice was another. With 27% more transistors than the
GeForce4 Ti range, Matrox faced a difficulty in getting the chip to run stable at a competitive speed.
The company would keep that speed a closely guarded secret right up to the launch of the first boards
at the end of June. At just 220MHz the speed fell someway short of the 300MHz from NVIDIA. At the
time we put this down to the 80 million transistors, but ATi were about to release a product with 110
million transistors running at 325MHz! In addition to the slow core speed, the omission of
performance enhancing technology like early pixel culling also crippled the Parhelia, which in some
games struggled to match the performance of even the RADEON 8500. To be fair to Matrox, the
Parhelia was only intended for the business and workstation markets, where its flexibility, feature -set
and support for 30-bit color and triple-head display was warmly welcomed. This monumental effort to
remain competitive was recognized by the industry, who awarded Matrox “Best Hardware of E3 ” the
following month.
Earlier in the year there was much speculation about a new graphics core (codenamed Zoetrope) from
the resurrected S3 Graphics Inc. Well on June 3rd the new technology finally appeared in the guise of
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three new products. The first was a GPU called the SavageXP for the value end of the discrete desktop
market. This release ran contrary to the company's initial claim that the support from VIA would lead
to purely mobile and integrated solutions. I wouldn’t blame anyone for missing the launch of this card,
because at a time when the GeForce4 MX440 defined entry-level performance, here was S3 releasing
a board that performed at only half this rate, matching the performance of the GeForce2 MX400 that
NVIDIA had released some 2 years earlier! In the end the board was never officially released. I think
the support from VIA must have gone to their heads. Anyway, this same technology would be used in
the mobile and integrated markets under the names of AlphaChrome & AlphaChrome333 respectively.
Before the end of the year S3 had turned its backs on the Zoetrope core and had started to
concentrate on a new core for 2003 called DeltaChrome.
Okay, lets rattle through the other events in June. Matrox shipped their X2 & X4 Multi-Monitor
solutions that had been announced in February. NVIDIA introduced the world to their Cg (C for
Graphics) programming language, intended to help developers utilize the power of Vertex & Pixel
Shaders. NVIDIA also started to ship Personally Cinema with both GeForce Ti & MX boards. Finally
both 3Dlabs and Matrox shipped their new parts. In the case of 3Dlabs this was the new P10 -based
Wildcat VP family of workstation-class accelerators, which even caught the eye of game-developer
John Carmack from id Software.
Can you sense me clearing the decks for a big event? Well here we go again!
On the 18th July 2002 ATi surprised everyone by delivering on its promise to produce a GeForce4
killer chip (codenamed R300). The first products to be announced were the RADEON 9000, RADEON
9000 PRO and RADEON 9700 PRO. As in the case of the GeForce4 MX range, the 9000 series were
targeted toward the mid to lower range of the market. Based around the older R200 (8500) core, the
9000 series cards were still full DirectX8 products, a claim that could not be made for the GeForce4
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MX cards. ATi also managed to ship the 9000 cards on the 22nd just four days after the initial
announcement. However the principle excitement was not centered around the 9000 series, but on
the 9700 PRO that utilized the new R300 technology.
ATi were so proud of this new chip that they coined the term VPU (Visual Processing Unit) to
distinguish it from the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) originated by NVIDIA. So what was so special
about this new chip? Well the 9700 had a 256bit wide memory interface and 8 parallel rendering
pipelines, twice that of the GeForce4. However this complexity came at the cost of over 110 million
transistors manufactured on a 0.15µm process, and like the 220MHz Parhelia, many doubted that ATi
could deliver on its 325MHz target. However in three short weeks ATi did just that!
Clock-for-clock the new R300 core appeared to be around 20% faster than the NV25 core from
NVIDIA (GeForce Ti range). However this was determined at a resolution of 1600x1200x32 which may
simply be insufficient to test these modern cards. Turning on antialiasing or anisotropic filtering sent
the comparative performance of the R300 into orbit, outstripping the NV25 by more than 100% —
that’s over twice as fast!
The new 9700 PRO was a full DirectX9 compatible product running on an AGP8X bus and included
sophisticated HYPER Z III pixel culling technology, which unfortunately the Parhelia from Matrox
lacked. To get a 110 million 0.15 µm transistors running stable at 325MHz was simply a stupendous
achievement. At ECTS in August the depression emanating from NVIDIA was palpable. Luckily for
them, ATi failed to deliver high volumes of the new product until the end of the year, generously
allowing the GeForce4 its time in the sun.
August kicked off with Trident Microsystems Inc. announcing a desktop range of XP4 products. The
XP4 was slated for release in three versions: the T1 clocked at 250/250 with a 64bit memory interface
supporting 64MBytes of frame buffer, the T2 clocked also at 250/250 but with a 128-bit memory
interface supporting 128MBytes of frame buffer and the T3 clocked at 300/300 with a 128 -bit
interface and supporting 128Mbytes of frame buffer. Trident made quite extravagant claims regarding
performance, expecting to get within 70 percent of Nvidia's GeForce4 Ti4600. Unfortunately, Trident
has experienced production problems at the new 0.13µ m scale, causing the release schedule to slip
into first quarter of 2003. The T2 engineering samples that were available suggested that the fastest
XP4 card would fall a little short of GeForce4 Ti4200 performance. Initially Trident was confident in
producing faster and faster versions on a six -monthly cycle. As is typically the case, it was the first
cycle that proved the most troublesome.
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Apart from NVIDIA releasing its Detonator 40 drivers on the 29th, the rest of August belonged to ATi.
On the 7th ATi announced the first board to use the new 9700 technology. The RADEON 9700 PRO
fulfilled ATi’s promise to supply the new technology at 325MHz, and this board eventually shipped on
the 19th. Finally, on the 29th ATi announced its MOBILITY RADEON 9000 for the mobile market.
September began with our old friends the Bitboys... hurrah! On the 4th they announced their new Axe
technology (codenamed Avalanche), which built on their previous XBA technology. Axe is a DirectX8
product with MatrixAA antialiasing, four rendering pipelines each with two texture units, four vertex
shader units, 12 million transistors and embedded OD RAM. Will we ever see this one come to
market? Well they do have some product photos up on their site, so you never know. I really
shouldn't be too cynical about Bitboy technology, because even if it never appears, it won't be the
only one in 2002.
As for the rest of September... well 3Dlabs were acknowledged as the leading provider of advanced
workstation accelerators by IDC and Jon Peddie Research. Intel released the final AGP 3.0 (8X)
specification and two weeks later NVIDIA updated their Ti4200 & MX 440 chips to take advantage of
it. ATi announced and shipped their MOBILITY FIRE GL 9000 product for the mobile workstation
market and also announced the ALL -IN-WONDER 9700 PRO, which didn't ship until the 18th of
November, but turned out to be a fabulous all -round card.
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October 22nd and 3Dlabs introduced its Wildcat VP560 dual -screen entry -level addition to its new VP
range of cards. This card used a cut down version of the new P10 technology called P9. In games the
performance fell someway short of a GeForce4 Ti4200 card, but for workstation tasks the VP560
performed much better and represented excellent value for money. At the other end of the scale
3Dlabs also announced its Wildcat4 7210 & 7110 ultra high-end workstation boards.
To ensure that the world hadn’t forgotten about the Parhelia, Matrox stuck its head up on the 22nd
and announced a 256MB version. That would be the last squeak from Matrox in 2002.
The rest of the month — hell almost the rest of the YEAR — was devoted to ATi. The only two
announcements that weren’t, were made on the 18th November at Comdex in Las Vegas. The first
was a sneak preview of the Xabre600 card from SiS, officially announced on the 26th. In effect this
was the same product as the Xabre400, but by producing it on a 0.13 µm scale, SiS was able to crank
up the core speed from 250MHz to 300MHz. Unfortunately the performance was still no better than a
GeForce4 MX440 card.
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The second announcement made at Comdex regarded the eagerly anticipated GeForce FX (NV30) chip
from NVIDIA. This new technology was hyped under the name ‘CineFX ’ with the supposed capability
to deliver cinema quality effects in real-time. The hugely complex chip contained no fewer than 125
million transistors, but had been delayed due to fabrication problems at the new 0.13 µm scale. It
seemed that everyone who had opted for this scale in 2002 had run into problems. I bet ATi were glad
they had stuck to 0.15 µm. At the time of this announcement NVIDIA were carrying out sampling tests
and had yet to determine how many of the chips were likely to reach the 500MHz target speed. As it
turned out, not as many as they had hoped and although 500MHz Ultra versions would be released,
NVIDIA decided that 400MHz might be a more realistic figure for consumer -level boards. I’m not
going into any more details regarding the GeForce FX at this time because it is basically a 2003
product, but I've included a picture anyway.
In December NVIDIA quietly released AGP8X versions of their Ti4400 & Ti4600 chips called Ti4800SE
& Ti4800 respectively. I guess they wanted to keep this release quiet so as not to distract from the
imminent GeForce FX release. Anyway, this concludes NVIDIA input for 2002.
It seems fitting to finish up the year with the remaining announcements from ATi, so backtracking
slightly to before Comdex...
On October 22nd ATi demonstrated a 9700 PRO card utilizing DDR2 memory and on the 24th ATi
released a slower version of the RADEON 9700 PRO called just RADEON 9700. This board used exactly
the same technology but reduced the clock from 325/310 down to 275/270. At the same time ATi
announced two new products based on cut -down versions of the R300 technology (remember that the
9000 range was based on R200 technology). Both products had the same 275/270 clock as the newly
introduced RADEON 9700, but the RADEON 9500 PRO had only a 128bit memory interface, as did the
RADEON 9500, which was also restricted to four rendering pipelines instead of eight, and supported
just 64MB of memory. Performance wise the 9700 still managed to beat NVIDIA ’s flagship Ti4600
chip, while the 9500 PRO came in slightly behind the Ti4400, and the 9500 about 20% slower than a
Ti4200.
At the end of October ATi announced shipment of over 12 million ‘Flipper’ chips for the NINTENDO
GAMECUBE and at the beginning of November proudly announced to be the first to market with a total
hardware & software DirectX9 solution. If that wasn’t enough ATi also announced the IMAGEON 3200
graphical co -processor for handheld devices.
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Okay let’s wrap this ATi lovin’ up. On the 18th November the company shipped their ALL -IN-WONDER
9700 PRO and on the 21st they shipped the FIRE GL X1 -128MB and FIRE GL Z1 workstation boards
based on 9700 & 9500 technology respectively. On the 27th ATi shipped their 9500 PRO boards and
on the 2nd December announced a new ALL -IN-WONDER VE board based on older 7500 technology
(R100). To round out the year ATi released their CATALYST 3.0 unified drivers for... just about
everything!
So should we give 2002 to NVIDIA with its NV25 chip or to ATi with its R300 chip? Well the GeForce4
was released earlier and therefore had more market exposure. For this reason more people were
playing games at Christmas on GeForce4 cards than on 9700 cards. Maybe we should give 2002 to
NVIDIA and save 2003 for ATi, or maybe we should just give six months to each of them.
The official release of DirectX 9.0 from Microsoft just managed to creep into 2002 on the 20th
December, but availability was limited for the first few weeks.
That's it! Goodbye 2002, it ’s been a hoot.
To infinity and beyond
So this is the point at which I present my prophesy for the future… right? Wrong!
If the unfolding events have told us anything, it’s that we should never try to second-guess the PC
graphics industry. However as the technology matures, it will inevitably filter down to everything from
a mobile phone to a packet of cornflakes! The future lies with “integration ” and this will occur not only
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for purely economic reasons, but also because components that are soldered directly onto a circuit
board can communicate at a faster rate. Whenever possible technology will be integrated into a single
chip where the internal signal speeds are higher still.
Throughout this article I have already touched on the subject of graphical integration into
motherboard chipsets, however, as integration is such an important subject in general, it seems fitting
to conclude by detailing the current state of play in this market.
Integration
I would say that NVIDIA have the greatest potential. Historically integration has come from the corelogic designers who have developed their own graphics part as a sideline, or licensed the technology
from others. However NVIDIA have approached integration from the opposite direction, and will
therefore always have a top-rate graphics part to integrate. Some might say that core -logic is easier
to develop than graphics technology, but this is not necessarily the case. As system boards increase in
speed, the design of stable core-logic becomes a 'black art' that can only be mastered through
experience. The development of the nFORCE chipset means that NVIDIA now have that experience.
The nFORCE technology comes in a variety of flavors for the Athlon platform, including 420-D, 220 -D
and 220. The 420 version has a 128 -bit memory interface, while the 220's have only 64 -bits. The 'D'
notation simply indicates the inclusion of Dolby Digital 5.1. In January 2002 NVIDIA announced a
cheaper 415 -D version that omits the graphics core. This move demonstrates that NVIDIA is confident
that the nFORCE technology can stand on its own feet, without needing to rely on a superior graphics
core.
On the 16th July 2002 NVIDIA announced its second -generation integrated chipset. In October of that
year the nFORCE ™2 went into production. The most notable improvements include: DDR333/400
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memory support; AGP8X; USB2 and integrated Geforce4 MX graphics. At the end of 2002 the
nFORCE2 chipset was probably the most popular platform for the Athlon processor and far more
popular than its forbear.
Back in February 2000 ATi announced their first integrated core -logic chip the S1 -370 TL. Strangely
this Northbridge part integrated graphics from ArtX and not ATi’s own graphics technology. Intended
as a direct competitor for the i815e chip from Intel, it found its way onto only a small number of
boards for the Chinese market.
On March 13 2002 ATi announced its new range of IGP chips (Integrated Graphics Processors). These
included the 320 Northbridge for Athlon and Duron systems and a 320M version for the AMD mobile
market, plus the 330 & 340 for the Pentium 4 platform and a 340M mobile version. All these chipsets
integrated the company's own RADEON 7000 graphics technology and included support for AGP4X and
266MHz DDR memory. Although motherboards based around the 320 chip started to appear in June,
it turned out to be the 320M & 340M mobile versions that found a nice market in some notebooks
from October. However the release of the nFORCE2 chipset in July took the wind out of 320 sales, and
versions based around the 340, like the Gigabyte GA-8TRML, have been thin on the ground. ATi really
need to integrate their newer graphics technology if they want to catch up to NVIDIA in the IGP
market.
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Despite the lackluster performance from Intel, the i752 graphics technology was integrated into their
810 and 815 core -logic (motherboard chipsets), and an enhanced graphics core found its way into
their 830M mobile chipset.
On the 20th May 2002 Intel announced its 845G & 845GL chipsets that integrated their new 'Extreme
Graphics' technology. This new graphics core (82845G) uses a tile -based rendering approach running
at 200MHz and supports 266MHz DDR memory. The following page lists the complete specification.
External Link /// www.intel.com
On the 7th October 2002 Intel released its 845GE & 845GV chipsets that also contained this new
graphics core. All of the core logic chips produced by Intel in 2002 were received well, but most
people chose versions that omitted the graphics core, such as the 845PE. Those people actually
needing integrated graphics opted instead for boards based around the nFORCE2 chipset from
NVIDIA. Never mind Intel, nice try.
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SiS have been integrating their own graphics technology into their core -logic since 1999. Recently
their motherboard technology has become very popular, and all the while their graphics technology
has been quietly improving. Currently they integrate their SiS315 graphics engine into their SiS650
core logic for Pentium 4 system.
Yet another partnership to yield an integrated solution is the one between the chipset maker VIA and
graphics developer S3. The first product to ship was the VIA ProSavage PM133 for the intel desktop
platform way back in June 2000. This incorporated the Savage4 graphics part from S3, which would
be used in numerous VIA chipsets over the intervening years. A version for the AMD desktop platform
(KM133) was released in September 2000, and then in January 2001 the partnership was solidified
when S3 (then renamed to SONICblue) and VIA resurrected S3 Graphics Inc. to specifically target the
integrated chipset market. Shortly after in March, S3 announced their discrete SuperSavage
technology for the mobile market, based on their original Savage MX & IX mobile parts. Integrated
solutions of this mobile technology, codnamed ‘Twister’, were announced in May 2001 and finally
emerged as the VIA ProSavage KN133 for the mobile AMD market, and in August the PN133 for the
mobile intel market. At the same time VIA also tweaked their original PM133 intel desktop solution
and re-released it as the PL133T.
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In November 2001 VIA started to support DDR memory and tweaked the old Savage4 core into the
newer ProSavage8 core by upping its memory bandwidth to that equivalent of an AGP8x bus. The new
range of chipsets were aptly called the ProSavageDDR, of which the first was the P4M266 for the
Pentium 4 desktop market and one month later in December 2001, the KN266 for the mobile Athlon
market. In January 2002 the KM266 emerged for the Athlon XP desktop market and in the same
month the PN266T for the intel mobile market was announced... phew!
As you can see, VIA is just crazy about integration. But yet again, in the shadow of the desktop
nFORCE solution from NVIDIA, it has only really been the mobile products that have found any type of
niche. In 2002 however, the emergence of the Small Form Factor (SFF) cube-type PCs have given
graphical integration a new lease of life.
In June 2002 S3 Graphics Inc. launched their own new core codenamed Zoetrope. This technology
was incorporated into three devices for discrete desktop, discrete mobile, and integrated mobile
solutions. These were called SavageXP, AlphaChrome & AlphaChrome333 respectively. Unfortunately
the initial release was beset by instability problems, and I'm sure VIA would like to distance their
Savage4-based range of ProSavage chipsets from it. Nevertheless, the core has been integrated into
the VIA K8T400M NorthBridge chip for the AMD Hammer series of processors. Board samples started
to appear toward the end of 2002. S3 Graphics is obviously trying to get back into shape, because
they have a new product called DeltaChrome expected in 2003. In fact S3 gave up on the Zoetrope
core quite quickly, and spent the second half of 2002 concentrating exclusively on this new core.
You will understand that disentangling the VIA integrated solutions that incorporate S3 cores, from
the S3 integrated solutions that use VIA NorthBridge cores, has proved a little tricky. Considering that
S3 Graphics Inc. was resurrected in a joint partnership between VIA and SONICblue, I’m sure that VIA
has been keen to keep S3 product branding completely separate. Basically the ProSavage range
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comes from VIA and the AlphaChrome333 comes from S3, who happen to be partly owned by VIA.
However both use each other's technology. That's enough. My head hurts!
Another company devoted to integration these days is Trident Microsystems. They like to present
integration from their own perspective. Back in February 1999 they announced their CyberBLADE i7
graphics chip for the K6 -2 mobile market that integrated VIA ’s North Bridge core-logic. In March 2000
Trident announced a partnership with core -logic producer Acer Laboratories Inc (ALi) to produce their
CyberBLADE Aladdin i1 chipset. Again for the mobile market, this new chipset would support Pentium
II & III and Celeron processors. This alliance eventually led to the CyberAladdin & CyberMAGiK
integrated chipsets in 2001 that supported Intel and AMD processors respectively. By this time
Trident ’s old partners VIA had run off with S3 Graphics and had allegedly taken key workers and
intellectual property with them. So on the 27th April 2001 Trident filled a lawsuit against both
companies. Don’t you just love this industry! The latest offering from the Trident -ALi partnership is
the CyberAladdin-P4 that was announced on 25th February 2002 and which supports DDR memory on
Pentium 4 motherboards. This chipset integrates Tridents CyberBLADE XP2 graphics core. In April
Trident announced its new XP4 graphics part, but unfortunately this failed to materialize in 2002 due
to troubles with its 0.13µ m scale of fabrication.
Back in February 2001 Imagination Technologies and ARM announced their PowerVR MBX core for
mobile graphical solutions. At CeBIT2002 PowerVR demonstrated a simulation of the design running at
10% of its final speed. This is precisely the type of technology that will find its way into your mobile
phone — solid 3D performance for any piece of equipment that includes a video display panel. “If it
displays, it plays!” I should have gone into the advertising business
. Unfortunately the MBX
technology is just that, a technology. To succeed it will need support from those wishing to integrate
the technology. At the end of 2002 the players signed up were: STMicroelectronics for their Pocket
Multimedia (PMM) platform; HI Corporation for integration into mobile phones; and Intel for its mobile
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XScale 'system on a chip' CPU. Also on the 19th April 2002 Imagination Technologies announced a
multi-core licensing agreement with Hitachi, allowing them to "integrate a number of PowerVR ®
graphics and video cores alongside Hitachi's SuperH ™ family RISC microprocessors into SoC
semiconductors". Shortly thereafter in June, the Japanese corporation Sammy announced its intention
to incorporate these chips in some of its own mobile devices. So although PowerVR technology seems
to be a dead duck in the desktop world, it may still find its way into people's pocket.
External Link /// www.arm.com
Well that’s a trip around integration, but of course it represents just the tip of the iceberg.
Okay, time to wrap this thing up.
The End
I hope that this little tome has provided some insight into the last seven years of PC graphics and how
ATi and NVIDIA have come to dominate.
Can graphics technology possibly get any faster? Well the GeForce2 GTS chip ran Quake3 at 80fps in
May of 2000. Just twenty -two months later a GeForce4 Ti4600 can run Quake3 over three times
faster. On that reckoning the GeForce6 in two years time should be running Quake3 at over 700fps. Is
that fast enough for you!
Feedback
It took me six months to compile this article, however it remains only as accurate as the information I
uncovered (plus the information already contained within my little grey cells). If you can point me to a
source that contradicts anything I have written then please email me .
Before you do however, I should point out that it is easy to confuse the following:
Date
Date
Date
Date
Date
Date
that
that
that
that
that
that
the technology was first announced.
the graphics chip based on this technology was first announced.
this chip was finally shipped.
a board using this chip was announced.
the first review samples of this board became available.
this board finally shipped to market.
...and not necesarily in that order. Which is why it took me six months to sort it all out
.
Many thanks
To all those who contributed to this article
.
Copyright 2001-2003 © BrainFed Inc.
[email protected]
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