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S3 roadmap reveals DX10 and 10.1 chips

Multicore GPUs clocked to stratospheric levels
Thu Nov 23 2006, 14:14
DURING COMPUTEX 2005, we had the opportunity to talk with Ken K.S. Weng, General Manager of S3 Graphics. He told us that S3 is skipping the Shader Model 3.0 (DX9.0c) hardware and going straight to Shader Model 4.0 and compliance with DirectX 10 and 10.1 standards in two years time.

After a year and a half, the first roadmaps are starting to appear, showing DirectX 10 and DX10.1 compliant hardware which certainly have interesting specs, at least on paper.
DirectX 10 units are being developed under codenames XD2 and XD3, while DX10.1 GPUs are marked XE3, XE2 and XE1. Both feature clocks in excess of 1GHz, and all but XD2/D2 are manufactured in 65nm manufacturing process. X in the name is a marking for the higher performing part, while D2, D3, E3 and so on are value propositions.

DirectX 10
XD2/D2 is sampling right now, with mass production coming in nine months time. This is a 90nm GPU with support for HDMI, Dual Link DVI, LVDS and HDTV, with hardware decoding of HD-DVD and Blu-ray video. The chip comes with three "Execution Units", but we were not informed how many scalar units are inside each Execution Unit. The clock is set at 1GHz, but the real interesting part is the memory controller.
S3 went with quad-channel 128 (XD2) or dual-channel 64-bit (D2) interface with support for DDR-2, GDDR-3 and GDDR-4 memory - keeping the PCB design relatively simple and low-power.

XD3/D3 is scheduled to be first 65nm GPU coming out of TSMC, with sampling coming in half a year time, when 65nm TSMC process matures enough. This chip comes with a 20% clockspeed bump (to 1.2 GHz) and more simplified memory controller - dual-channel 128- and 64-bit only.

Both XD2/D2 and XD3/D3 feature AcceleRAM, Multi-GPU support (MultiChrome) and Chromotion 4.5 video decoding engine - support for WMV-HD, VC1 and H.264 VLD is included.

DirectX 10.1
Since DX10.1 isn't going to appear before the end of 2007, S3 is pitching its DX10.1 chips for first and second half of 2008, so we're talking about parts which will come out in two years timeframe. All of the DX10.1 products are using 65nm manufacturing process and PCIe Gen2 interface.

Under the codename XE3/E3, S3 is developing a dual-core GPU with 1.2 GHz clock (per core), but this GPU will be plugged in PCIe Gen2 boards. Memory controller is simplified, dual-channel 128-bit controller with support for DDR3, GDDR-3/4 and GDDR-5 memory. Video engine is called Chromotion 5.0, and it features hardware support for new codec's for encoding video for handhelds.

XE2/E2 is using rather weird number of cores: five. Memory controller is boosted to quad-channel 256-bit (XE2) or 128-bit (E2), but AcceleRAM is disappearing from the picture.

XE1/E1 is most powerful chip that S3 will launch in 2007/08 timeframe, with eight separate cores, quad-channel 512-bit (XE1) or 256-bit (E1) and support for DDR3, GDDR-4 and GDDR-5.

Both XE3 and XE2 will have to fight against AMD Fusion processors as well, making their market penetration even more difficult. Also, big issue that S3 faces is the fact that the products are coming to market after Nvidia and AMD will release their value DX10 propositions. In fact, in Q3'07 and onwards, even chipsets will feature DX10 compliant graphics.

It is too early to tell right now, but with S3 XE3/E3, XE2/E2, XE1/E1 and ATI R700 being multi-chip concepts and G80 using a variant of 3dfx "Texture Computer" from 2001. Can you say the old VSA concept is back with a vengeance? [No, Ed.] µ


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