S3

S3 was one of the manufacturers of graphics cards for the IBM PC and its compatibles during the 1990s.

Its popular ViRGE (Virtual Reality Graphics Engine) chipset, launched in 1995, was one of the first 2D/3D accelerators designed for the consumer market, and it was the first to integrate it all into a single chip.

What started out to be very promising turned into disaster, with the company falling from top spot in 1996 to being run out of town by competitors within just 3 years. Their 3D engine continued for long after in the Trio line, but despite their bad form and possibly in a last attempt to turn their fortunes around, they acquired Diamond Multimedia in 1999.

These day S3's cards have a bad name and aren't a popular pick for retro gamers.

 

86C801C

Launched: 1993
Bus: ISA 16-bit

The 86C801C was a great-performing SVGA chipset. It can be found on the SPEA/Video 7 Mirage and the Diamond Stealth 24.

86C805i

Launched: 1994
Bus: ISA
Chipset: 86C805i
RAMDAC: Sierra STG1700J-13Z (32K/64K)
RAMDAC Speed: 135 MHz
Memory: 2 MB
VESA Standard: Yes, v1.2
FCC ID: -
BIOS Dates: 07/08/94
Known BIOS Versions: 1.02.01

The 86C805i supports up to 70ns DRAMs.

The 86C805i can be found on:

Vision864

Launched: 1992
Bus: VESA Local Bus, PCI
Chipset: 86C864D (VLB) or 86C864P (PCI)
RAMDAC: ?
Memory: 1 MB?
FCC ID: -

Found on the following:

  • Diamond Stealth 64 DRAM 2 MB (VLB)
  • Genoa Phantom 64 2 MB (PCI)
  • Number Nine GXE64 2 MB (PCI)

Vision928

Launched: 1993
Bus: ISA, VESA Local Bus, and PCI
Chipset: 86C928D (ISA) or 86C928P (PCI)
RAMDAC: Brooktree 467
Memory: 1 MB?
FCC ID: -

Rebranded versions of the Vision964 were sold as:

 

Vision964

Launched: 1994
Chipset: 86C964P
RAMDAC: Brooktree 485 or Texas Instruments 3020
Memory: 2 MB / 4 MB
Bus: PCI / VLB
FCC ID: H85-PLS964P

Maximum non-interlaced resolution 1600 x 1200. Max colours at this resolution = 65,536 (at 1024 x 768 the chipset supports 16.7 million colours).

Rebranded versions of the Vision964 were sold as:

  • Diamond Stealth 64 PCI
  • ELSA Winner 2000 Pro VL-4 / 2000 Pro PCI
  • miro Crystal 20SV VLB
  • Number Nine GXE64 Pro
  • SPEA Mercury P64 VL

ViRGE

Launched: 1995
Chipset: 86C325
Memory: 2 MB or 4 MB EDO
Bus: PCI
Ports: 15-pin DSUB

Key features:

  • 55 MHz core clock
  • 55 MHz memory clock (64-bit bus width)
  • Runs the original S3 ViRGE chipset - the 86C325
  • Memory can be expanded from 2 MB to 4 MB (giving a game ~14% performance improvement)
  • 135 MHz RAMDAC

This card has excellent DOS compatibility via its Trio 64+ engine with 135 MHz RAMDAC. The 3D feature set is quite rich for its time and price, but performance is inadequate. The ViRGE series introduced S3's "S3D" technology, which was supposed to be an API that game developers could specifically use to draw out the power of the ViRGE - unfortunately only about 20 games were ever written to take advantage of S3D. When Direct3D took off, proprietary API support was dropped in favour of a single open one.

One advantage of the 86C325 is that it can be overlocked by 50% and still remains very cool.

Click here for a picture of a 2MB S3 ViRGE.

It was also sold by other manufacturers as:

Tip: To speed up DOS games, try the S3VBE20 and S3SPDUP utilities if the specific games support VBE 2.0 and/or are compatible with S3SPDUP.

ViRGE/VX

Launched: 1996
Chipset: 86C988
Core Clock Speed: 52 MHz
Memory: 8 MB
Memory Speed: 52 MHz
Bus: PCI

The ViRGE/VX clocked its core at 52 MHz (lower than the original ViRGE), but the card got dual-ported RAM so was able to read from the frame buffer without preventing communication to the graphics chip. The ViRGE/VX on average runs approx 6% faster than the original ViRGE, so this is still a slow card. Still, in 1996, the ViRGE and ViRGE/VX made up about half of all 3D cards on the market.

Key features:

  • 52 MHz core clock
  • 8 MB 60ns memory as standard
  • 52 MHz memory clock (dual-port RAM access)
  • 220 MHz RAMDAC

It was also sold by other manufacturers as:

Tip: To speed up DOS games, try the S3VBE20 and S3SPDUP utilities if the specific games support VBE 2.0 and/or are compatible with S3SPDUP.

ViRGE/SMX

Chipset:
Memory: 4 MB
Bus: AGP 3.3V


Comes with 15-pin DSUB and a DFP (Digital Flat Panel) output port. The image above is a Gainward-branded version, model 9811-11A.

ViRGE/DX

Launched: 1997
Chipset: 86C375
Memory: 2 MB or 4 MB EDO RAM
Bus: PCI
Ports: 15-pin DSUB


The ViRGE/DX and ViRGE/GX was launched just one year after the first generation of ViRGE chips and cards. The DX is the budget one whilst the GX was almost identical but supported synchronous memory. Both cards are limited to 4 MB and both have a 170 MHz RAMDAC. However, S3 made significant updates to the 3D engine - perspective correction is separated so it no longer causes unncessary clocks on the pipeline, and they implemented a new texture filter which was able to sample from different mip-maps.

On average the DX is ~40% faster than an original ViRGE. Sadly, this is still not on par with other 3D cards available in 1997.

Key features:

  • 55 MHz core clock (some 3rd-party versions run as low as 45 MHz)
  • 4 MB EDO RAM

It was also sold by other manufacturers, some with empty memory sockets ready for expansion from 4 MB up to 8 MB, others with 8 MB soldered directly onto the board, and others again with sockets populated with memory. Here are some of them::

Tip: To speed up DOS games, try the S3VBE20 and S3SPDUP utilities if the specific games support VBE 2.0 and/or are compatible with S3SPDUP.
Tip: For Windows 98, use S3 drivers over the default ones that come with Windows.

ViRGE/GX

Launched: 1997
Chipset: 86C385
Memory: 4 MB EDO RAM
Bus: AGP

The ViRGE/DX and ViRGE/GX was launched just one year after the first generation of ViRGE chips and cards. The DX is the budget one whilst the GX was almost identical but supported synchronous memory. Both cards are limited to 4 MB and both have a 170 MHz RAMDAC. However, S3 made significant updates to the 3D engine - perspection correction is separated so it no longer causes unncessary clocks on the pipeline, and they implemented a new texture filter which was able to sample from different mip-maps.

The GX has a small performance improvement (5-10%) on the ViRGE/DX. Sadly, this is still not on par with other 3D cards available in 1997.

The picture above is of an STB Systems-branded version, called Nitro 3D/GX.

Key features:

  • 75 MHz core clock
  • 4 MB EDO RAM - can use either SDRAM or EDO of same frequency

As with most ViRGE series cards, the GX was also OEM'd:

  • Compaq OEM - no expansion module but gains through use of SGRAM

Tip: To speed up DOS games, try the S3VBE20 and S3SPDUP utilities if the specific games support VBE 2.0 and/or are compatible with S3SPDUP.

ViRGE/GX2

Launched: 1997
Chipset:
Memory: 4 MB
Bus: AGP

Click here for another pic of the ViRGE GX2 .

Despite being their flagship product, poor software drivers and poor performance compared to the competition meant this card was a commercial failure. Similar performance to ATI's Rage IIc.

Key features:

  • 0.35 micron technology
  • 66 MHz core speed
  • 99 MHz memory speed
  • S-Video and RCA TV out ports

It was also sold by other vendors as:

  • ACorp ViRGE/GX2

Tip: To speed up DOS games, try the S3VBE20 and S3SPDUP utilities if the specific games support VBE 2.0 and/or are compatible with S3SPDUP.

ViRGE/MX

Launched: 1997
Chipset: 86C260
Memory: 2 MB
Bus: AGP
Ports: ?
Price: ?

The ViRGE MX chip was designed as a low-power version of the ViRGE/GX2. This was aimed at the mobile (laptop) market, although some MX chips found their way onto other vendors cards, presumably because it was a cheaper variant of the GX2 thanks to its lower clock speed.

The MX was succeeded by the ViRGE/MXi which integrated 2 MB of 85 MHz DRAM into the chip for even greater power efficiency.

Key features:

  • 0.35 micron technology (8 million transistors)
  • 135 MHz RAMDAC speed
  • 55 MHz core speed
  • 83 MHz memory speed

These chips tended to run a RAMDAC at 135 MHz, whilst memory speed was at 83 MHz and the core ran at 55 MHz. Compared to the GX, an MX is approximately 11% faster.

The premium Toshiba Tecra 750DVD (1998) came with an embedded ViRGE/MX 3D graphics controller.

For MX drivers, it's recommended to use a OEM Compaq driver v3009.

Trio 3D/2X

Memory: 4 MB

Unknown details.

 

Trio 32

Unsure if S3 released a card of their own with this, but the Trio 32 chipset can be found on the Diamond Stealth SE graphics card.

 

Trio 64 V2/DX

The S3 64V+ was launched in ??

Chipset: 86C775
Memory: ?
Bus: ?
Price: ?

The picture is actually of a rebranded Trio 64 V2/DX, in this case a VideoLogic GrafixStar 410.

 

 

Trio 64V+

The S3 64V+ was launched in 1995.

Chipset:
Memory: 1, 2 or 4 MB
Bus: PCI
Price: ?

 

 

Savage4

Introduced: 1999
Memory: 8 MB
Bus: PCI
Core Clock Speed: 125 MHz (non-LT), 110 MHz (LT)
Memory Speed: 125 MHz (non-LT), 110 MHz (LT)

The Savage 4 LT ("Lite"?) was clocked lower than the standard Savage4, at 110 MHz for the core and memory. Most Savage4s are clocked at 125 MHz, and the Pro at 143 MHz. There was also an "Extreme" that got a core clock running at 165 MHz.

The Savage4 can be thought of as a bug-fixed Savage3D - good specs on paper, but turned out to be a commercial failure. Drivers were awful, but they did support OpenGL and Direct 3D

Savage3D

The Savage3D was launched in 1999.

Chipset:
Memory: ?
Bus: AGP 2x
Price: ?

It was designed to provide Voodoo 2 performance in 3D rendering for a much reduced price. In benchmark testing, Savage3D outperformed Voodoo 2, and scored almost the same as 3Dfx other card, Voodoo Banshee.

Since Savage3D only has the one texturing unit, Voodoo 2 still does better when used with multi-texture fills. Furthermore, it does not fully make use of AGP 2x, with poor AGP transfer performance compared to Matrox G200 which makes full use of the AGP 2x greater bandwidth.

Key features:

  • 125 MHz core clock - close to being overclocked (causes some triangle drawing errors at this speed)

The Savage3D chipset was also released on:

  • Hercules <product name?> - 110 MHz core clock

Savage 2000

Having purchased Diamond Multimedia in 1999, the Savage 2000 was born.