SANTA CLARA. Calif. - S3 Inc. has incorporated a transform and lighting engine in its latest product, the Savage2000. The addition showcases the next major wave in graphics-engine technologies and further suggests that the once-dominant company may be on a comeback.
"We are one of the first companies to unveil a mainstream PC graphics chip with transform and lighting technology," said Michael Buchanan, director of marketing for desktop graphics. "But everybody will be going in that direction soon."Current-generation graphics chips devote much of their power to rendering. They depend on the microprocessor to plot the points that define the polygons in every image, and to factor in the locations of light sources and how each image is lit.
Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research (Scottsdale, Ariz.), noted that shifting those functions to the graphics engine would let the CPU address other tasks and could thus speed the overall application. Further, graphics chips, with their strong mathematical capabilities, are well-suited for the repetitive but horsepower-intensive tasks of plotting
shapes on the screen.
"The next generation of graphics chips will be products that have longer pipelines, as well as transform and lighting features," he said, since "the CPU is having trouble keeping up with the graphics engine and has to offload some of its work."
Buchanan said the Savage2000 will be aimed initially at high-end desktop PCs. S3 has working silicon in-house and will sample the chips by November, with full production set for the first half. There will be two versions: the 166-MHz Savage2000, listed at $29, and the 200-MHz Savage2000+, at $35. Add-in cards are expected to run from $169 to $229; Buchanan said they will appear in PCs in the $1,300 range and above. "Our target market now is the high-end desktop for consumers and gamers," he said.
Beyond the PC
S3 is eyeing other potential markets, too, especially consumer. The company recently acquired Diamond Multimedia, which came with a variety of technology in the modem, broadband communication, audio and home-networking segments.
Buchanan said the convergence of entertainment technologies-centered on the Internet-means more systems will require powerful graphics capabilities. Additional target markets could include set-top boxes, digital TV and the networking components of those home systems. But graphics "will remain our main business," he stressed.
Though the once-dominant graphics vendor has slipped in recent years, S3 still holds a solid intellectual-property portfolio and significant cash reserves, Buchanan said. As Intel and others exit the graphics business, "S3 is definitely on the way back up," he said.