S3's GammaChrome S18 raises hopes, questions

It's a few days old now, but somehow I almost missed Beyond3D's preview of the S3 GammaChrome S18. The S18 is a new four-pipe PCI Express card that packs a tweaked version of the basic DeltaChrome graphics core, and from a purely academic standpoint, it's worth reading about this card's combination of features and performance.

You will find, however, that B3D raises the same issues with that GammaChrome S18 that we've debated here internally when trying to determine whether or not to dedicate the time to a review. As a non-incumbent in the graphics market, S3 needs to sell a very competitively priced product in order to compete, but the S18 is priced at a place in between two product lines from ATI and NVIDIA, just between the lower end of the GeForce 6600 range and just above the top GeForce 6200. For a four-pipe card, that's not a great place to be. S3 keeps talking about positioning the S18 opposite ATI's Radeon X600, but ATI's product mix also features the low-end Radeon X300 and eight-pipe Radeon X700. These cards bracket the S18 and the X600, making neither a very compelling value. Truth be told, as B3D points out, S3 needs to use cheaper RAM chips and sell this four-pipe card for closer to $99 in order to turn any heads.

There's also the question of availability in North America. We have previewed S3 products in the past, only to find that they never became widely available for sale here. We told S3 we wouldn't do another review of a product based on this same core GPU technology unless the cards became available on our shores (or unless they came up with something really freaking cool.) S3 has attempted to address its inability to recruit North American partners by opening up an online storefront on its own website, selling S3 cards directly to consumers. The GammaChrome S18 Pro is currently for sale there, but at $149.99, it is transparently priced in such a way as not to offend S3's board partners in other parts of the world by undercutting them. Eight-pipe cards like the Radeon X700 Pro cost even less than the GammaChrome S18 Pro direct from S3.

This kind of pricing conundrum is likely the result of the GammaChrome S18 hitting its intended target, the Radeon X600, quite a few months after it was initially supposed to do so. Here's hoping that S3 can find the right mix of pricing and performance to bring its graphics technology to the market in a compelling product. We could use another viable player in graphics, even if it's just at the low end.

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