WHEN CONVERTING FROM from one language to another, something invariably gets lost in the translation. Looking at the name "Evil Sam" emblazoned across the box holding SiS's latest graphics chip, I have to wonder why the marketing folks didn't catch this one. The more I look at the name, the more it could actually be "Evil 5am." Not that that makes sense either. Thankfully, the name of SiS' reference card isn't really of much concern. Instead, it's SiS' new 315 graphics chipset that's the object of our attention.
SiS touts its 315 as having a "high performance 256-bit 3D Graphic engine" with "Impressive 2D/3D Performance." Let's be realistic, though. When was the last time you saw a video card advertised as having an "adequate" graphics engine with "mediocre" performance? In a world with GeForce3 Titanium 500 cards, it seems unlikely that absolute performance will make the SiS 315 an impressive offering. Still, when available for a scant $50, even decent performance can turn a few heads in the value segment.
The first thing that caught my eye on the 315's spec sheet is the fact it has its own transform and Lighting (T&L) engine. Chips from market leaders NVIDIA and ATI have T&L engines, but other graphics companies, like STMicro and Matrox, haven't incorporated T&L yet. The fact SiS was able to incorporate T&L support is impressiveat least on paper. The 315 supports relatively advanced 3D effects like environmental bump mapping, as well.
Among the 315's other notable features is the ability to support a second monitor at a different refresh rate, color depth, and resolution than the primary display. This used to be a realm occupied solely by Matrox, but it seems that SiS has figured out the tricks necessary to get this feature working with the 315. Our test card, however, was the edition with a TV-out port instead of a second VGA port, so we weren't able to test SiS's multi-monitor support in action.
Beyond that, the 315 is standard fare for a budget video solution. Our reference card came with DVI and S-Video connectors, and 32MB of plain old SDRAM. The 315, which supports up to 128MB of DDR SDRAM, is capable of better performance than we'll be able to show you today. However, I have to think that 128MB of RAM is quite beyond overkill for a card of this calibre.
The 315 chip is built on a 0.15 micron process, so it needs little more than a passive heat sink to keep things cool at its core clock speed of 166MHz. Despite a rather weak thermal compound application, our 315 didn't have any stability or heat problems. I suppose I should be happy that the heat sink wasn't simply glued on, like it is on some cards.
Though the box and spec sheet for the 315 claim the chip has antialaising support, it's nowhere to be found in the latest WinXP drivers from SIS. However, antialiasing on low-end cards is fairly useless anyway. Without the bandwidth and fill rate to render scenes in higher resolutions, value cards are generally reduced to a crawl with even 2X antialiasing.