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Preview: S3's DeltaChrome S8 Nitro GPU

A new DirectX 9 contender?

WHEN WE PREVIEWED the DeltaChrome S8 chip late last year, we saw a promising new GPU with a few of the customary glitches one might expect from an all-new graphics chip and all-new drivers. Since that time, S3 has been hard at work refining its graphics drivers, and now the company is ready to show the world the S8's big brother, the DeltaChrome S8 Nitro.

For those not familiar, we've covered the S3 DeltaChrome at length here at TR. If you want to understand the basic tech behind the chip, go read our DeltaChrome preview. If you're lazy, here's the Cliff's Notes version. The DeltaChrome is an all-new GPU from S3, a former player in the graphics biz that's back in the game after a longish hiatus. DeltaChrome is a true DirectX 9-class graphics part, with support for floating-point pixel formats and pixel shader revision 2.0. Despite the fancy 3D features, S3 is adamant that the DeltaChrome isn't intended to rule the benchmarks—that is, we all know, a very tough thing to do against the likes of NVIDIA and ATI. The DeltaChrome should provide a solid gaming experience, though, and S3 hopes its 2D and video features will help it carve out a chunk of the market for itself.

The DeltaChrome S8 Nitro is fabricated by TMSC on its 130nm process

As you have probably guessed, the S8 Nitro plays Ultra or Pro to its little brother, the DeltaChrome S8. The two chips are the same, but run at different clock speeds. In this case, our DeltaChrome S8 Nitro sample card runs at 325MHz, as does its memory. That's 25MHz faster than the S8 in both cases. (Core and memory speeds on final S8 Nitro cards aren't set in stone yet, however.) S3 says the target list price for DeltaChrome S8 boards is between $139 and $149, while the S8 Nitro's target price is about $169. At that price, the S8 Nitro will be positioned squarely against the Radeon 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5700 Ultra. I suspect DeltaChrome street prices will be considerably lower than list, because S3 will probably have to undercut ATI and NVIDIA on price in order to win sales.

The toughest part of the equation, though, may be getting board makers to sign up. DeltaChrome S8 Nitro boards should be available in a week or so, maybe sooner, in Europe and Asia. PowerColor is one of the few card manufacturers S3 is willing to name, but apparently several companies are preparing S8 Nitro-based products for these markets. In North America, don't expect to see cards available until early in the second half of the year. S3 is in talks with one of the big board makers for North America, but arrangements aren't final yet.

Saddling up the test mule
Our DeltaChrome evaluation sample is a fairly tallish AGP card with a relatively small cooler.

The fan on the cooler is loud and doesn't appear to be temperature controlled, but it also doesn't represent production S8 Nitro coolers. The eval board also has a four-prong floppy-disk-style power connection, which S3 says it doesn't use, isn't necessary, and in all likelihood won't be on final cards.

So yeah, there's a picture, for all the good it will do you.