S3 Chrome S25 & S27 Technology Overview


Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Nadeem Mohammad of S3 Graphics, and Keith Kowal of VIA Technologies, regarding a new product line being unveiled today, coupling VIA chipsets with S3 video technology. Along with covering the product brief, we also discussed interesting features particular to the new lineup and talked about future expansion of the line.  S3 has implemented some things wanted very greatly by the market, from embedded designs to media machines and even desktop users, and put them into their newest series, the S3 ChromeS20 family.

Initially, the ChromeS20 series will consist of two cards, being released initially this week in China. Over the phone, Keith mentioned that releases for the U.S., Europe and Canada are set to occur soon, though he could not give a confirmed date. Whether this is from supply concerns or market concerns, he mentioned that we will probably see these products in the west during the month of November as well. The products are the ChromeS25 and the ChromeS27.

S3 earned somewhat of a bad reputation about being a vendor that offered a "low-end" product. Comparably nVidia, ATI (or even 3dfx back in the day) were always a step ahead, delegating S3 standalone cards to entry level and rarely beyond. Where S3 eventually did a fantastic job was in the embedded market - motherboards having or environments requiring embedded graphics, such as media machines, servers, low-power or quiet devices, etc.

The release of the Unichrome architecture a while back made S3 interesting again. Having built many embedded machines using Unichrome technology, I was often satisfied with the results. VIA is another company that has become very popular for their low-power devices in the successors to the C3, and more recently their chipsets for Mini ITX boards. It seems now that S3 has taken the experience in embedded computing and are trying to bring it out into the mainstream. Overall, these first two releases are looking promising. How do they stack up? Only time will tell, but on paper they look impressive.

I'll be covering five key areas here: environment, features & performance, scalability, power over performance, and price.


By environment, we are looking at the green and embedded community. The last thing I need in my media machine under my TV is a sweaty GPU requiring noisy fans or huge heat pipes. It needs to be quiet, cool, and performance decently enough to do fast DVD and movie playback.

The new Chrome S GPUs were developed in part with technology from Fujitsu, which has allowed S3 to bring a card that is already low on heat and power consumption. On top of that, they maintain a low transistor count for the GPU as a whole - not fantastic for performance, but very good on the heat generated, both during load and when idle; even at high clock rates, with 50 to 70 million transistors for the GPU.

The power dissipation for the cards looks good, too. The ChromeS27 under load dissipates about 11.6W, lower than that of the GeForce Go 6600 U. This is the GPU only, however, and so overall dissipation will be higher than this figure.  The lower-clocked version of the card (S25) is expected to dissipate as little as 9W of power. In a laptop scenario that is optimal and the same GPU is found in the desktop varieties as well.

ChromeS25 typical power output: 15 - 30W

ChromeS27 typical power output: 17 - 30W

Previously, the low-power series of S3 cards were found only as embedded devices. The idea of having a mobile GPU in a desktop platform is novel. Often, a desktop user will put a mobile CPU into a desktop board for overclocking, heat or noise purposes. The same idea can be put into use with a videocard in this scenario. With all the reference cards coming with passive heatsinks, you could pick one up off the shelf to build without worries of heat buildup.

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