S3: From Virge to Savage 2000
Since its inception, the landscape of the 3D graphics market on the desktop has changed significantly. Where there were once dozens of players competing for market share (including the grand daddy of them all, Intel), the industry has now whittled down to a handful of players. The companies that are largely credited for being at the forefront of 3D graphics’ inception, 3dfx and Rendition, are no longer even in business!
The company we’re discussing today, S3, was one of the larger companies in 3D graphics, although early on many enthusiasts jokingly referred to their Virge line of products as 3D graphics decelerators.
Realizing this, S3 sought to reinvent themselves by producing an all new graphics core, Savage3D, which was introduced in mid ‘98. With Savage3D, S3 wasn’t shooting for the high end of the market, instead they were going for the mainstream consumer. Not everyone had the cash to shell out for a Voodoo2 graphics accelerator, and S3 was glad to service these consumers. In addition, S3 did not forget its OEM roots it had depended on for so long with Savage 3D. S3 made sure that Savage3D had the right combination of features and price to make these customers happy as well. Overall Savage3D was a limited success in that it reestablished the company as more than just a 2D player with a few 3D buzzwords mixed in for OEMs, but Savage3D came to market later than its competitors and as a result a lot of S3’s previous customers were drawn to NVIDIA’s RIVA 128/TNT lines.
Following Savage3D (and its more performance-oriented “Supercharged” variant), S3 came back with Savage4. Savage4 was essentially a Savage3D chip with an extra texture unit, and ultimately achieved higher clock frequencies (and up to 32MB memory) with the Savage4 Pro. The real groundbreaking technology in Savage4 however, was its support for S3’s texture compression technology, S3TC. S3TC allowed for high resolution textures that normally would have been hundreds of megabytes down to a few dozen megabytes.
As a result, Savage4 cards actually ran games such as Unreal Tournament faster with S3TC enabled than with default textures being used. Unfortunately for S3, Savage4 and its follow up variants just didn’t catch on with consumers or OEMs, who favored 3dfx’s Voodoo3 and NVIDIA’s TNT2/TNT2 Ultra, even though it was priced lower than the competition. S3 continued to lose share to its competitors.
Then, in late 1999 S3 launched its Savage 2000 core. The company was shooting for fill rate figures that were twice that of anything else that was currently available on the market, and Savage 2000 offered hardware transformation and lighting (T&L). Finally S3 would be a player at the high end of the market.