SiS enters the 3D Arena - Xabre on Trial

SiS has been known in history for their less-than-stellar line of graphics chips for past several years now. With new R&D tactics SiS has braved the 3D front once again with the Xabre GPU. Breathtaking products from SiS have been few and far between, but some of the latest SiS products have been receiving good press, does the Xabre have what it takes to compete with the nVidia GeForce 4 MX460 in the value/mainstream market place? Read on as Cameron "Sov" Johnson gives us an answer!
Published Sat, Jun 22 2002 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Rating: 85%Manufacturer: SiS

SiS Xabre - Introduction

SiS (Silicon Integrated Systems) are better known for their system chip solutions rather than anything else. SiS had previously dabbled in the video arena but with little success. When I say little, I do mean enthusiasm, after all, the SiS 6326 video processor was the most used "Value" card in OEM systems for some time.As mentioned above, SiS started in the 3D arena with integrated video on their Socket 7 chipset line, making them one of, if not, the first vendors to produce video on a chipset, better known these days as onboard video. This video controller was the integrated version of the 6326 video controller.SiS later moved this controller into the value market by producing the chip itself for PCI and AGP operations. With support for up to 8MB of onboard SDRAM this card was rather used up by the OEM market for cheap PC's. Unfortunately, even for the value users, the card was a total failure. Compared to S3 Savage 3D and even S3 Virge, this cards 3D performance was well below playable levels.SiS didn't go put their feat into the water until the 300 and 305 chipsets were released. This was SiS's first real attempt at the 3D market. The 305 graphics chip allowed full AGP2x support, 128bit 2D/3D Engine and 64bit memory pipeline on the 300 (128bit on 305) did result in a increase in performance, but still not enough to compete against nVidia, who had the TNT2 out at the same time.SiS's last 3D chipset was the 315 which was an actual GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). This was a major step towards the goals of SiS for a fair priced, good performing video card. 315 supported AGP4x transfer modes, 256bit engine and 128bit SDR or DDR memory. Unfortunately though, cards based on this chipset were known for shorting out Intel 850 and 845 motherboards due to incompatible voltage issues.SiS has taken a long hard look at their goals as well as what the market really want and have now come up with what is being called "The next big thing" - Introducing the SiS Xabre GPU.

SiS Xabre - Specifications and Informaton on Xabre

The information that makes senseThe SiS Xabre GPU was an overnight popup. Nothing was really known about the GPU until its official press release from SiS. Now that this has happened we don't have to speculate, we have our facts.The Xabre is a totally redesigned 256-bit 3D chip which supports what SiS calls "8x8" functions. The first "8" represents the support for the AGP 8X interface and the second "8" for DirectX 8.1 support. The Xabre carries a third generation T&L unit. This new engine supports Pixel Shaders 1.3 in hardware utilizing a 29 programmable instruction set, making it one of the most powerful T&L engines available.While carrying the best T&L engine there is, however, one major problem; there is no hardware vertex shaders, only a software vertex shader that can be emulated by the CPU. This fact alone does reduce on paper the power of the Xabre quite a bit, as vertex shaders are being used quite a bit lately.While the CPU lacks the Vertex engine, SiS has added a few new features that on paper help improve quality of the CPU for the low budget 3D accelerator. The Frictionless Memory Control, or FMC, is a method SiS uses to boost effective memory bandwidth and improve overall memory efficiency by adding extra filters into the memory paths to allow smoother and much better ECC than other video controllers.The Coloredeemer Technology is something which enhances color rendering of the displayed images. Additionally, the chip's MotionFixing Video processor provides crystal clear video images with four methods of de-interlacing. Their anti-aliasing method, known as Jitter-Free Anti-Aliasing, provides 1X, 2X, and 4X full scene anti-aliasing (FSAA) without the jagged frames of other 3D accelerators.SiS provides a link layer for those lovely extras such as TV out, DVI and Dual Monitor technologies, which SiS has named Dual Scene Technology. The principals of this are the same as nView. You can have duplicate desktops on two displays, merged displays where half turns up on both monitors or you can have dual desktops - This is where one program appears full screen on one monitor and another comes up on a second monitor, very handy. All these features have been bundled into the SiS 301 controller chip which accompanies just about all Xabre cards.At the moment there are currently three different Xabre cards -The Xabre 80, Xabre 200 and Xabre 400. Xabre 80 runs an engine/Core clock of 200/166Mhz and only uses AGP4x protocols. Xabre 200 runs a core/memory clock of 200/166, same as the 80 only this chip has AGP8x support, this will ultimately give the Xabre 200 a slight lead over the 80.Xabre 400 is the high end of the SiS 3D family with a core/memory clock of 250/250 on an AGP8x bus. This is a rather slow clock speed for a 0.13 micron die, so we should see faster core speeds from SiS very soon I would imagine.Below you will see a block diagram of the SiS Xabre CPU which should give you a basic idea of how the Xabre itself works.

SiS Xabre - SiS Reference Xabre 400

The SiS Reference cardThe Card
Before we get into the benchmarks, I would first like to show you what SiS uses for their reference cards. The card's layout and looks is something I would be proud of for a retail card, let alone a reference. SiS has added a funky purple heatsink for the core and memory to keep it all cool and running nicely.Heatsink and Xabre GPU
From here we get a closer look at the heatsink that is supplied and the actual core. Our camera hates those mirror based core (as you can see from the photo above) and just flashes off the mirror but you get the idea, its a Xabre GPU.Memory
SiS have decided to use Hynix (formerly Hyundai) 3.3ns memory modules running at 250Mhz DDR (500Mhz effective rate). While SiS have cooling for the memory chips on the front of the card, the back chips have been left bare.SiS 301 Controller chip
As we mentioned earlier, all the external functions (such as LDVI, TV Out and Dual Monitor support) are handled by the SiS 301 chip. This chip is surprisingly very small for such a big work load it performs but we are happy to report that this chip handles the job very well. While TV output quality isn't up to ATI's high standards, the TV output quality beats the nVidia cards which use Conexant chips and runs equal with the Silicon Magic encoder chips making the Xabre a excellent choice for TV users.

SiS Xabre - Benchmarks - Test System and FSAA

Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.4B GHz (Northwood)Memory: 2x 256MB DDR-333 Kingmax (512MB) Video Card: Leadtek A170 Pro (GF4 MX460)Hard Disk: Seagate Barracuda ATA-3 UDMA 100 7200RPM Drivers:Nvidia DetXP rev 29.42, Xabre 302A.02 VGASoftware Used: 3Dmark2000, 3Dmark2001, Quake 3 Arena, Aquanox, DroneZmark, Max Payne, Star Trek Voyager Elite Force, Jedi Knight II.Editors Note: Please note that only one resolution of 1024x768 was used since the reviewers monitor is currently only capable of this resolution. A new monitor is currently being sought.FSAA - Quake 3 ArenaDue to popular request, we have added some images taken from Quake 3 Arena with FSAA enabled on both of our test cards.nVidia Geforce4 MX460 FSAA 4x Enabled
(Click on the image for a larger version)
This shows the nVidia Geforce4 MX460 with 4x Anti-Aliasing enabled. While a screenshot doesn't do it justice, you get the idea.nVidia Geforce4 MX460 FSAA Disabled
(Click on the image for a larger version)
This is an image with FSAA disabled. Unless you are really looking its hard to see the difference, but when playing, you do notice some extra little things such a shadow draw and extra detail.SiS Xabre 400 JFSAA 4x Enabled
(Click on the image for a larger version)
This shows SiS's Jitter-Free Anti-Aliasing enabled, looking quite sharp indeed.Xabre 400 JFSAA Disabled
(Click on the image for a larger version)
As with the nVidia part, this shows the Anti-Aliasing disabled, still we see a sharp image.

SiS Xabre - Benchmarks - MadOnion

Synthetic 3D Benchmarks3DMark20003DMark2000 is a synthetic Direct3D benchmark that is compatible with DirectX 7. It takes full advantage of the Geforce2, ATI Radeon and DirectX 7 enhancements. 3DMark2000 has become one of the world's most used benchmark utilities. While this benchmark is getting old, it does show how well the new hardware reacts with older games that still use DX7.
The Geforce4 MX460 takes a lead on this due to its faster core. While the Xabre does carry its T&L engine, which the Geforce4 MX doesn't. DirectX 7 doesn't use T&L. So if you are going for older DX7 games, the Geforce4 MX take the stage as winner, at this stage.3DMark2001 SE3DMark2001 SE is the latest installment in the popular 3DMark series. By combining DirectX 8.1 support with completely new graphics (including the GeForce4), it continues to provide benchmark results that empower you to make informed hardware assessments. Build 330 adds support for video cards that have Vertex Shaders but no Pixel Shaders, such as the SiS Xabre.
Now we see a different picture. The Xabre is able to use its T&L engine which gives it a better boost over the Geforce 4 MX460 which the Xabre was designed to compete against. Will this continue? Click on to the next page to find out!

SiS Xabre - Benchmarks - OpenGL

Real World 3D BenchmarksQuake 3 ArenaQuake 3 Arena is a real-world OpenGL benchmark that we have been using here at TweakTown for quite a while now because it has proven itself to be one of the best gaming benchmarks around to compare a range of different products.
No, the trend doesn't continue. The faster clock of the Geforce 4 MX460 keeps it ahead of the Xabre, even when FSAA is enabled. While you may seem skeptical of the Xabre, remember this is early times for SiS and driver fine tuning is needed for increased performance which I am positive SiS are busy working away on.Star Trek VoyagerStar Trek Voyager is a real-world OpenGL benchmark. Based on the Quake 3 Arena engine, this game is an OpenGL master utilizing DirectX 8. We also apply the new Opt3D patch to allow for the use of Hardware T&L's use as well as new optimizations for AMD Athlon XP and Pentium 4 SSE2.
Since Star Trek Voyager is based on Q3A design, its no surprise that the Xabre still trails behind the Geforce 4 MX460, but not by very much.Jedi Knight IIJedi Knight II, Jedi Outcast is a newly released OpenGL game that many have been waiting for. It has much improved graphics over its predecessor. It fully supports advanced shaders, as well as very high texture resolutions and effects. There is one demo included in the multi-player section that is good for benchmarking use. In order to enable the benchmarking mode, you have to make a shortcut to the jk2mp.exe program located in the GameData folder of Jedi Knight 2. You have to put the switch "+set sv_cheats1" (no quotes) at the end of the line in the Target Area so that it looks like this: "C:\Star Wars JK II Jedi Outcast\GameData\jk2mp.exe" +set sv_cheats 1. The demo file used is jk2ffa.
Again Xabre takes the back seat to GF4 MX460, though these tests show a better run from SiS.

SiS Xabre - Benchmarks - D3D

Real World D3D BenchmarksMax PayneMax Payne is a new generation DirectX 7/8 game. This game is based on Hardware T&L advancements as well as many other features of the Intel Pentium 4 and Athlon XP.
Max Payne being based on DX8 technologies gives the Xabre a bit more of a advantage. Still unable to beat the nVidia in the core area, it does make up some ground, especially in FSAA.AquanoxAquanox is the latest installment of our benchmark software. This game is based heavily on DirectX 8 and 8.1 advancements and is designed to stress video cards to their ultimate limit, in all the best D3D benchmark to date.
Aquanox doesn't allow for the pixel only shader system, hence why the Xabre doesn't make up any ground...but still the score is impressive.DroneZmarkWe were unable to run DroneZmark on the Xabre due to a driver issue that causes the system to crash back to the desktop. We will, when new drivers permit, re-visit this issue and try again.

SiS Xabre - Overclocking and Conclusion

OverclockingOverclocking on the Xabre reference card was surprisingly impressive. Being clocked at a default speed of 250MHz core and 250MHz memory clock we managed to run a maximum speed of 308MHz core and 295MHz (590MHz DDR) memory clock through the latest version of PowerStrip. We found this rather surprising since this is a reference card which we don't usually see good overclocking results from.ConclusionIn the past we have seen that SiS 3D chipsets have been something that should have been placed in a wood heater rather than a PC, to be perfectly honest. The new strategy from the R&D team at SiS has turned a few heads, not only with the Xabre but with their new AMD and P4 chipset offerings...That's what first made me think "Have they done it?"...The answer is Yes.Hardware wise the Xabre exceeds the limits normally set for a value based 3D accelerator, and while being able to keep within relatively close proximity of the Geforce MX460 (its main competitor, SiS tells us), with these early drivers competing against nVidia's mature drivers, is quite impressive.SiS needs to now divert a bit more effort into researching their drivers, as they still need some tweaking and patches for games to allow the pixel shader technology to be fully optimized, as well as ironing the bugs out that we saw and others have seen.Summing it up SiS have done an excellent job to produce a very well rounded video card that could be the next biggest vale card that the Geforce 2 MX originally was, only time will tell...- ProsFastStableExcellent OverclockingHardware T&L Engine128mb memory- ConsNo hardware vertex shaderDriver issues causing crashes in some benchmarksRating - 8.5/10

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