Tag Archives: trio

S3 Trio3D/2X – The Cream of the crop?

Thanks to an auction which ended very well for me (no doubt nobody else wanted this piece of crap), I managed to get my hands on a S3 Trio3D/2X AGP 4MB. This was pretty much the last card from the Virge/Trio line that I wanted. I’m still missing some Virge models, however I do have the original and the DX, and the other ones are really just overclocks and whatnot. On the other hand, with the 3D/2X, S3 apparently made a few changes from the previous chip. But just how many? And does it even matter, when the starting point was so bad?

Monolith tells it like it is.

At least it has one thing to go for it. This is the first card among those in the old S3 line-up to complete a 3DMark 99 run without any particular issues. Sure, the framerate is abysmal, but eveything looks as it should. Well, almost everything: 3-pass embossing only shows a white texture, and there’s still a strange pattern in the filtering test. But at least it works.

Motoracer looks decent, but there are some transparency issues. At least it runs a lot faster than the Virge. Until you brake.

And since it works, it’s the first time I can actually trust its final score. Alas, with a miserable 218, it’s the lowest score yet. I assume only a few 1st gen accelerators could go lower. Even the Rage IIc is a lot faster, and that card was terrible – I’ll take its perspective correction issues over the Trio any day. And let’s not even bother with the 6326, comparing the Trio to that is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

In general, it seems the card is more compatible than the previous Trio, and it also sports better AGP features – if it’s able to show all the textures in 3DMark, there must be some kind of AGP texturing (as also shown by Final Reality), although its performance seems to indicate it’s very slow. Then again, maybe an 8MB model would have been just as bad. Can’t say.

Dash, what happened to your face?

Surprisingly, however, it appears to be a little slower than the Trio. Despite the improved architecture, my framerates appear to be roughly 10-15% lower. The difference decreases as we go up to 800×600. I imagine that, if the architecture wasn’t made any faster but simply more compatible, then having to render all the effects properly would take a toll on the card.

Another strange thing is trilinear filtering – the original Trio actually tried to do it, although it reduced speed by half (and bilinear already reduced speed by almost two thirds – do the math). The 2X doesn’t even bother, it’s technically supported but looks exactly like bilinear and there’s no speed drop anymore.

So to answer my first question, does it even metter if the architecture has been improved? I guess not. This card was the equivalent of installing some snazzy rear mirrors and windscreen wipers to the original Fiat 500. It wasn’t gonna make it any faster, and you were still stuck with an antique that would have made any Homo Erectus proud.

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Filtering textures like it’s 1996

While still working on-and-off on my years long project, I came across an S3 Trio 3D. A fairly common graphics card, though not as common as the Virge (which I have too, unluckily for me). Veterans will probably remember the Virge line as the decelerator of its time, and Trio wasn’t much better.

General agreement is that the Virge was trying to accomplish too much with too little. PC players at the time were barely playing with perspective correction, and that was already something: PS1 and Saturn didn’t even support it. Still, the Trio is more modern. You’d think it could have done better. It didn’t.

s3trio3dmark99
A typical 3DMark99 results screen. Part of it anyway. Running on 800×600 actually results in a higher score… because the card doesn’t even bother rendering some of the tests.

Well, it didn’t, but what a strange failure it was. It’s really kind of impressive to see a 4MB, very cheap 2D/3D card properly supporting not just bilinear filtering, but also mipmapping and trilinear. And it does so quite well too, unlike other budget cards of the era. As a matter of fact, if you don’t mind playing in 320×240, you’ll end up getting decent speed with much more features compared to software rendering. Well, if you can deal with the 15-bits colors and resulting color banding.

Video memory is indeed especially low. And with S3 only assigning a mere 1.5MB to textures, you can forget about great results. But let’s face it, the card is way too slow to run anything above 320×240 anyway. I used 640×480 only for testing, but it was clearly not meant for this kind of hi-res.

With 3DMark99 set that high, weird things start to happen. Texturing Speed is especially strange. Don’t be fooled by the results up there: the card is only rendering a small part of the test plate. Other cards usually drop to a crawl, but still pass the test. It seems like the Trio doesn’t even try to swap, simply omitting the repeated texture instead.

s3trio3dmip1

s3trio3dmip2

s3trio3dmip3

The filtering test also shows something interesting. There isn’t nearly enough memory to properly render the graphics, but notice how mipmaps are working, and even trilinear is supported normally. What were they trying to do, supporting this stuff in a low-budget card? You can even see in the results screen that texture filtering comes with some of the heftiest performance drops I’ve seen this side of the ATI Rage II.

Who knows what they were thinking. But it’s quite impressive nonetheless. Games run (or better, don’t) like molassa, textures aren’t rendered, extra features are way too slow… but filtering itself seems to work fine. Mind, it was 1998, so perhaps not supporting those features would have made S3 a laughing stock in the market. But they pretty much were one already, so why bother?

My tests aren’t over, so I’m sure I’ll find other interesting results. I’ve seen a few already (how did the G100 support multitexturing when even the G200 didn’t?), and it can only get better. For example, I have that Matrox Mystique waiting…