S3 set to demo first dual GPU card

We’re now so used to ATI and Nvidia’s bickering that it’s easy to forget that there are other players jostling for attention in the graphics business too. Not only that, but some of them are even dabbling with dual-GPU graphics cards now. In fact, S3 plans to demo its first dual-GPU graphics card later this month.

As its name suggests, the S3 Graphics Chrome 5400E x2 will feature two of the S3 Graphics Chrome 5400E 23 x 23mm BGA chips (pictured) that S3 launched in late 2009. Although these chips are primarily aimed at the embedded market, they do contain all the bare essentials that you’d expect from a current graphics chip.

The feature checklist includes a unified shader architecture, support for DirectX 10.1 and even support for GPGPU computing via OpenCL. However, with its 64-bit memory interface, not to mention its ability to use system RAM as an extra buffer, the 5400E was clearly never going to rival the high-end gaming chips from S3’s competitors.

It’s presumably for this reason that S3’s new dual-GPU experiment isn’t positioned as a direct competitor to Nvidia and ATI’s dual-chip monsters in the gaming business either. Instead, it’s mainly targeted at people who want multiple video outputs.

As well as supporting eight simultaneous displays, the S3 Graphics Chrome 5400E x2 can also handle four independent video streams at resolutions up to 1080P. As well as this, the chips provide hardware acceleration for all the common video CODECs, including H.264, MPEG-2 HD, VC-1 and WMV9-HD.

Although this is S3’s first dual-GPU card, it’s not the first time that the graphics company has ventured into the realms of dual-graphics. Back in 2005, it launched its MultiChrome technology, which enabled you to chain together two or more Chrome S20 or 400-series cards in parallel.

Of course, getting the hardware finished is only a part of the equation. S3 will also have to make sure it has working drivers available, which has previously been a problem for the company in comparison with ATI and Nvidia. However, there are already drivers for the original 5400E for Windows 7, Vista and XP, plus Linux distros with the 2.6.xx kernel, including Debian, Ubuntu, SuSE, Fedora and RedHat. With any luck, S3 will be able to get out working drivers for the x2 card too.

The S3 Graphics Chrome 5400E x2 is scheduled to be demonstrated by VIA at the Digital Signage Expo on 24 and 25 February. No details on pricing or availability have been announced yet, but VIA says that samples of the dual-chip cards will be doing the rounds in the US in the second quarter of this year.