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Diamond Stealth III S540 AGP Review
Reviewed by Samuel Hong
Date : 24
th August 99


Stealth3_S540.jpg (7945 bytes)

- The Good
- The Benchmarks
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other video cards reviews

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Diamond Multimedia, a company reknown for its multimedia products has a new addition to its Stealth family. The Stealth III S540. This card is based on the S3 Savage4 Pro chipset, the last card we saw bearing the Stealth badge was the Stealth II G460 which was based on the Intel i740 chipset.

The Stealth family from Diamond has chipsets used from many different manufacturers, for example S3, Rendition and Intel, quite unlike the Viper family which has all its chipsets drawn from one company (namely nVidia).

Also, the Stealth III S540 was launched on the very day that Diamond lauched its Viper V770 (based on nVidia's Riva TNT2) as well, however the difference in the pricing of the V770 and the S540 is about 100 or so dollars, thereby making the S540 a bit more attractive than its more expensive counterparts. However, the performance is also very different...

First Impressions

Following the Diamond tradition, the S540 comes in a huge box that bears an attractive cover design, it is also nice to know that Diamond actually hires a designer to design the box, not getting their engineers to do the job, a fine tradition that is worth keeping.

Something else woth mentioning was that the contents of the box were pretty firm and didn't rattle about as I brought it home. Because you'd never know if any IC chips or the PCB will get damaged during shipping.

The box is plastered with information and boasts the advantages of owning a S540 over the 3dfx Voodoo3. Like the Diamond tradition, the S540 is "manual-less". I wonder if this is Diamond's intepretation of saving paper??? Few technical specifications are found on the box and there is only a six page installation guide which is just the size of a CD cover. It's redundant if you ask me.

These are some of my first impressions on opening the box, hehe, so without further ado, let's continue with the Technical Specifications!


Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 4x (AGP-2x compatible)
Chipset S3 Savage4 PRO+
Ram Mira 32MB 7ns SDRAM
Data Path 64 bit
RAMDAC 300 Mhz
TV-Output None
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo, & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640 x 480 - 1920 x 1440
Supported Refresh Rates 60 - 200 Hz (Vertical Refresh)

These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Diamond Stealth III S540 card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Stealth III Installation CD
  • (1) NFS 3 Hot Pursuit
  • (1) Addendum (AGP4X)
  • (1) Addendum (SoftDVD)

 
  • Diamond Stealth III S540 Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • Diamond Applications
  • Fremont™SE
  • Need for Speed III (Trial)
  • Zoran™ SoftDVD
  • CrystalGraphics 3D Sensations™ (Demo)

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The Good

The Video-Card Inspection section

Within the huge S540 box, lies a packet, containing the manuals and the card wrapped in an electrostatic bag divided into 2 levels. It seems that I have to open one end to get the video card and the other end to the manuals and CDs, nothing difficult if the card is yours, since you simply rip open the package, something difficult for me since this is merely a loan!

S540_Small.jpg (6190 bytes)

The first thing you would notice about the cards is the lack of a fan. Video cards nowadays are not as cool (literally) as they used to be, even with cards like the Riva TNT sporting nice heatsink/fan combos, this is one minus factor to the S540.[Thermal issues will be discussed later in the review!] The card itself is made in Taiwan and the PCB edges feel a little rough compared to the rest of my cards and it is slightly shorter than my own Asus TNT.

I'm sure many BH6 owners would also gripe about this, definitely more so for us testers. The RAM clips (2 out of 3) are quite inaccessible. This isn't a big deal, but should you want to upgrade your RAM, you would have to remove the S540 first, which is very inconvinent!

S540_Ram.jpg (4960 bytes)

The memory chips being used is the Mira 7ns type. For the uninitiated, Mira is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, so it's not some unknown brand. A quick check with PowerStrip showed that the memory was running at 143.2MHz, its rated speed, and PowerStrip would not allow me to either increase the memory speed or its core speed. What a disappointment! Also notice that unlike other 32MB cards which sport 16 X 2MB RAM chips, this sports 4 X 8MB RAM chips, I guess this cuts down on the PCB, but increases cost on the RAM chips, anyway I prefer lesser RAM chips to a large, bulky video card covered with RAM chips!
S540_Jumpers.jpg (11376 bytes) At the bottom of the card, near the AGP interface are 3 jumpers. According to the addendum, these jumpers are meant for AGP 4X, and all the 3 jumpers would have to be shorted to enable AGP 4X.

Currently, my BH6 doesn't support AGP 4X and thus, this feature could not be tested, but I reckon that speeds would be slightly faster (not exactly 2X faster than AGP2X) due to the higher bandwidth. However, it would definitely be an added plus if the card could automatically detect between AGP4X and AGP2X

S540_NoTV1.jpg (8076 bytes) S540_NoTV2.jpg (7529 bytes) The next most important thing that the S540 lacks would be a TV-Out function. While it may not be of importance to most users, TV-Out was certainly a must for me when I consider buying a video card, because my TV is not too far away from where my computer is placed and playing games on a 29" Toshiba screen sure beats a Viewsonic 15" anytime!

TV-In would be nice although it is not exactly a must. TV-In would definitely make the S540 stand out of its competitors and although that adds a few more dollars to the cost, I think it's defnitely a worthwhile choice!


The Installation, Driver features and Programs

Installation of the S540 is basically peanuts like installing any card, simply slide it in and fasten the screw! One gripe however, the video BIOS takes a slightly longer time to load compared to my Asus TNT! In any case the default refresh rate for the S540 is 85.0Hz. Also, the card was nicely detected and within several reboots I had the S540 running benchmarks, proving its ease of setting up!

The default Diamond applications started up together with the system and the most annoying thing about it is whenever you left click on a blank portion of the desktop, the Windows 98 Start Menu pops up. I guess this feature was meant for convenience, but since we all are so used to clicking the Start button, won't it become redundant? Diamond needs to spend more time re-considering that feature! Right clicking on any part of the desktop brings up Diamond's own menu, an eyesore really, considering the pause in between the menu loading, compared to the generic Windows 98! Nevertheless, the most obvious difference was the slightly brighter graphics.

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The Benchmarks

Benchmarks were done in Windows 98 (Ver 4.10) and using the drivers provided in the Diamond CD. As mentioned earlier, I tried to overclock the card but PowerStrip refused to let me try speeds above 143.2MHz, although I am quite sure that the Mira SDRAMs could handle around 5 or more MHz. The core also was un-overclockable as that portion was shaded in the PowerStrip options (In other words, disabled). I would have loved to push this card a little higher and see some results!

The Pentium II 333MHz which I have cannot run 5 X 100MHz and the best it can manage is 416MHz (5 X 83.3MHz) but due to harddisk stability issues, the max I can go would be 375MHz (5 X 75.5MHz), setting the AGP/CLK to 1/1 would mean the S540 would run at 150MHz, giving us a slight prelude to AGP4X, however it will only be a marginal improvement I guess. Because I stongly believe that benchmarks are useless numbers without comparison to others, I will be comparing the S540 to my Asus TNT (not overclocked) as well as the Canopus Spectra5400PE (Rseults obtained from Vijay's Review) and give the S540 a good run for its money!

I've indicated my system as PII-333(S540) when running with the Stealth III S540 and PII-333(V3400TNT) when running with my Asus V3400TNT/TV video card. As where indicated PII-375 would mean I'm overclocking my system to 5.0 X 75.5MHz and PII-416 would mean overclocking to 5.0 X 83.3MHz. Since AGP/CLK is set to 1/1 means that the card is running at 150MHz and 166MHz (AGP2X) respectively at clockspeeds of 375MHz and 416MHz.

The last row of the result table 1 is obtained from Vijay's review of the Canopus Spectra 5400PE (RIVA TNT2-Ultra), his system is a C300A overclocked to 450MHz, running the Spectra5400 drivers.

Diamond Stealth III S540 32MB SDRAM (AGP)

CPU Configuration
(Video Card)
Wintune98 Video (2D) / Mps Wintune98 Direct3D / Mps Wintune98 OpenGL / Mps 3D Winbench/ 3D Winmark
PII-333 (S540) 38.5518 58.71464 191.4777 586
PII-375 (S540) 41.31956 59.75679 285.0979 N/A
C-450 (Spectra5400) 109.1909 256.8559 157.5598 N/A

Done @ 800 x 600 for all tests, Wintune and 3D Winbench.
Colour depth = 16bit for all tests


Diamond Stealth III S540 32MB SDRAM (AGP)
Final Reality Benchmark

CPU Configuration
(Video Card)
2D Image Processing 3D Performance Bus Transfer Rate Overall Score
PII-333 (S540) 3.13 3.44 1.11 3.30
PII-333 (V3400TNT) 3.02 3.76 2.50 3.35

Done @ 800 x 600 for all tests, Wintune and 3D Winbench. Colour depth = 32bit for all tests. Measured in Reality Marks


Benchmark Comments

Wintune 98 / 3D Winbench 99
The results reflect very badly on the S3 Savage4 Pro chipset, however the plus factor is the OpenGL tested by Wintune which is blazingly (and unbelieveably) fast. According to the benchmarks, the OpenGL performance of the S540 could be nearly twice as fast as the Canopus Spectra 5400PE (based on the nVidia RIVA TNT2-Ultra chipset). According to Vijay's tests the Spectra manages 162.0903 MPixels/s and the test results on my system (at 375MHz) indicate 285.0979 MPixels/s, re-running the benchmarks proved useless, for results were around the same. To test if the S540 really excels at OpenGL, I started playing Half-Life in OpenGL mode, and I can defnitely shout this out, the OpenGL mode really rocks compared to Direct3D!!! Based on this, I think the S540 makes an excellent OpenGL card!

Final Reality
This set of benchmarks shows how shameful a defeat the Savage4 suffers from the some-what "dated" RIVA TNT chipset. Although the benchmarks do not show the RIVA TNT scorching ahead of the Savage4, it is quite enough to prove that S3 still hasn't got what it takes to compete in the high-end video card sector yet. Marginally, the RIVA TNT is better in 2D and 3D as well as the bus transfer rates.

Final Reality has quite a nice set of screenshots during testing, unfortunately, telling the image quality between the RIVA TNT chipset against the S540 is very much like telling the difference between the two ants crawling across my table right now! It is quite obvious when a lot of 3D rendering is needed, the Savage4 slows down somewhat, trying hard to cope, the RIVA TNT also slows down albeit not as obvious as the Savage4!

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The Bad

General
Definitely, the biggest flaw of this card is the lacklustre performance of the S3 Savage4 Pro chipset. I had expected more from this video card, since it's priced at SGD$215 which is a tad pricier than many cards based on the RIVA TNT chipset (but of course, you get 16MB more RAM and S3TC). Nevertheless, the Savage4 provides good value for money when it comes to OpenGL, other wise you might just want to settle for a RIVA TNT based card instead.

TV-Out
No TV-Out is minor issue to most users, however it matters if you are an avid gamer and buy things like wireless keyboards and invest heavily on a nice flat TV! However if you intend to use TV out merely for bragging to your friends ("Oh, I've got a Sony 29" monitor at home!"), then you'd be more than disappointed, the text is very hard to read and small (most seasoned users would know). But the only useful feature of TV out surfaces if you do not have things like a VCD player or DVD player to hook on to the TV, this is also when you gather the whole family around with some snacks and sit down to watch a movie or two!

Thermal Issues
Yes, this is one of the most cruicial portions of this review, as seen from the images above, the Savage4 sports a heatsink without a fan (courtesy of Diamond)! This is a problem which most users will face, how do you exactly cool it? Well, I did not try plucking the heatsink off the Savage4 chip, but I guess that the heatsink is bonded by the normal paste like grey thermal compound, not like others which are bonded by adhesive so strong they could survive an earthquake intact!

The most simplest way would be to attach a fan by means of screws, you know, re-use those 486 fans that have been sitting in the storeroom since errr... I don't know when :). Otherwise, operate the computer in a air-conditioned room without the casing on, that pretty much solved the problem since the S540 kept locking up every 15 minutes into my Half-Life game (grrr...!)

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) Intel Pentium II 333MHz
Ram 64MB 100MHz Hyundai 10ns SDRAM
Motherboard Abit BH6
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-5 4.3GB
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used PowerStrip 2.50
Video Card(s) Diamond Stealth III S540
Video Card Drivers Diamond Stealth III S540 Drivers (14/8/99)

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Conclusion

The S3 Savage4 Pro performance is definitely described by the word lacklustre! However the OpenGL performance really proved to be an eye-opener! Despite that, the loading time of games like NFS3 and Half-Life is very fast and during gameplay the S540 feels smooth and no freezes whatsoever! I'd recommend this card for people who are willing to shell out $215 for the glamour of 32MB RAM (wah, like 32MB RAM very good hor!) and of course, for those who enjoy smooth and fast gameplay! Definitely not a buy for 3D intensive gamers!

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ***
Price ****
Software Bundle ***1/2
Material Quality ****
Overall Rating ****


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