STMicro signs Hercules to ship Kyro II graphics

Nvidia said to be 'unconcerned'

STMicroelectronics has begun volume production of Kyro II graphics accelerator and signed Guillemot to ship cards based on the chip.

The Kyro II is a licensed version of Imagination Technologies' PowerVR platform, best known as the basis for Sega's Dreamcast console. The Kyro II implementation of PowerVR 3 is based on a more advanced version of the family than the Dreamcast's PowerVR 2-derived accelerator.

It's a pretty good chip, using a tile-based rendering scheme to break the rendered scene down into smaller, more manageable chunks just 32 pixels wide. That cuts back how often the accelerator chips needs to access slower external memory, and making more efficient use of the available system bandwidth. It also makes full-screen anti-aliasing rather less of a chore. And rendering only visible pixels speeds the rendering process even more.

Kyro II is functionally identical to STMicro's original Kyro. However, the new chip is fabbed at 0.18 micron and so runs at a higher clock speed - 175MHz. On-card memory is clocked at 175MHz too.

Guillemot will market its Kryo II-based board under the Hercules brand. The Hercules 3D Prophet 4500 will ship with 64MB of on-card SDRAM for around $150.

That's significantly lower than competing cards, but the Kyro family has largely failed to win the market share that the likes of Nvidia, ATI and even the now-defunct 3dfx have grabbed.

Ironically, 3dfx was working on a tile-based rendering system of its own, taken from the technology it took on board when it acquired GigaPixel. Tiling is a clever way of beating memory bandwidth and performance issues, but Nvidia's 'brute force' solution seems to have won the day. And GeForce 3 reduces the number of pixels that can't be seen by the user but have to be rendered anyway.

And Kyro II lacks the GeForce 3's sophisticated DirectX 8-friendly programmable pixel and vertex engines. The fact that these features are central to Microsoft's Xbox graphics should see software support for them come rather more quickly and readily than it did for Nvidia's Transform and Lighting engine.

But that's Hercules/Guillemot's problem. STMicro will continue throwing the chips into set-top boxes, and Imagination will be looking to its deal with ARM to build its graphics technology into the latter's processor cores, now that the end of Dreamcast will mean that Sega doesn't need its products. ®