iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Interview with STMicroelectronics

September 5, 2000

STMicroelectronics is a global independent semiconductor company that designs, develops, manufactures and markets a broad range of semiconductor integrated circuits ("ICs") and discrete devices used in a wide variety of microelectronic applications, including telecommunications systems, computer systems, consumer products, automotive products and industrial automation and control systems.

In 1999, ST's net revenues were US $5.056 billion and net earnings were US $547 million. According to leading market analyst Gartner/Dataquest's 1999 preliminary ranking, STMicroelectronics is now the eighth largest semiconductor company in the world, moving up from ninth position in 1998. According to the most recent data from independent sources ST is the world's leading supplier of MPEG-2 decoder ICs, Digital Set-Top Box ICs, Smartcard MCUs, special automotive ICs and EPROM non-volatile memories and is also the second leading supplier of analog and mixed-signal ASSPs and ASICs, disk drive ICs and EEPROM memories.

ST introduced STG2000 aka NV1 chip (the first integrated multimedia accelerator with hardware acceleration for 3D graphics, video and audio) in May 1996 and in 1997 Riva128 chip was introduced in cooperation with NVIDIA. Also, in 1996 STM together with Chromatic Research (currently acquired by ATI) developed and introduced MPACT chip.

STM signed the partner agreement with VideoLogic on April,8 1999. The goal of agreement is: bring to mass-market newest solution in the field of 3D graphics processors. At last, 5 June 2000 introduced KYRO – new generation of 3D graphics chips based on PowerVR Series 3 technology by Imagination (formerly VideoLogic). Today, we are glad to introduce an interview with bunch of questions and answers.

About KYRO

<Q>: Hello! Thank you very much for spending you time answering our questions. We are glad that you managed to give us a few minutes. To start with, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us in brief about your position in STM?
<A>: Sure - my name is Joe Kreiner. I am the developer relations manager for STMicroelectronics, which entails working with game developers to support KYRO, and optimize performance.
<Q>: What STM is going to do to attract customers (low prices, high quality or warranties and support)?
<A>: KYRO combines excellent 3D performance, superior image quality with fast 2D acceleration and video acceleration at an affordable cost for consumers. ST's customers will be the leading Add-In-Board suppliers and PC OEM's worldwide. A board company using KYRO will be able to offer their customers a modern fully featured board, with support for advanced features such as Internal True Color ™, Full-scene-anti-aliasing, 8-layer multi-texturing, and Direct3D compatible Environmental Bump Mapping. KYRO's innovative PowerVR Tile Based Rendering allows high performance 3D graphics with all these features to be offered to consumers at retail cost for a 32 Mbyte KYRO board that is expected to be below $200.
<Q>: Are you going to enter market with your products?
<A>: ST is the KYRO chip supplier, as a worldwide broad line semi-conductor supplier we have sales support in all major markets. We expect our customers to address the major markets worldwide with their board products. If there are board companies interested in buying KYRO we are very happy to talk to them.
<Q>: What companies could you name as your main competitors? What do you plan to offer to beat them or to increase your presence at the market?
<A>: I am happy to answer questions on KYRO, ST or the 3D market in general.
<Q>: What do you think about future relationship between STM and VideoLogic?
<A>: As we announced at the launch of the partnership last year, the partnership is a multi-year, multi-generation partnership to develop products for both the PC and Digital Consumer markets. (By the way Videologic changed its name last year to Imagination Technologies) Imagination is ST's partner in developing KYRO. Imagination's PowerVR Technologies division designs the PowerVR architecture. The Videologic Systems division of Imagination Technologies makes graphics cards, and as a part of Imagination, we expect to have an excellent relationship with them.
<Q>: First time we heard about Kyro in November 1999. We all are remembering how long it took PVRS2 to appear. When can we expect Kyro based boards at the stores worldwide?
<A>: KYRO will be available in 30 to 60 days.
<Q>: Neon250 boards are sold only in UK (except for 50 boards in Japan). Does STM plan to sell Kyro based boards worldwide?
<A>: ST is selling KYRO silicon only, not boards. We will sell this silicon to board makers, and is targeted at a worldwide audience. Expect to see customer announcements in 30 to 60 days.
<Q>: Could you name any graphics card manufactures interested in Kyro? (We spoke to some graphics card manufacturers at the Comtek2000 computer show in Moscow this April and nobody informed us about plans to build Kyro based boards…)
<A>: There is strong interest from leading graphic board companies. As above expect to see product announcements in next 30 – 60 days.
<Q>: Does an STM designed reference board based on Kyro?
<A>: ST is supplying reference board designs to its customers.
<Q>: Will there be a noticeable time gap between Kyro based products launch date in USA and their in Europe (and maybe in Russia)?
<A>: The chip level products will be available worldwide at same time. Board availability will depend on our customers' plans.
<Q>: Do you produce the Kyro chips in USA or in Taiwan?
<A>: KYRO is fabbed in Taiwan and assembled in Europe.
<Q>: Why doesn't Kyro have HW T&L?
<A>: KYRO's feature set is optimized for this year's leading applications. These applications are generally fill rate limited and performance is determined by the efficiency of the memory sub-system. KYRO's innovative Tile Based Rendering makes full use of the available memory bandwidth allowing a KYRO SDR board to outperform other DDR based systems – even systems including hardware T & L. A good example of this is Dagoth Moor – a title that has been developed to showcase hardware T & L. Independent reviews show however that KYRO outperforms Geforce 256 on Dagoth Moor (see http://www.pvr-extremist.com/PC/kyropreview2.asp?Section=PC). At same f time features such as Internal True Color, Full-scene-anti-aliasing, 8 layer multitexturing and environmental bump mapping ensure superior image quality. KYRO will also scale well with next years titles – increasing scene complexity will mean increasing overdraw in next years titles – KYRO performance will be independent of the overdraw while traditional accelerators performance will decline as the screen complexity increases.
<Q>: Do you plan to have HW T&L in the next generation chips?
<A>: We are not discussing future products at this time.
<Q>: Does KYRO use HW polygon sorting? And what about next generation chipsets?
<A>: PowerVR architecture (tiling)_sorts polygons on a per pixel basis, therefore, hidden surface removal is done by identifying the top most pixel. Our architecture is unique, and gives us many benefits (and reduced memory bandwidth requirements.) See the white papers available on the KYRO web site (http://www.kyro.st.com) for further explanation.
<Q>: Could you tell us about FSAA implementation in KYRO? What performance drop does it have with FSAA enabled?
<A>: KYRO's FSAA support is user selectable in our driver via a checkbox. Application (game) data is sent as normal, KYRO then renders at 2X resolution. The results are then filtered down and outputted to the frame buffer in the original resolution. No extra frame buffer memory buffer is required. There is of course a performance drop, as with all other graphics devices. As our drivers are still in Alpha, I can't give a final figure to the performance difference.
<Q>: A very popular question :) – how will be final (retail) cards clocked (chip/memory)?
<A>: We are characterizing KYRO's performance. Final clock speeds will be announced at same time as retail products announced.
<Q>: Do you plan a special KYRO version to be integrated into mainboards?
<A>: As before we are not commenting on specific features or schedules of new products. We can say there will be a family of KYRO products that will support both mainstream and high-performance segments of the market. There is nothing in the current KYRO design that would preclude a PC OEM integrating KYRO on the motherboard if they so wished
<Q>: What performance drop KYRO has when using stencil buffer?
<A>: KYRO has a 4 bit stencil buffer which is always "turned on". The stencil buffer is on chip, and there is no performance penalty for using stencil. Applications using stencils usually require additional fill rate, again the PowerVR architecture allows an advantage by doing stencil on chip.
<Q>: Could you describe Frame Buffer Tile parameters?
<A>: Frame Buffer Tile parameters are internal information. (specific to our architecture)
<Q>: How much textures stages are supported?
<A>: KYRO supports 8 texture stages (limited by DirectX). KYRO's internal tile buffer allows us to do multi-texturing on chip, allowing us to do any number of texture operations.
<Q>: Does Kyro have internal caches? Could you tell a few words about them?
<A>: Yes, the chip has a number of caches geared to maximize performance. Our internal tile buffer for instance allows us to do on chip blends and texturing, increasing visual quality while decreasing required memory bandwidth. Visual quality is increased via KYRO's Internal True Color, meaning all operations are done internally at 32 bits in the tile buffer – eliminating visual banding often seen in 16 bit games. Being able to do multiple operations on chip without outputting to the frame buffer reduces our memory bandwidth.
<Q>: Could you tell about Bump Mapping type supported by Kyro? What about EMBM support?
<A>: KYRO supports EMBM, Dot3 bump mapping and Embossed Bump mapping.
<Q>: As far as we know, PVR technology is easily scaled, e.g. we can place two Kyro chips in one PCB and we see a linear increase of performance. Is it true?
<A>: PowerVR architecture is easily scaled. However, KYRO was designed with the consumer graphics market in mind, aiming for the best price/performance ratio. A multi-chip solution is not planned at this time. Indeed, because PowerVR architecture is so scaleable and KYRO has such reduced memory bandwidth needs, we feel that we can increase performance on chip without having to move to expensive multi-chip solutions.
<Q>: Do you plan to release a card with two (or more) KYRO chips?
<A>: see above
<Q>: What about DVD support and other video formats? What about TV encoders/decoders?
<A>: KYRO features hardware support for DVD acceleration – including motion compensation, sub-picture overlay blending, horizontal and vertical interpolated scaling and color keying. The KYRO reference boards have support for TV encoders and DVI compliant TMDS Digital Flat Panel encoders. Retail product configuration will depend on the board supplier.
<Q>: What about TMDS transmitters? I mean digital monitors support.
<A>: see above
<Q>: What about dual monitors support?
<A>: KYRO does not support two simultaneous CRT outputs.
<Q>: What about OGL ICD and DX8 support?
<A>: Full OpenGL ICD support is provided with KYRO. We will support DirectX8 when it is released.
<Q>: Is PVRSGL dead?
<A>: Along with our competitors, we have decided to concentrate our resources on D3D and OpenGL. SGLDirect will continue to be maintained by the development teams, however the API will not normally be available. It will move from the Developer SDK and into the DDK that is subject to licensing from Imagination Technologies.

General questions

<Q>: How are you appreciating the current situation on 3D market? What perspectives in evolution and in concurrency?
<A>: The PC graphics market has been characterized over the last 12 months by a string of announcements of more and more complex devices. At the same time as the complexity of these devices has increased (25 – 30 million transistors) so has the requirement of these devices to use more expensive memory subsystems resulting in retail products that cost $350 - $400 (or sometimes even more). Yet the consumer benefit from these systems has not matched the cost increase. For sure these parts have been the fastest part on the market at introduction – however how many people can really afford to spend $350 - $400 every 6 months for a new graphics card. The fundamental limitation that is limiting the performance of these massively complex devices has been the memory bandwidth bottleneck (see ST White paper ‘The Future of 3D Graphics – Tile Based Rendering'). We believe that a new, innovative approach is required that brings the performance back into line with the transistor count used in the graphics device and removes the memory interface from being the bottleneck. PowerVR Tile Based Rendering is such an approach (again see ST White paper on ‘The Future of 3D Graphics – Tile Based Rendering'
These massively complex devices that have been introduced in the last 12 months have created an opportunity in the market for an affordable 3D graphics board that combines great 3D performance with a modern feature set for superior image quality. That is the part of the market we are targeting with KYRO.
<Q>: What do you think which parameter of modern graphics board is most important today: performance, graphics quality, innovations or something else?
<A>: see above
<Q>: How are you appreciating perspectives of integrated graphics? I mean integrated into mobo, for example. Is it the only way for evolution? Why?
<A>: Integrated graphics makes sense for Basic PC configurations where graphics performance or support for the very latest feature set is not important. However the pace of change of PC graphics is very different to the pace of change of PC chipsets. New graphics devices arrive every 6 months, while there is a new version of DirectX every year, at the same time PC Chipsets remain in production for many years. This means that there is likely to remain a healthy market for separate graphic accelerators in the mainstream, performance and upgrade markets.
<Q>: Could we expect to see new leader or new player in 3D graphics market in near time?
<A>: We'll have to see =)
<Q>: What is your opinion about multichip solutions? I mean which way is more perspective: parallelism in large (e.g. VSA) or parallelism in small (e.g. GeForce2)? Which way more perspective?
<A>: We are not commenting on future products at this stage. See my answer above for our opinion on multichip solutions.
<Q>: What do you think about Embedded DRAM? Is it the future?
<A>: We are not commenting on future products at this stage.

Thank you for answers!!!!

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