The fabled ALi Aladdin 7 IGPU

Discussion in 'Architecture and Products' started by msxyz, Jan 18, 2019.

  1. msxyz

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    Today I'm feeling a bit nostalgic and, since the current GPU landscape doesn't look very exciting (RTX, VII meh...), I'm looking back at the early glorious days of 3D.

    The ALi Aladdin 7 was the last Super Socket 7 chipset by Acer Laboratories and it also had the distinction of possibly being the first "true" integrated GPU for PC, sporting also hardware T&L. It was announced at the end of 1999 and the graphic processing part was done by ArtX of Nintendo and ATi fame. I've seen pictures of a couple of boards; nevertheless the advent of cheap Athlon and Durons in the first half of year 2000 hastened the demise of the Socket 7 platform, even if AMD even introduced some K6s, manufactured with the latest 0.18u process, with speeds up to 600MHz .

    Some old posts of the day (God bless the Wayback machine!) describe the GPU inside the Aladdin 7 as similar to the one that would be used inside Nintendo's Project Dolphin (the Gamecube) but 'scalded down'. It is interesting to note that the Aladdin 7 also supported SDRAM up to 133 MHz, while the Socket 7 platform officially never went above 100MHz (112 possibile via overclock on some boards...).

    Ok, this is all what I know about it. Does any oldtimer here remember this chipset? Any other info would be welcome (architecture, internal organization, general information about the chip) and I'm also curious about the performance

    By the wasy, here is the original press release:

    SAN JOSE, CA, USA - NOVEMBER 8, 1999 - Acer Laboratories Inc., (ALi) and ArtX Inc. (ArtX) today announced the new Aladdin 7 core logic chipset for the emerging PC market segment of “Performance Consumer PCs.” The Aladdin 7 Northbridge and Southbridge chipset integrates ArtX’s advanced 3D geometry and graphics accelerator into a full-featured NB/SB chipset, delivering benchmarked performance 2 to 3 times greater than other Socket 7-based systems when running popular 3D game titles. The Aladdin 7 128-bit architecture delivers extraordinary 3D game playing, enhanced CPU performance, and a rich Internet experience to consumers at an unprecedented price point. The product, a joint effort between ALi and ArtX, will be sold by ALi along with ALi’s portfolio of core logic and peripheral ICs.



    The problem with the low-cost consumer PC and the “Free PC” today, is that end users must sacrifice graphics performance to get the low system price,” commented ALi President Dr. Chin Wu. “Since most of these PCs are going into homes, where PC-oriented entertainment is prevalent, this low performance is disappointing to users. With the new capabilities delivered by our Aladdin 7, consumers can have game-enthusiast performance at consumer-oriented price points.”



    Typically, game-oriented performance PC systems sell for several hundred dollars more than low-end consumer PCs due to the extra cost of adding high-performance 3D graphics accelerators and memory, higher performance core logic, cache, and higher-end CPUs. By providing a high-performance 3D geometry graphics engine in the chipset, ALi and ArtX set a new standard of performance in the value market segment.
     
    #1 msxyz, Jan 18, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2019
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  2. Garrett Weaving

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    Oh I love me some late K6 and super 7 talks :).

    AFAIK very few boards ever used the Aladdin 7, I've only ever seen them on K6Plus and perhaps once on Vogons? I had no idea the iGPU featured hw T&L, that would have been a first, but I doubt performance would have been great. Firstly, because most people tended to couple these "cheap" all-in-one boards with slow K6-2 CPUs. K6-2 at 400-450Mhz is really slow, K6-III is a lot better at similar frequencies and especially once you get it up to 550MHz and even that was much slower than a Pentium III or Athlon at similar clocks, it was probably worse than FX 8350 vs i5 6600k for example. The other issue is driver quality and boy were these shit most of the time.
    Back in 2000-2001 I had a cheap Celeron 900 on Asus board with an SiS 630 chipset, which was actually a really neat and fairly unique chipset in that it featured a built-in soundcard, network adapter and even an iGPU and all of that was on a single chip on the mainboard (no southbridge!). This was pretty novel at the time and the SiS 305 iGP featured in that chipset was actually somewhat capable, I think perhaps TNT 1 (or TNT2 M64) levels of performance? It also had full DVD decoding support if I'm not mistaken! Would have been fairly decent at 640x480 especially for older games, however driver support was dreadful, it was always a massive headache for me. D3D games would sometimes run well, sometimes like shit, other times they'd look awful and be full of visual errors, V-Sync would sometimes be engaged, other times not and it would cause various timing issues and such...
    The situation did improve once I found the latest driver, but it was still a mess. OpenGL support was also really dreadful, oGL was always a problem in those days, but this was especially heartbreaking, because you'd have somewhat demanding D3D games running alright and then you'd pop in Quake 2 and it would run at 25-30 fps no matter what you did.
    I had a chance to play around with that motherboard recently when I picked it up on eBay for laughs and it was especially eye opening when I used SCITech's oGL to D3D wrapper and suddenly oGL games were running pretty fine. I'm talking excess of 60fps on Quake 2 on an iGPU from 1999-2000!

    SiS also made a HW TNL capable card based on the same arch as far as I can tell, the SiS 315, which would have actually been fairly decent and competitive, but drivers were pretty bad once again. It is usually a bit faster than an GF2 MX200, closer to the MX400 in fact.

    Long story short, drivers were bad. I'm willing to bet the only one that knew what they were doing was Nvidia with their early nForce and nForce2 models that featured iGPUs, but I've never tried that to be honest. I guess it would be fun to find the board and try it out at some point, but I'm willing to bet it ain't going to be cheap due to rarity and general price hikes on period hardware (especially super 7 stuff).

    On a side note, I think there was one chipset that could do 133MHz FSB (and 133MHz SDRAM!) without overclocking, but I can't remember which one it was. Probably the SiS 530, but could have been something even more obscure. In any case, I think it was an AGP-less chipset or rather the AGP bus was taken over by an iGP.
     
  3. Urian

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    If my memory is correct... The GX GPU had two main revisions and I suppose that the first one was more similar to the Aladdin7 GPU.
     
  4. msxyz

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    Forgive my ignorance, what is the GX GPU? Is it another codename for the Flipper graphic processor?
     
  5. Urian

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    Yes.
     
  6. msxyz

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    Garret: SiS chips were certainly underrated. Driver support was also good. I've a SiS 6326 (the last version, 75MHz core 90 SGRAM) and it is able to run Unreal and Quake III, albeit at sub 640x480 resolutions!

    Back on topic, browsing through the ancient archived news, it seems that the Aladdin 7 could access two 64 bit banks at once, like many modern CPUs with dual channels, nearly doubling the graphic performance compared to using a single 64 bit bank.
     
  7. ToTTenTranz

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    I remember reading a bit about Aladdin 7 when the Gamecube came up, but for performance I can only find this at the moment:

    https://www.hardwarecentral.com/forum/threads/ali-aladdin-7-ss7-rocks.7246/

    (said anandtech article seems to be down)

    The only Viper Racing benchmarks I can find are these:

    http://www.vintage3d.org/rgraph/viperave.php#sthash.rgPDzx8G.dpbs


    [​IMG]

    Those results are all taken with a much faster Duron 600MHz, compared to the 400MHz K6-III from Anandtech at the time. The CPU performance difference is enormous.
    The dual-channel 128bit access to DRAM put it on par discrete graphics cards from the year before (Rage Pro, Intel 740, Riva 128).
    It seems that Aladdin7's success was mostly hampered by the fact that it came for the Super Socket 7 platform. Even worse, it came out in time for K6-III which was very short lived as K7/Athlon released in the very same year.

    Had ALi put this IGP into Socket 370 and/or Socket A motherboards, they could probably have taken a nice following from budget PC gamers.
    ArtX was bought by ATi in 2000, so ALi used slower Trident GPUs for their chipsets instead (and apparently there are some versions with an onboard Riva TnT).
     
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  8. Garrett Weaving

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    Wow that's pretty nice. It is as you say, they dumped it on a platform with short life span at that point. It would have been much better off as a product for s370 or socket A boards. And yeah, the performance difference between a K6-III 400 (even 550 or 600) vs a Duron 600 can't be understated.
     
  9. swaaye

    swaaye Entirely Suboptimal
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    I was once pretty curious about Aladdin 7 but yeah there's not much info to be found.
     
    #9 swaaye, Jan 18, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2019
  10. Garrett Weaving

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    Perhaps we should make a list of the boards that are known to feature it, I would gladly take the hit and test it since I'm pretty sure it will retain its value.
    Problem is finding one in the first place, I'm not even sure it was ever featured on a retail mobo, it may have been an OEM deal only which could complicate things.
     
  11. msxyz

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    PCchips M587LMR, M583LMR These were released
    Acorp 5ALI61 http://www.mainboard.cz/mb/acorp/5ali61p.htm

    Interestingly, there is no external cache. For a K6-III, external cache provided only a minor boost, but K6-II and K6-IIp would have taken a big hit.
    The Flipper GPU had eDram for framebuffer and textures; somehow I doubt that the Aladdin had something as sophisticated as a dual purpose texture cache inside. Considering also the launch period, the Aladdin 7 should have been manufacured with 0.25u technology (while the Flipper was made with 0.18u - the eDram occupied only a small part of the die)
     
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  12. Garrett Weaving

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    Quite interesting, thanks for finding these. I'll see if I can find any of them.
     
  13. msxyz

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    Interesting find!

    Some info can be inferred from the description:
    -Up to 2.1GB bandiwdth : it could use dual channel 133MB SDRAm
    -New parallel rendering architecture : dual pipelines(?). The 'dolphin' GPU had 4 pipeline but also integrated 2MB of framebuffer
    -T&L confirmed

    Now I really want one! What are the chances of finding a working board after nearly 20 years? :|
     
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  14. Garrett Weaving

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    Yes, the specs are interesting indeed. Unfortunately, none of the boards come up on eBay, except for the 5ALI61 non Plus, which is a plain Aladdin V board. 20 years is not really that long, boards should work fine if stored properly, unfortunately caps from that era tend to do really bad, but it's a somewhat easy fix if you know what you're doing.
     
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