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    Matrox Parhelia Review
    By Vince Freeman :  June 25, 2002

    Parhelia-512 GPU Features

    The main focus of the Parhelia-512 feature set is of providing high quality graphics, rather than outright speed. This is an area that Matrox has a firm grasp of, as their previous graphics products were renowned for their excellent 2D and 3D image quality and precision. The Parhelia-512 follows in those same footsteps and has a wide array of features that all promote the "Immerse yourself in High Fidelity Graphics" tagline of the Parhelia-512. We'll try and keep this section quick and to the point, so we can get on with the performance section.

    10-bit GigaColor Technology

    The Parhelia-512 is the first graphics chip to support true 10-bit color precision, and does so for all 2D, 3D, DVD and video functions by using a 10-bit RGB frame buffers, dual 10-bit RAMDACs and a 10-bit TV encoder. This sounds great, but from our experience, most general users won't be able to tell the difference and the feature carries much more weight in the professional 2D/3D graphics market.

    Hardware Displacement Mapping

    No matter the video card, it seems to be a requirement to offer at least one vendor-specific 3D feature. ATI has their TruForm, NVIDIA got jiggy with Higher Order Surfaces, while even Matrox has wowed us with Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM). True to form, Matrox is back at the table with their latest key 3D feature, Hardware Displacement Mapping.

    After reading up on this particular feature, its basic premise sounds a lot like the previously-mentioned Higher Order Surfaces and TruForm features. At its most basic, Hardware Displacement Mapping allows complex geometric data to be expressed as a simple formula or data set, thereby allowing the GPU to process this into a fully detailed 3D representation. Think of a wire mesh frame for a mountain and a set of displacement numbers relating to the hills and valleys; the Parhelia-512 takes this data and transforms it into a complex 3D image.

    The potential bandwidth savings are enormous and the feature does look very good on paper. The only potential issue, as with other way-cool features, is that it requires some form of developer support. Without widespread support, it's yet another feature to ogle and then file away for future reference.

    Glyph Antialiasing

    The Parhelia-512 is the first to offer "hardware acceleration for antialiased text and font rendering with full gamma correction", which boils down to better looking on-screen text, without affecting performance. This feature may seem superfluous to hardcore gamers, but anyone who spends their days working in front of a big-screen CRT may feel quite differently.

    Multiple Monitor Support

    The Matrox Parhelia has one of the most flexible and functional multi-display designs of any graphic technology. DualHead-HF is the Matrox answer to high-end dual-display requirements, and the Parhelia includes two display controllers, two 400MHz 10-bit RAMDACs, a 10-bit TV encoder and dual 165MHz DVI output support. This last point is quite important, as other graphics cards may tout their dualhead capabilities, but do not come close to the dual DVI features of the Parhelia.

    TripleHead is basically support for three monitors on a single desktop, using either LCDs in standard analog mode, or standard CRT monitors. This triple monitor option is useful in either a standard Windows desktop, or to get the absolute most out of your 3D gaming experience. Gaming on a 3-display output is a real experience, but there are a few potential flies in the ointment.

    One is simply the feasibility and cost of using three large monitors on the desktop. During testing we ran face first into this, as none of our workstations had the effective real estate or design necessary for true 3-monitor gaming (at least of the 19-21" variety). We performed all testing on a large work table, that while functional, would not be our optimum choice. In addition to the physical install, the games also required extensive alteration to run in surround mode, such as resetting default screen dimensions, editing Registry settings, and setting various Matrox driver options.

    At the end of the day, we did experiment with a few FPS games like Quake 3 and Jedi Knight II and while we did find it highly enjoyable, the question does arise of whether the end result was actually worth the setup. While FPS are a novelty item for Surround Gaming, but we'd like to see a wider range of games supported, such as high-end 3D RPG games. Game support could also become troublesome, as only select games work in Surround Gaming mode, and once the 3-monitor setup is purchased and set up you may find it going unused for a large number of gaming titles.

    Page 1 Introduction
    Page 2 The Matrox Parhelia 128-MB Card
  • Page 3 Parhelia-512 GPU Features
    Page 4 Performance and Test System
    Page 5 Quake 3 and Serious Sam 2 Performance
    Page 6 Jedi Knight II, Comanche & 3DMark 2001 Performance
    Page 7 Anti Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering Performance
    Page 8 Anti Aliasing Techniques
    Page 9 Image Quality and Screenshots
    Page 10 Value and Conclusion

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