Matrox Parhelia

Matrox is taking on the 3D graphics market with its new Parhelia-512 chip and a £279 retail board. So how does it stand up against nVidia's GeForce4?
Written by Kai Schmerer, Contributor
Matrox has held a dominant position in the graphics card business since the beginning of the 1990s, but up to now the Canadian company has not seriously addressed one important segment of the market. When it comes to 3D graphics acceleration, Matrox’s products have remained well behind the leading edge. The consequence: the dominant market position in this sector has been lost to the competition. nVidia and, more recently, ATI, have dominated the 3D graphics market -- Matrox’s graphics cards are more likely to be found business PCs. Thanks to the outstanding signal quality, which makes for an extremely sharp displayed picture, Matrox cards remain very attractive for business users. By contrast, 3D games require high frame rates above all, which has not been Matrox’s traditional strength.

Graphics cards based on Matrox’s new Parhelia-512 chip should give the company a significant presence in the 3D graphics market.
With the introduction of the new Parhelia-512 chip, this should now change, and Matrox should make inroads into the 3D market. Even so, this product is not just aimed at hardcore gamers.

High-fidelity graphics
The Parhelia is a 512-bit graphics chip with a 256-bit memory interface. It can address a maximum of 256MB of DDR memory and has two DVI outputs, from which it can drive up to three monitors simultaneously, given the appropriate adapter.

The ability to drive three monitors simultaneously is a unique selling point of the Parhelia-512 chip.
The outstanding picture quality of Matrox graphics cards is well known. Even at 1,024 by 768 resolution, the Parhelia delivers a pin-sharp picture. This is due to the extremely high-quality fifth order output filters, in combination with the 10-bit RAMDACs. The more sensitive the output filters are, the better the picture quality. By comparison, some Taiwanese graphics card manufacturers use only second-order output filters, while nVidia’s GeForce 4 cards usually use third-order output filters. The Parhelia’s 'glyph' anti-aliasing provides outstanding quality for rendering text. Windows XP also offers software-based edge smoothing for rendering text, but Matrox’s solution also works with gamma correction and costs nothing in performance. Colour support is also unique, the Parhelia’s GigaColor technology enabling the simultaneous display of over a billion colours and offering better image quality when replaying videos and rendering images. The card’s 3D features include 16x fragment anti-aliasing (FAA-16x), vertex and pixel shaders, as well as 64 Super Sample Texture filtering. The Parhelia’s 3D pipeline can process four dual-textured pixels per clock.
Matrox Parhelia card specifications


Graphics processor Parhelia-512
Processor fabrication process (microns) 0.15
Processor clock speed (MHz) 220
Graphics memory amount (MB) 128
Graphics memory type DDR SDRAM
Memory clock speed (MHz) 275
Maximum resolution (pixels) at 85Hz 2048 x 1536
Maximum resolution (pixels) at 100Hz 1600 x 1200
Colour depth (bits) 30
Vertex shader yes
Pixel shader yes
Anti-aliasing FAA-16x
AGP versions supported 4X
Rendering piplelines 4
Textures per pipe 4
Other 3D features Hardware displacement mapping
Multi-monitor support two (three with appropriate adapter)
DVI ports 2
TV-out port yes
Cables supplied Y-shaped DVI-I to dual HD-15; DVI-I to HD-15 adapter; HD-15 to S-video and composite
Games included none
Driver support Windows 2000, XP
Warranty 3 years
Price (ex. VAT) £279

Further information on the technology of the Parhelia-512 chip is provided on Matrox’s Web site.

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