|Imagine for a moment, a picture in the dark, revealed to you by a focused light only one square at a time. You have two options, either react to one of the squares of the picture that have already been revealed or hold your breath until the final piece falls into place.|
|It's a gamble, you have no idea what the next piece will bring, it may be a tremendously beautiful image or the most gruesome sight you have ever lay your eyes on. No, we're not talking about playing a silly Halloween game, rather we're providing simpler terms by which you can understand the state of the video card industry up to this point.|
Pretty much following the law of order the history of the market has shown us, 3dfx was first to the punch with their undoubtedly amazing Voodoo3 accelerator, then followed by NVIDIA whose TNT2 and Ultra counterpart have already put smirks on the faces of NVIDIA supporters across the globe. While NVIDIA was stealing the spotlight from 3dfx's mammoth marketing campaign, S3 made a quiet release of the Savage4, a somewhat shortcoming successor to the original flop, the Savage3D. With every review of the aforementioned video chipsets, AnandTech concluded by essentially offering a third option, wait until the next competitor is to be released. You've waited long enough, the time is now; the only square left unrevealed from this picture? Matrox. Let's enter the G400, AnandTech-style.
The Stoning of Matrox
The time was August 1998, the product was the Matrox G200, an extremely high quality alternative to the 3dfx/NVIDIA dominated market that had potential to please the eyes of more than a few users. The problem? Matrox's flagship card lacked a completed OpenGL ICD, something the competitor's cards already had (NVIDIA). Although loyal Matrox users insisted that the OpenGL ICD would surely be "on the way" it turned out that what was sure to be another high acclaim on Matrox's track record turned into the company walking home with their heads hung low as even their once faithful supporters dropped the $150 for a NVIDIA TNT card. Matrox's attempt to please the business user as well as the hard core gamer failed miserably, although the G200 did end up making its way into a number of systems, its potential was severely hurt by Matrox's inability to release a high performing OpenGL ICD upon the launch of the chip.
As soon as the word got out about Matrox's next product, the G400, the only question users seemed to ask was whether or not Matrox would have an ICD ready for deployment, performance took a close second to the million dollar question in this case. The basic principles of common sense will tell you that it would be suicide for a company in Matrox's position to release another graphics accelerator and fail to concentrate on one of the most obvious weaknesses of its predecessor, because, of course, the reason for making a next generation product is to address the problems the previous generation posed, right? If there were no problems in the previous generation and if there was no room for improvement, the market wouldn't really work too well now would it? Needless to say, an unspoken requirement for Matrox's G400 was that it ship with a fully functional OpenGL ICD. And will it? You better believe so.
The Death of the Mystique
Last year marked the division of graphics accelerators between gaming and business cards, you could've never guessed that 1998 would be the last year you'd see a manufacturer attempt to segregate primarily based on gaming/business use. With the 3D market hitting everyone, 3D accelerators are no longer viewed as "only for gamers" although gamers do seem to get much more of a benefit from a Voodoo3 than business users do. This year the trend seems to be division according to clock speed, instead of worrying about releasing a single product and hoping the competition can't beat it in performance, why not release a variety of products, with each one offering a higher clock speed and theoretically faster performance. If the competition comes out on top, simply work towards better yields on your chips and release a higher clock speed version of your product. Simple enough?
3dfx did it with the Voodoo3 running at 143MHz and the 166MHz parts, calling them the 2000 and 3000 models respectively. NVIDIA did the same with the 125MHz and 150MHz TNT parts, with the latter being the "Ultra" version. Even S3, the relatively quiet member of this family announced two different performance flavors of their Savage4, the regular and the Pro. Needless to say, Matrox has jumped on this bandwagon with their first clock-speed segregated product release in the history of the company, the Matrox Millennium G400 and the Millennium G400MAX.
Interestingly enough, the name "Mystique," which has so often been associated with the word "crap" after the original Matrox Mystique product, is absent from the G400 product line, indicating a trend moving away from the business/gamer classification of graphics cards and towards classification based on performance. Following the lead of 3dfx, Matrox chose to divide the two Millennium G400 products according to three factors: 1) core clock speed, 2) memory clock speed, and 3) internal RAMDAC speed.