Matrox's Comeback Kid - The Parhelia-512by Anand Lal Shimpi on May 14, 2002 9:00 AM EST
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There is indeed quite a bit of technology behind the Parhelia-512 so let's start summing up the pros and cons:
Matrox's design goal with the Parhelia-512 was to produce the fastest part for the coming generation of DX8 games as possible. Their "bet" was that DX9 games would take just as long as DX8 games took to surface and thus the Parhelia-512 could be brought to market and would perform quite well on present and near-future titles in comparison to NV25/NV30 and R200/R300. We think that Matrox made the best bet they could possibly make in their situation and its probably the right one. This won't give Matrox the market share that NVIDIA enjoys but it will bring them back into the market with a high-performing part. How will the Parhelia-512 perform?
- In "simple" games like Quake III Arena, the Parhelia-512 will definitely lose out to the GeForce4 Ti 4600. By simple we mean games that generally use no more than two textures and are currently bound by fill rate. NVIDIA's drivers are highly optimized (much more so than Matrox's) and in situations where the majority of the Parhelia's execution power is going unused, it will lose out to the Ti 4600. This can change by turning on anisotropic filtering and antialiasing however, where the balance will begin to tilt in favor of the Parhelia.
- In stressful DX8 games, Matrox expects the Parhelia-512 to take the gold - either performing on par or outperforming the GeForce4 Ti 4600. Once again, as soon as you enable better texture filtering algorithms and antialiasing the Parhelia-512 should begin to seriously separate itself from the Ti 4600. The quad-texturing capabilities of the core as well as the 5-stage pixel shaders will be very handy in games coming out over the next several months.
- The Parhelia-512 has the ability to take the short-term performance crown away from NVIDIA.
The main strengths from the Parhelia-512 come from its quad-texturing units, its impressive memory bandwidth and its 5-stage pixel shader pipelines. Features such as Hardware Displacement Mapping and extreme attention to image output quality complete the package. Matrox's Fragment Anti-Aliasing algorithm seems quite promising however that is entirely dependent on what situations result in noticeable artifacts.
There are some limitations to the Parhelia-512 architecture however that cannot go unmentioned:
- On a 0.15-micron process, the Parhelia-512 is a very large chip much like 3DLabs' P10. With a chip this large it will be difficult to attain high clock speeds. The first versions of the P10 are expected to run at ~250MHz but it will take a higher clock to make the Parhelia-512 competitive.
- The lack of any serious Z-occlusion culling technology is a major disappointment. If you've noticed, occlusion culling is something that ATI and NVIDIA are continuing to improve on. The next-generation Radeon and NVIDIA's NV30 will both have extremely sophisticated forms of occlusion culling built into the hardware. This tradeoff can become a killer for Matrox in situations where complex pixel shader programs are applied to pixels that should have been occluded.
- The lack of a fully programmable floating-point pixel pipeline will hurt the Parhelia-512 in the eyes of developers as they start writing for DX9 hardware later this year. This isn't as big of a hit for end users as long as you upgrade your graphics card more frequently than once every two years.
And then there's the issue of price; when it's finally shipping in June the fastest Parhelia-512 cards will carry a price tag of ~$450. There will be cheaper cards that offer lower performance but you shouldn't expect the Parhelia-512 to compete with the GeForce4 Ti 4200 anytime soon.
In the end, the Parhelia-512 has the potential of being the king of the hill between now and the release of NV30; and it is by far the best effort Matrox has ever put forth in the graphics industry. Those wanting extremely high-quality image quality and triple-head output will have nowhere else to turn and this time around they will be able to enjoy high-performance 3D acceleration as well.
However the success of Matrox isn't dependent on the Parhelia-512; as we've seen in the past it is dependent on how well they follow up the technology. The Parhelia-512 cannot turn into another G400 where the market is left for two years without a serious update. Matrox does have a solid product and a winner on their hands but they have to do their best to not only execute it well but execute its successor even better.
Matrox assures us that they have a solid roadmap going forward but we will not see them move to NVIDIA's aggressive 6-month product cycles. In the end, Matrox is a worthy competitor to have back in the game and they couldn't have done a better job making an entrance than with the Parhelia.