Matrox Parhelia 128MB AGP - HotHardware

Matrox Parhelia 128MB AGP

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The Matrox Parhelia 128MB AGP
Hands on testing of Matrox's High End Gaming Card

By -Dave Altavilla
June 25, 2002


For the HotHardware Test Team, good drivers are the heart and soul of any new graphics card.  They can either make or break a product in this technology, whether it be performance, features or stability.

Drivers, Installation and Setup
A totally different approach and we like it a lot

We've taken a few screenshots of the various driver control panels for the Matrox Parhelia Power Desk Suite.  As you will see, Matrox has taken a very different approach to the interface.

Main Control

 

Information

 

Quality Desktop

 

3D/Gaming Quality

 

Multi-Display

Dual Head


Display Refresh &
Position

Video Overlay
 

Clearly, the drivers have a very "XP" look and feel to them, with more of a menu driven interface versus the control panels we've seen in the past from NVIDIA and ATi.  The drivers themselves are very easy to navigate and offer a very user friendly interface.  They are a bit to simplistic for our liking however, and don't give the user as much control as other driver interfaces we've seen, for example with various Anisotropic settings or even something fairly standard like gamma adjustments for the desktop or gaming.  Hopefully, Matrox will expand on this great looking interface and also give the end user a few more toys to play with.

Also of note was that stability with this driver release, was decent.  Not exceptional but decent.  We experienced no issues whatsoever during installation.  However, during one of our benchmark sessions with Serious Sam, The Second Encounter, we did experience an occasional lock up.  As with the initial releases of the Radeon 8500 and GeForce4 Ti 4600, we're going to cut Matrox a little slack here, in hopes that future driver releases will clean up many of these anomalies.

Gigacolor Desktop - Advantage Matrox:
 
On the other hand, the drivers do shine with a few new features like the multi-display setup, Dual Head, Glyph AA and Gigacolor.  The user can enable Gigacolor for either Desktop or Gaming environments.  We turned this feature on with the desktop setting and were hard pressed to tell the difference in fidelity on our 22" Mitsubishi tube.  However, we did run the included Gigacolor plug in for Photoshop and viewed various 16 bit sample images that showed the benefits, with much less color banding between gradients.  The professional that works with tools like Photoshop on a regular basis, will welcome the added resolution that the Parhelia's 10 bit DACs can produce.  We'll touch upon the gaming side of Gigacolor, later.

Finally, something really impressed us was the actual 2D image quality of the Parhelia.  It easily produces the best looking 2D desktop image on the market right now.  The images are crisp and the colors are vibrant and true with this new card from Matrox.  Again, even the most demanding desktop publishing professional will appreciate the output quality of the Parhelia.  Although we were unable to get the time to set up the card on a flat panel screen, we are fairly confident that the 2D desktop quality of the Parhelia would only be more obvious with digital accuracy.  We'll also have 2D desktop benchmark numbers later in this review.
 

Surround Gaming
Serious Fun

We then set up a ?TripleHead Desktop? to get a feel for the usefulness of a three monitor setup, and to spend a little time ?Surround Gaming?.  Getting the Parhelia setup to use our three monitors was very easy.  Plain and simple, Matrox did an excellent job with the TripleHead Installation Wizard.  Without even taking a look at the user?s manual, we were able to get our TripleHead desktop up and running, literally, within minutes.  We surfed the web for a while, and have to admit, having the immense desktop real-estate afforded by the TripleHead desktop was definitely useful.  We found having hyperlinks, that would normally open in a new browser window, display on a different screen, without obscuring the original content we were viewing, very practical.  We also worked simultaneously within Photoshop and Frontpage, and liked the ability to edit an image, then preview the changes in our editor without having to minimize any program windows. 

 

 

If you do the math, three 17? monitors used in a TripleHead configuration, offers the same amount of viewable area as a single 29? monitor.  If you?re a power-user who constantly works with multiple applications, you?ll thoroughly enjoy a TripleHead desktop.

 

Surround Gaming with the Pathelia was also a very unique experience.  We had seen the Parhelia in action a few months ago, and recently benchmarked the card.  Due to these factors, our opinion on Surround Gaming could have been skewed somewhat.  To eliminate any bias, we invited two gamers, James and Mario, into the H.H. lab for a demo and a little Quake 3 gaming.  Both of these guys are gamers, who don?t care who makes the hardware powering their rigs as long as it works and the perceived performance is good.  The first word out of James? mouth when he saw our test system was, ?Wow?.  James must have watched the Matrox Reef demo for 20 minutes before he would let us close it down.  Mario was much more animated.  He loved the Reef demo, but was eager to start playing some Quake.  Our guinea pig (no pun intended) was floored by the surround gaming demo.  Mario said point blank, that surround gaming on the Parhelia was the most fun he?s had gaming in quite a while.  ?It?s something that has to be experienced?, Mario said, ?Seeing pictures of people playing on this rig do not do it justice?.  We concur.

We're sure some of you are interested to know how Quake 3 performed when set up to run across all three monitors.  The machine we used to test the the Surround Gaming feature was equipped with an Athlon XP 2200+ and 512MB of RAM, populating a Gigabyte KT333 motherboard.  With Quake 3 set to "High Quality", with trilinear filtering and the texture and geometry sliders maxed out, the Parhelia cranked out 81.4 FPS (demo001) at a resolution of 2400x600 (800x600 on all three monitors).   
 

Displacement Map Demos and 16X FAA Testing

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