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Matrox G400 MAX
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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Matrox G400MAX - Page 1
 
Matrox has been in the Graphics Card business since the invention of electricity. OK, so maybe that's a little overstated but when it comes to PC Graphics, Matrox is the "Grand Daddy". They have always been known for high end accelerators built with the Computer Professional in mind. CAD and other Desktop Graphics Applications were always their strong suit.

As the 3D Accelerator Market came of age, Matrox was there with some of the first ever 3D Accelerated features in a 2D card. However, a new market of then "Start-Up" companies like 3dfx and NVIDIA entered the picture and soon leapfrogged Matrox with the nimble aggression that only a small focused group could bring.

Since then things surely have changed and many others have entered the picture. One company has remained a constant through these market trends. Matrox is still making leading edge accelerators and they are back in the 3D race with a strong entry. This is a look at the "Top Shelf" of their new G400 product line, Millennium G400MAX.
 

 

 


Card Design - Dual Heads?

Clean simplicity, that's what the G400MAX's design is all about. There are not a lot of chips on this board, as you can see in this shot, for a card that supports Dual Monitors. There are two VGA connectors on its header and the G400 line supports simultaneous independent output of different images on two monitors. This will allow you to display two different apps, one on each monitor, while they are being run in a multi-task environment. One can conceivably play a DVD title on one screen while word processing on another. Also, gamers can output to a TV while simultaneously driving their monitor. Of course their is also the option of expanding your desktop across two monitors. This is great for business folks who do a lot of spreadsheet work. Finally, graphics designers can rejoice in the ability to work on an object in one monitor and then have a "Zoom" view of any region of their work, on the other monitor simultaneously. Matrox calls these various modes "DualHead Zoom"," DVD Max" and "Clone Mode". Here is how they achieve this dual-drive capability.

The G400 line of Graphics Processors has a 256bit DualBus architecture.

Click to enlarge

 


Here are the rest of the key specifics on Matrox's Siamese-Twin Power House.

Features

 
? Floating Point 3D Setup Engine with
dynamically re-allocatable resources:
? Ultra-pipelined floating point and culling
engines
? Optimized support for Direct3D and
OpenGL triangles, strips, fans and vectors
? Flexible Vertex Format natively
supported
? Vertex Buffers natively supported
? Environment Mapped Bump Mapping
? Single cycle multi-texturing
? Vertex and table fog
? Specular highlighting (any color)
? True color ARGB Flat and Gouraud
shading
? Vibrant Color Quality2(VCQ2) Rendering:
? 32-bit precision internal pipelines
? up to 32-bit source textures
? 32-bit output
? 16bpp dithering down from 32bpp
palette for 16bpp output
? Full sub pixel and subtext correction
? 8-bit precision for filter coefficients
? Highly saturated & separated analogue
color output (Ultra Sharp DAC)
? Filtering support:
? 11 level mip-mapping support
? Bilinear Filtering
? True eight-sample per pixel trilinear
filtering
? Anisotropic filtering
? Alpha blending:
? All blend modes under DirectX 6 and
OpenGL
? Supports all permutations of passes
including light maps, environment maps,
reflection
maps, etc.
? Z-buffer support:
? 16-bit
? 32-bit
? 24-bit plus 8-bit stencil buffer used for
shadows, overlays, etc...
? Guard Band Clipping
? Single, Double or Triple buffering
? 3D-image effects combined with no
exclusion conditions
? Sort independent (full scene) anti-aliasing
? Vector/edge anti-aliasing
? Hardware dithering including dithering of LUT textures

That's a pretty complete set of features. Matrox didn't leave out any of today's current "hot-buttons" in the world of 3D Graphics. New technologies are coming on line shortly but this is the most comprehensive list 3D Graphics capabilities currently available on the market.

 


Here's what our card looked like.

Not quiet as pretty as that nice Marketing Shot above but check out the stock Aavid fan that Matrox sticks on this bad boy! The core clock for the G400MAX on our unit seemed to be set at 150MHz., although Matrox will not confirm this. That tied in the memory chips to a 200MHz. clock. At least that's what "Perftune" from Entech was telling us. However, we were able to overclock the G400MAX to 166 MHz. Core and 221MHz. Memory clocks.

 


"VCQ" and "EMBM" (so many acronyms, so little time...)

In addition, Matrox went the extra mile and one-upped the competition for this round of technology. The addition of Environment Mapped Bump Mapping, "EMBM" for short and VCQ2 Vibrant Color Quality2, should give Matrox the lead in overall image quality until the next generation of cards arrive.  

     
We'll take a look at these two features in some detail. Read on...
     

Page 2

---> "VCQ" and "EMBM" <----

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Matrox G400MAX - Page 2

 


 

 "VCQ2" and "EMBM"

Matrox always seems to have a few tricks up their sleeves and this time is no exception. Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping is a feature that no other Graphics Chipset in the industry supports currently. This technology allows for the additon of all new, very immersive effects on various image surfaces. For instance you can add animated or motionless bumps on the surface of a 3D object. This gives you the ability to implement ripple effects on water or turbulence on air in the event of smoke or gasses. Also, many other enhancements can be made to all sorts of textured surfaces with these bumps. In short, this feature adds another level of detail and texture to almost any surface. It is a feature that is built in to DirectX 6.1 and future releases of the API. There are only a few games currently that support this feature, like "Slave Zero", "Decent III" and "Expendable", with more titles coming on line every day. Here's an example taken from Rage Software's "Expendable".

 

EMBM On

No EMBM

 We don't even have to go into detail on the differences here. A picture says it all. The EMBM enabled shot on the left looks generations ahead when compared to the shot on the right. The water effects are amazing. Of course my precision "gibbing" of these Alien Slimes in BOTH shots, looks damn sweet too! :-)
 

Now, VCQ2 is a little more of a subjective thing. It is the way the G400 renders images in full 32bit color from its 32bit frame buffer and internal pipelines. The effect that is supposed to be produced a rich, highly saturated 32bit color image with the most vibrant deep colors available. We felt that the G400MAX lived up to its claims on this. However, this again is a subjective area. You be the judge for your own opinion.

Here are a couple of High Res. 32bit Quake3 Arena shots... Click 'em

For the bandwidth advantaged, get your original TGAs here and here!

(right click and then "save as" or just click if your browser supports TGA format.)

     
If you want our opinion (and let's face it, you are reading this, so you must) the G400MAX has the image quality battle won HANDS DOWN over ANY 3D graphics chipset on the market today!
     

But how does it fair in the Framerate Department? We think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Page 3
---> Take a look! <---

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Matrox G400MAX - Page 3
 

 The Benchmarks D3D

Our Test System

Full Tower ATX Case w/ 300W PS, Pentium3 -450 Overclocked to 558 MHz. Abit BE6 DMA66 capable motherboard, 128MB of PC133 HSDRAM, WD 18G 7200RPM DMA66 Hard Drive, Matrox G400MAX @ 166MHz. Core/221MHz. Memory Clock, Toshiba SDM1202 3rd. Gen. 4.8X DVD/32X CDROM, Win 98, DirectX 6.1, Matrox Drivers Version 5.21

 


     

We paired the G400MAX up with an overclocked TNT2 @ 160MHz. for a little "Forsaken Ship Demo" benchmarking.

In a word.... SMOKED! The G400MAX clearly shows it prowess here in the 32bit Forsaken demo.

Let's look at something a little more demanding in the D3D arena.

3DMark99 @ 800X600X16bit

     
Once again a good showing and the image quality tests were all passed with flying colors... (pun intended)
     

Final thoughts and Score Board!

It occured to me, as I was writing this review, that the G400MAX has to be the most underated and overlooked graphics card in the market right now. I was very pleased with its overall performance and the absolute perfection in which it rendered images on my desktop and in games. Environmental Mapped Bump Mapping is not just some marketing hype either. It is a real feature that makes a significant improvement in immersion and image quality. I am sure that others will follow in Matrox's footsteps with this feature and more games will be written with Bump Mapping support. Finally, the raw speed of this card coupled with the added feature of Dual Headed Displays, rounds out the total package nicely.

The only small fly in the oinment is Matrox's OpenGL ICD which is an ever improving product. It won't be long before they have that code flying at the same speed as the silicon that processes it. For today's current generation of 3D Accelerators, you can't buy better image quality and it's speed is competitive with the best of class.


We give the Matrox G400MAX a Hot Hardware Temp-O-Meter rating of...

95! Damn hot!

-Davo

 

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Matrox G400 MAX Page 4


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