Products reviewed by computer hardware review sites can, in many cases, shape the perceptions that many of us have on unfamiliar manufacturers. Unless you happen to be NVIDIA or ATI, you might only have one legitimate shot at impressing consumers. The unfortunate consequence is that the responsibility of delivering a fair and unbiased review lies with such websites.
Such was the situation for Matrox a few months ago when they unveiled the highly anticipated Parhelia graphics chipset. The Parhelia was a revolutionary new architecture for them considering that their last performance chip came out during NVIDIA's TNT2 era.
The Parhelia was generally welcomed, but when the non-disclosure agreements expired and the first Parhelia reviews were published, there was an ominous "thud" by many review sites. Many of these sites catered to the gaming audience and answered questions such as "how well did it score in 3DMark2001?" or "how did it perform in the unreleased version of Unreal Tournament 2003?"
Nevertheless, I purchased a Parhelia for the following reasons:
Multi-Monitor Support - Matrox has been a leader in this area and I was confident that they had the best implementation available.
2D Image Quality - I was spending more time doing work from home and wanted better image quality in Windows at high display resolutions.
Dual DVI - I recently upgraded to LCD's at home and wasn't impressed with the image quality of the secondary LCD using a competing graphics card.
Fragment Antialiasing - The quality of this implementation appeared to be very good based on the screenshots I had seen in reviews.
Surround Gaming - Despite the requirements, I saw this as a feature that could literally transform my gaming experience.
Despite what I'd read, and all the people who told me I was crazy, I realized the Parhelia was loaded with features and performed better than review sites claimed. So I decided to put together my own review, which covers the following areas:
Drivers and Driver Quality
2D Image Quality
DVD Features and Quality
Surround Gaming and Performance
Let's take a look at what you get right out of the box.
Parhelia Graphics Board
DVI to VGA Adapter
Driver and Demo CD
It can be particularly annoying having to purchase additional equipment to enable specific features of a graphics card. This isn't the case with the Parhelia as Matrox provides you with all the necessary items to expose the features listed on the box.
Let's get a few factoid's out of the way, shall we?
.15 Micron Fabrication (UMC)
220MHz Core Frequency
275MHz Memory Frequency (550MHz Effective)
80 Million Transistors
Dual DVI-I Outputs
256-Bit Memory Bus
DirectX 8 Compliant
A few things jump out. First of all, as far as memory bandwidth is concerned, this chip should not be bandwidth limited. In total, the Parhelia yields close to 18 gigabytes per second of bandwidth. The unfortunate aspect of the graphics processor is its relatively low frequency, at just 220MHz. It should be noted that this will limit performance in some situations, but we'll hold that thought for now.
The 4 pipeline architecture is consistent with other DirectX 8 class graphics cards. Dual DVI support is beneficial if you're using multiple LCD's. Although the Parhelia's transistor count has since been eclipsed by ATI's R300 (Radeon 9700), it's still a very large chip. You might expect such a large chip to have a loud cooling fan, but this isn't the case at all. I've found the sound level to be very quiet, in fact.