So, there you have it. My main motivation for doing this article was to show you a side of this product that may not have hit home with some of the earlier reviews. I never went out and bought this card thinking I would end up doing a review, but I felt compelled to do it after seeing all the cool things this card is capable of doing.
Performance, though not the fastest, is extremely good.
Driver quality is outstanding.
Best driver user interface to date.
Excellent commitment by Matrox engineers to fix driver issues and garner Surround Gaming support.
TV-out is excellent.
I have never seen a better support operation than that of Matrox. I have personally filed bug reports on their website and every one of them was answered by a support representative.
Now, let's touch on some of the negatives:
Cost. Matrox should figure a way to bring this board into the $250 price point.
FAA has some issues that can' be resolved via drivers alone. On the whole, it's an awesome feature, but needs a more refined algorithm to work across the board.
To maximize the capability of the Parhelia, you should invest in 3 displays. For some, this is an economic difficulty while others simply don't have the desk space to accommodate 3 displays.
Anisotropic filtering levels are not competitive with NVIDIA and ATI. The hardware is capable of more samples, but is currently held back by drivers. Matrox please do the right thing and up the number of samples.
Matrox has been out of the loop since the TNT2 era and they had a lot of ground to makeup. Going from a DirectX 6 era chip to a DirectX 8/DirectX 9 one is a huge jump and Matrox should be commended for their effort. Some will say that the Parhelia is not 100% DirectX 9 compliant, which is true to an extent. On the one hand, you always hate to buy something new only to see it not being compliant with the latest technology. On the other hand, we all know how this really works as it takes a long time for actual games to surface that harness even a portion of the latest technology. The GeForce3 came out almost 2 years ago, and we're just now starting to see games take advantage of DirectX 8! With respect to DirectX 9, it's a certainty that we will not see any games based on this API for a solid year thereafter.
No matter how you look at this board, the one thing that should stand out is Surround Gaming. Of all the technologies to come out over the last several years, I can state that none of them approach changing the gaming experience as this feature. It's one of those deals that you have to experience first hand to truly appreciate. Once you try it, you will never want to game on a single display ever again. Cost is an issue, but you could really get away with picking up some used displays for very little money.
Going forward, these are the items I would like to see from the next Parhelia chip:
Higher clock: Matrox needs to achieve a much higher clock. Overclocking results posted on various forums shows the Parhelia to gain significant performance from seemingly very little overclocking.
Price: $300+ for the one and only Parhelia product is a tough sell for a lot of folks. They should try to bring several solutions to the market covering the mid to high-end markets.
I would like to see triple-head mode impose no limitations on the user. As it stands, Matrox has the absolute best implementation around, but I do have to run my primary LCD in non-native mode whenever employing triple-head due to resolution limitations.
FAA: Matrox has reduced the vast majority of bugs associated with FAA, but there exists some bugs that cannot be overcome via drivers alone. From what I have gathered, this has been addressed, and the next Parhelia should be squared away.
Hidden Surface Removal: One thing that was absent from the architecture was an intelligent HSR module to help alleviate wasted processing.
So, there you have it. This review has taken me a long time to complete mostly due to my work schedule. I had planned to kick this thing out many weeks ago, but I have been swamped at work.
At the end of the day, how would I summarize this product? The Matrox Parhelia is a product that's geared for the guy that wants the accelerator to do a wide range of things and doesn't put 100% emphasis on the highest framerate. It does an amazing number of things very well and in some cases, significantly better than the competition. The multi-head support is second to none and the legendary 2D quality is intact. TV-out is extremely usable and Surround Gaming is something you have to experience. Even if you don't have 3 displays, the Parhelia is still a compelling product. I would, without any doubt, highly recommend this product to anybody out there that finds any of these items important.
Bottom Line: don't believe everything that you hear and have an open mind. The vast majority of hardware review sites spend very little time with an actual product and don't hardly put any stock in anything outside the standard benchmark games/utilities. In many cases, I seriously question just how much the average reviewer plays games, but that's a completely different issue.
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sebastian and Omar from Matrox for extending themselves to me during the time I put this review together. They were always more than willing to take time out of their busy schedule to answer questions and to even investigate some of the issues that I ran into from time to time. Their tireless effort has been noted and has left an extremely positive mark.