Home > Product Reviews > Video Card Reviews > Matrox Parhelia 128mb Review

Matrox Parhelia 128mb Review

Highs

  • Perfect for auto cad and dual display setups

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 9

Lows

  • No AGP 8x support
  • average gaming performance
Feature for Dollar, the Parhelia provides the best of high-end graphics for the business professional.

Summary

Often it seems that ATI and NVIDIA are only trying to capture the gaming market and have forgotten that professionals need high-end performance too. This card retails for $400. It may be a bit of sticker shock, but the Parhelia does provide superior performance for the business users while sacrificing none of the technology that makes this card an industry leader. Feature for Dollar, the Parhelia provides the best of high-end graphics for the business professional. Make sure you grab the latest drivers and check back to their site often. You may also need additional computer cooling as well.

Introduction

This card is the very latest offering from a grizzled veteran in the Video Card War. We have not seen much of Matrox in the last couple years as they have been overshadowed by ATI and NVIDIA with more powerful specifications. However, the Parhelia is a powerful contender in this year’s crop of high-end graphics cards. While gaming with a triple head display is nothing short of fantastic, Matrox is also aiming this card at the workstation market. They are hoping that this card offers the largest array of solid, useful features for the business class graphics professions. The Parhelia offers a wealth of power and features for the graphics hungry professional out there and we’re going to see how the card performs in real world situations. This includes using tools such as Adobe Premier and AutoCAD.

Features

The features that really make this video card stand out include a 512 –bit GPU, 256-bit DDR memory interface, Surround Gaming and 10-bit Gigacolor. On the down side of this card, there is no AGP 8x capabilities, you are limited to AGP 4X. The Parhelia features the first Triple Head Display incorporated into a graphics card. This means that you can setup 3 monitors to use as a single or separate desktop. Gaming with two displays may have seemed like a novelty, but there was always the “dead space” in the center between the two displays which was a turn-off for hardcore gamers. With a triple head display, the dead space is gone and the two side displays really add more to your peripheral vision, making gaming on the Parhelia a real treat.

The Parhelia is also the first card to support true a 10-bit per color channel which means this card can simultaneously display over one billion colors in not only 2D and 3D but in DVD playback as well. The 10-bit Gigacolor will really appeal to graphic artists looking for that extra detail. The Parhelia supports both DirectX 8.1 and the upcoming DirectX 9 which you will want in order to take advantage of any upcoming gaming graphical features.

We found support for the Parhelia to be above par overall. Matrox has a 3 year warranty which should last for the lifetime of the card as well as phone support via a toll free number, online support with FAQs, manuals and a user forum which is a valuable resource for real user experiences. The phone support however is only active during business hours Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm Eastern Time. This will be disappointing for the home user who typically makes tech support calls after 5pm.

Performance

Benchmarking and Performance
Using AutoCAD 2002  we found a (65%) increase in rendering times over the Matrox G550 card. This is due in part to the Parhelia’s PrecisionCAD driver
which according to Matrox provides increased stability and compatibility in the following programs: Autodesk Building Mechanical 2, Autodesk Map 5, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 3.3, Autodesk Mechanical Desktop 6, Autodesk Land Desktop 3 and Autodesk Architectural Studio 2 as well as AutoCAD 2002. During all of our AutoCAD 2002 tests, AutoCAD worked seamlessly and the display stayed sharp and crisp. A designer may not find the performance increase as important as the increase in stability and desktop space.

For those buying the card for workstation graphics the Parhelia’s 2D capabilities, the Matrox card boasted a Winmark 99 2.0 score of 496 which is the highest we have seen in a video card thus far. Matrox always have had the best 2D capabilities on the market and the Parhelia is no exception.

For our 3DMark benchmarks, we ran all tests with 16X fragment antialiasing enabled which increases image quality but hurts most video cards due to the lack of memory bandwidth. We also used the latest drivers from Matrox as of September 16th 2002. We found the Parhelia 3DMark scores to be in between the Geforce4 MX 440 and the Geforce 4 4600 cards. At 32-bit color and 1,024×768 resolution settings we clocked in a score of 3764, about 1500 points more than our Leadtek Geforce 4 MX 440 (64mb) and 2000 points lower than our Leadtek Geforce 4 4600 (128mb).

Setup and Installation

We installed the Parhelia in a workstation type machine. This is a machine that a professional might buy to supply themselves or to add to a small design studio. Our Test machine is using a motherboard that is a SIS wonderland of onboard integration. It has onboard video, sound, and Ethernet. The test machine is also sporting an Athlon 2200 w/ 1 GB of DDR Ram and pair of 100GB Western Digital Drives in a standard mirror configuration. While the test machine is certainly not a speed demon, we figured if we started with the least powered machine, and saw the improvement the Parhelia card made to this machine, it would be a fair indication of how the Parhelia would truly help the professional who is looking to see the $400USD retail price can be justified.

Installing the Parhelia is basic and just like any other video card. Our recommendation would be to download the latest drivers before actually inserting the card into your machine. The drivers included on the CD are premature and may cause some problems with uncommon programs. The latest drivers from Matrox fix any problems you may have. As of this review there is only driver support for both Windows XP and Windows 2000 although we have been told by Matrox that there will be support for Linux. The software package includes DVD theatre software and Matrox’s well known Powerdesk software package which gives you desktop configuration tools. We did not like the fact that you have to download about 20 Megs of Microsoft’s .Net software; those on dial-up will be burdened by this big time and we also question why .NET is really necessary to use this video card. Make sure you have proper cooling in your computer before installing the Parhelia. We found that the Parhelia raised our computer temperature more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Parhelia comes with two digital outputs. With Adapters we plugged one 17-inch Trinitron monitor into the top spot and with the supplied dongle; we plugged in two more 17 inch Trinitron monitors. The experience was incredible. First off, the card is able to handle the load of the three monitors with ease. There was not a single problem running three monitors at 1280×1024 64bit color. This is ultimately a high resolution and probably not a standard one on most people’s workstation, but we wanted a true test of ability. Plus a graphics professional is likely to run at a high resolution. If nothing else, just so they can get all the useful windows open in an Adobe application at once. We brought over an architect and AutoCAD expert in to do the AutoCAD work. He had a native DWG file of a 6000 SQFT house he was working on. With the very high performance standard and triple head display, He was able to view the detailed front and rear elevations on separate monitors plus with the third monitor he kept a zoomed out view of the front elevation of the house. AutoCAD worked seamlessly and the display stayed sharp and crisp.

Benchmarking and Performance

Using AutoCAD 2002  we found a (65%) increase in rendering times over the Matrox G550 card. This is due in part to the Parhelia’s PrecisionCAD driver which according to Matrox provides increased stability and compatibility in the following programs: Autodesk Building Mechanical 2, Autodesk Map 5, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 3.3, Autodesk Mechanical Desktop 6, Autodesk Land Desktop 3 and Autodesk Architectural Studio 2 as well as AutoCAD 2002. During all of our AutoCAD 2002 tests, AutoCAD worked seamlessly and the display stayed sharp and crisp. A designer may not find the performance increase as important as the increase in stability and desktop space.

For those buying the card for workstation graphics the Parhelia’s 2D capabilities, the Matrox card boasted a Winmark 99 2.0 score of 496 which is the highest we have seen in a video card thus far. Matrox always have had the best 2D capabilities on the market and the Parhelia is no exception.

For our 3DMark benchmarks, we ran all tests with 16X fragment antialiasing enabled which increases image quality but hurts most video cards due to the lack of memory bandwidth. We also used the latest drivers from Matrox as of September 16th 2002. We found the Parhelia 3DMark scores to be in between the Geforce4 MX 440 and the Geforce 4 4600 cards. At 32-bit color and 1,024×768 resolution settings we clocked in a score of 3764, about 1500 points more than our Leadtek Geforce 4 MX 440 (64mb) and 2000 points lower than our Leadtek Geforce 4 4600 (128mb).

Conclusion

The Parhelia is cutting edge technology and as such there are always a few kinks to be worked out. One of the biggest problems is the lack of truly powerful drivers. Without a doubt the stock drivers that Matrox provides work great with Windows XP, but it is apparent after some use that the drivers just are not pushing the capabilities of the card. Matrox is coding new drivers and will release updated drivers soon. Matrox has made a commitment to this architecture so they will be providing the latest in driver technology as fast as possible.

Often it seems that ATI and NVIDIA are only trying to capture the gaming market and have forgotten that professionals need high-end performance too. This card retails for $400. It may be a bit of sticker shock, but the Parhelia does provide superior performance for the business users while sacrificing none of the technology that makes this card an industry leader. Feature for Dollar, the Parhelia provides the best of high-end graphics for the business professional. Make sure you grab the latest drivers and check back to their site often. You may also need additional computer cooling as well.