In a world of packaging aimed at 13-year-old boys, the $399 Parhelia comes in a surprisingly bland box--no brightly colored superfans or space-age logos. The first clues that you've purchased a ragingly fast card are the Parhelia's dual digital outputs and collection of cables. Three adapters facilitate output to a variety of devices--ideally, three monitors simultaneously. The box also contains an installation and troubleshooting manual and a driver/software CD.
Installing the Parhelia is straightforward, but the immature drivers that shipped with our card caused some problems. Fortunately, the latest drivers from Matrox's Web site solved them all. The company's PowerDesk control panel is our real gripe. PowerDesk won't run unless you install 20MB of Microsoft's .Net software in lieu of the usual display dialog controls, and setting up the software is a pain at best. The .Net connection also makes us question Matrox's relationship with Microsoft. Although Matrox will support Linux and may develop drivers for Windows 95, 98, and Me, the card is currently compatible with only Windows 2000 and XP.
Beyond the numbers
Judging by CNET Labs' benchmark tests, we'd say the Parhelia is spectacularly fast. At Matrox's request, we ran all tests with 16X fragment antialiasing enabled, which increases image quality and chokes most cards. Even with antialiasing enabled, the Parhelia posted 3DMark2001 scores of 4,354 at 1,600x1,200 resolution, and 6,648 at 1,024x768--about halfway between the VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 and the Leadtek WinFast A250 Ultra TD. The Parhelia also racked up satisfying Quake III frame rates of 66.9fps (frames per second) at a resolution of 1,600x1,200 and 141.7fps at 1,024x768, running neck and neck with the VisionTek. And though you probably aren't buying the Parhelia for its 2D performance, the card's Business Graphics WinMark 99 2.0 mark of 510 is the highest we've ever seen.
The Parhelia also features a unique 10-bit color mode that gives you a color palette of billions of hues for precision photo work. In our tests, however, this mode dropped the card's WinMark score to 398, which is slow but acceptable. The card also supports all DirectX 8.1 features in hardware and many from the upcoming DirectX 9--a must to take advantage of all the special effects in current and upcoming games.