Matrox Parhelia review: Matrox Parhelia

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
Pricing Unavailable
Reviewed:
Updated:

The Good Fast 16X-antialiased 3D performance; peerless 2D performance; 10-bit color with billions of hues; excellent visual quality; three-display-surround gaming.

The Bad Not as fast as Nvidia's best offering; control panel requires installing Microsoft's .Net; compatible with only Windows 2000 and XP.

The Bottom Line Though it's not as fast as the latest Nvidia graphics card, the Parhelia's decent clip and three-display-surround gaming make it a compelling option for gaming gourmands.

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After pleading nolo contendere in the high-performance 3D-graphics wars two years ago, Matrox recently caught the graphics card industry off guard with the Parhelia, which, while not as fast as the very best from Nvidia, puts in a stellar performance. This card's killer feature, however, is its ability to stretch games across three monitors for an immersive and highly addictive surround gaming experience, making it a great buy for gamers who can afford the three-display setup. After pleading nolo contendere in the high-performance 3D-graphics wars two years ago, Matrox recently caught the graphics card industry off guard with the Parhelia, which, while not as fast as the very best from Nvidia, puts in a stellar performance. This card's killer feature, however, is its ability to stretch games across three monitors for an immersive and highly addictive surround gaming experience, making it a great buy for gamers who can afford the three-display setup.

Mild-mannered packaging
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.

Three's company
With the two display bezels creating a dead zone at the front and center, dual-display gaming never really took off. But triple-display-surround gaming may be another story. With three screens, the dead zone is eliminated, and the two side monitors augment your peripheral vision, giving you an incredible sense of immersion; playing Quake III in surround mode was an addicting treat. If you're willing to pony up the cash for this kind of admittedly expensive setup, keep in mind two things: Some games (such as Quake III) will require some tweaking to the start-up file to work properly with three monitors. Also, the Parhelia supports a setup comprising only one digital or two or three analog displays; there's no way to hook up three digital displays simultaneously.

Support for the Parhelia has its good and bad points. Matrox's three-year warranty will probably last until the card is obsolete. The company also offers phone support via a toll call to its Canada headquarters but during business hours only: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET. Online resources include drivers, FAQs, user manuals, a tech-support forum, and links to e-mail help and customer service.

He likes it--hey, Mikey!
The Parhelia runs faster than the dickens, delivers excellent image quality, and sports a unique 10-bit color mode that will appeal to graphics artists. But the real reason to buy this card is its three-display-surround gaming potential. Try it--you'll like it.

Quake III Arena test
Frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance
32-bit color; 1,024x768
32-bit color; 1,280x1,024
32-bit color; 1,600x1,200
Leadtek WinFast A250 Ultra TD (GeForce4 Ti 4600; 128MB RAM)
198.1
166.3
129.2
PNY Verto GeForce4 Ti 4600 (128MB DDR RAM)
196.8
166.8
129.2
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 (64MB DDR)
142.4
95.5
66.9
Matrox Parhelia (128MB RAM)
141.7
95.8
66.9

3D test: MadOnion's 3DMark2001 Pro
Longer bars indicate better performance
32-bit color; 1,024x768
32-bit color; 1,280x1,024
32-bit color; 1,600x1,200
Leadtek WinFast A250 Ultra TD (GeForce4 Ti 4600; 128MB RAM)
8,502
7,594
6,523
PNY Verto GeForce4 Ti 4600 (128MB DDR RAM)
8,468
7,617
6,517
Matrox Parhelia (128MB RAM)
6,648
5,450
4,354
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 (64MB DDR)
5,158
4,014
3,067

2D test: eTesting Labs' Business Graphics WinMark 99 2.0
Longer bars indicate better performance
Matrox Parhelia (128MB RAM)
510
PNY Verto GeForce4 Ti 4600 (128MB DDR RAM)
488
Leadtek WinFast A250 Ultra TD (GeForce4 Ti 4600; 128MB RAM)
485
VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 (64MB DDR)
475

By the numbers, the Parhelia performed roughly between an Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 and a GeForce4 Ti 4600--with a significant caveat: the Parhelia was tested with full 16X fragment antialiasing enabled at Matrox's request. Enabling antialiasing causes a major performance hit with most cards, but the Matrox handled it with aplomb, posting scores between those of the VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 MX 440 and the Leadtek GeForce4 Ti 4600.

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Where to Buy

Matrox Parhelia

Part Number: PHA128R
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Interface Type AGP 4x
  • Compatibility PC
  • Max Monitors Supported 3
  • Graphics Engine Matrox Parhelia-512
  • Size 128 MB / 128 MB (max)