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Matrox, 3Dfx top graphics poll

But the pace of change in the graphics processor market means that their reign could well be limited.

Circuit boards for 3D graphics powered by processors from 3Dfx and Matrox topped the chart in a performance test survey conducted by Mercury Research, using new technology to boost performance.

Processors coming from competitors this summer will employ the "parallel pipeline" architecture seen in Matrox's G200 processor, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury, and therefore may quickly catch up. Parallel pipeline architecture increases the number of instructions a chip executes at once, which in turn boosts pixel manipulation performance and improves graphics performance overall.

Graphics cards using the VooDoo 2 from 3Dfx posted a benchmark score of 860 on 3D Winbench 98, the highest recorded. Interestingly, the VooDoo 2 chip uses the older PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) bus but still outscored 3D chips using Intel's newer AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) technology.

The fastest AGP-based board utilized the Matrox G200 and turned in a rating of 817. But AGP will soon outpace PCI technology, McCarron said, and 3Dfx in fact plans to follow up the VooDoo 2 with an AGP-based product called Banshee.

The VooDoo 2's success comes down to the fact that it is a two-chip solution designed specifically for 3D graphics. Its competitors come on one chip and generally encompass 2D and 3D graphics. As a result, while the VooDoo 2 chip may be faster, it costs more and targets a more limited market.

It is mostly bought by enthusiasts as a add-on part, said McCarron. Computer vendors for the most part include only 2D/3D chips as standard equipment.

The VooDoo 2 trounced other PCI-based offerings. The next fastest board came with a Riva 128 from Nvidia and scored a 692. A board with the ATI Rage Pro Turbo came in third with a 671.

The emergence of Matrox as the top graphics solution marks something of a comeback for the company. But McCarron noted that competitors will likely be nipping at its heels soon.

"The G200 was a bit of a surprise, considering that their older processor architecture was getting pretty old," he said.

The Matrox chip, which actually comes out in June, achieved higher scores than the competition because of its parallel pipeline architecture. But in the near future, S3 will release the Savage 3D while Nvidia will come out with the Riva TNT, two more chips that will employ parallel pipeline strategies.

Matrox's lead was also not as commanding as the VooDoo 2's. The Riva 128ZX from Nvidia came in second with a benchmark of 813. Third place belonged to the Intel i740, which chalked up a 794.

Besides chip performance, differences in the benchmark scores can be attributed to factors such as the amount of independent memory included on the board.

On 2D performance, boards with the Matrox G200 scored highest among AGP-based solutions with a benchmark of 223. Second and third place went to boards employing the Permedia II from 3Dlabs and the Revolution 3D from Number Nine Visual Technologies.

For PCI-based solutions, the Permedia II scored the best, followed by the Revolution 3D and the Riva 128.