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A look ahead at Matrox's G550: Heady stuff

Heady stuff


The chip
The G550 is very similar to Matrox's last spin of the G400 architecture, the G450. It's pin-compatible with the G450, and it's built on a 0.18-micron process, with a 256-bit internal "DualBus" and a 64-bit DDR memory interface. Yes, that's right: 64 bits, and only up to 32MB of video memory. The G550's memory bandwidth is in a class with the value-market GeForce2 MX, not the GeForce2 GTS. Supporting AGP modes up to 4X, the G550 continues Matrox's tradition of a full 32-bit internal rendering pipeline. This used to be a big deal, but it's become standard practice any more.

The addition of a second texture unit per pixel pipeline brings the G550 a little more pixel-pushing power in multi-textured applications. The chip's memory bandwidth bottleneck will still be a significant limitation, but the G550 ought to provide marginally more fill rate, and thus more performance, than the G450.

To keep its image quality up, the G550 supports single-pass trilinear and anisotropic filtering, along with a gaggle of other standard 3D features, including alpha blending, fogging, specular highlighting, environment mapping, and stencil and triple buffering. Matrox's environment-mapped bump mapping (EMBM) support was a unique feature back in the days of the G400, but by now, the exclusivity is gone. The GeForce3, ATI's Radeon line, and the Kyro II all support EMBM. However, there's an upside. Now that the market is saturated enough with cards supporting features like EMBM, you'll find a slew of games actually using them.

There is something more interesting here in the 3D specs: an extended vertex shader with support for matrix palette skinning. Sounds vaguely GeForce3-ish, doesn't it?. While the chip's 32-matrix-per-draw palette skinning is a GeForce3-class capability, the G550's implementation is custom-built for this function, and lacks the programmability of NVIDIA's high-end part. Beyond matrix palette skinning, the G550 doesn't accelerate DirectX 8 (or even DirectX 7) T&L function calls. The vertex shader is really only there for a new bit of proprietary functionality Matrox has thrown into the card, which we'll be discussing in a moment.

But before we bring in the new, how about celebrating the old?

Unsurpassed image quality
It's only fitting to take a moment and acknowledge to the incredible video signal quality that is the hallmark of Matrox graphics cards. Every Matrox fanboy will tell you how text looks razor sharp on a Matrox card, and they're right. I have a four-year-old Millennium II with a whopping 4MB of memory, and its 2D image qualitiy rivals that of my GeForce 2 MX, at least at lower resolutions.

In addition to two high-quality RAMDACs, the G550 sports the standard list of Matrox image quality tricks. If the results are anything like the current lineup of Matrox products, the colors will be vibrant and images crisp. Just don't think about the frame rates.