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Preview: Matrox's Parhelia-512 graphics processor

A rumbling on the horizon

A FEW WEEKS AGO, the folks at Matrox invited me out to San Francisco for a sneak peek at their next-generation graphics chip. Given Matrox's long absence from the high end of the graphics market, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I knew one thing: the folks who had to suffer through marketing HeadCasting and endless, painstaking positioning moves with products like the G450 and G550 were much more upbeat this time around. So I expected good things.

I didn't expect for them to tell me, not far into the spiel, that this thing is 80 million transistors. Since I'm from The Tech Report, you can imagine what went on in my head when I heard that number. Yep, it looked something like this:

That was the image in my head. As my reaction got broken down into various parts and translated into English, I believe it came out of my mouth as "Holy crap!" That is one very, very big chip. UMC is going to manufacture this puppy for Matrox on its 150nm fab process. Matrox won't reveal the chip's exact die size, but I'm guessing it's slightly larger than Rhode Island.

As the presentation continued, complete with demos of the chip in action, it became apparent that Matrox has put all of those transistors to use in a serious bid to get back into the 3D graphics game. This chip, named Parhelia, has specs strong enough to make a new GF4 Ti 4600 owner quake with envy, and more importantly, it has a laundry list of features longer than a GF4 Ti 4600 reference card. Matrox has been working on this beast for two years now, and it shows. Among the highlights: 512 bits of internal bandwidth, quad vertex shaders, quad pixel shaders, a 256-bit memory bus providing 20GB/s of memory bandwidth, 10-bit-per-channel color, fragment anti-aliasing with 16X sampling, and support for up to three displays.

It's enough to make your head swim. Matrox's marketing material for Parhelia does an excellent job of explaining most of these features, and I'm sure it will all be available at Matrox's website by the time you read this. Rather than present all of that material to you, I'll only lean on it when necessary. I'm going to try to cover the most important features and give you my own take on their comparative worth.

Matrox's reef demo combines vertex shaders, pixel shaders, and quad texturing

Also, you'll notice that this is a preview, not a review, of the new Matrox chip. What Matrox is introducing today is the Parhelia-512 GPU and its technology. Parhelia-based graphics cards are slated to ship in June, and we haven't had a chance to test one hands-on yet. I have seen the chip in action, and it seems to work, but we don't have any benchmarks yet.