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Matrox Millenium G400 Max DualHead 32MB AGP Review
Reviewed by CPU-zilla
Date : 12th September 99


- The Good
- The Benchmarks
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other video cards reviews


Matrox Graphics Inc. is well known for its brand of high quality graphic cards especially for its 2D graphic speed and its high visual quality as demonstrated in its previous range of video products. Based in Motreal, Canada, this graphics chip designer and board manufacturer is a leader in the graphics industry. They were the first to introduce a 64-bit graphics engine for the PC market with its MGA series in 1993. Subsequently in 1997, they were also the first to introduce high-quality video editing to the consumer market with its Rainbow Runner Series. Over the past five years alone, Matrox has been recognised with 550 international awards for its innovation in graphics and video technology. Thus, it is not surprising to see Matrox striving to deliver yet another high performance video card into the market with the introduction of the new Matrox Millenium G400Max.

The Matrox Millenium G400 series of graphic accelerators offers all kinds of graphic processing you will ever need in a single card. Besides 2D and 3D acceleration, it also offers hardware DVD playback support. The DualHead feature of the card allows the user to use two different monitors for increased productivity and entertainment. Besides these features, the 0.25µm graphic chipset is built on a full 256-bit DualBus architecture. In addition, the card also support the AGP 4x architecture, although it is still compatible with the older AGP 2x standard. Other new features available on this product includes Environment Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM), 32-bit Z-buffer support and Vibrant Color Quality2 (VCQ2) rendering.

Judging from the range of mouth-watering features, we can see this card is indeed packed with a lot of new features that will excite not only gamers, but also users who seek to increase work productivity.

The Matrox G400 card was released some time ago, with OEM versions sold almost in every shop in Sim Lim Square (Singapore). However, the boxed retail version for the G400Max have only just arrived. It is sad to see new products arriving at our doorsteps only after so many months after its first release. However, do note that the Max version only began shipping in the US sometime mid of August. This means Singapore is only a few weeks to a month behind, which is bad enough for those who will have to wait for the product to arrive, only to find out that in another 10-15 weeks later, the product would have been obsoleted by another new product emerging in the market. This I mean the new NVidia's NV10 graphics chipset.

Well, enough of my usual rantings, I'm sure most of you are dying to find out just how well this card performs as compared to the other cards that's available in the market. But before we do that, let's check out the specifications, shall we?

Video Card Specifications

Interface AGP 4x (AGP 2x compatible)
Chipset Matrox G400 Max
Ram Samsung (KM4132G112Q -5) 5ns SGRAM
Data Path 256-bit DualBus architecture
RAMDAC 360 Mhz
TV-Output S-Video or Composite Video Out via special cable connected to the second monitor output
Video Playback MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Indeo & Cinepak
Supported Resolutions 640x480 - 2048x1536 @ 32bpp
Supported Refresh Rates 85 - 200 Hz

The package includes the following : These are the contents of the package:   These are the utilities & software
that are given on the installation CD:
  • (1) Matrox G400Max video card
  • (1) Installation guide
  • (1) Installation+softwares CD
  • (1) Adapter for Composite or S-Video output

 
  • Millenium G400 Drivers
  • MS DirectX-6.1
  • Matrox DVD Player
  • Picture Publisher 8
  • Pointcast
  • Expendable (Matrox G400 Version)
  • Micrografx Simply3D 3
  • Matrox System Utilities
  • Matrox G400 Techdemo

The card itself is well manufactured with a built-in Aavid fan to cool the chipset. It uses 8 pieces of fast Samsung SGRAM which is rated at 5ns. The Matrox TV decoder chip is also attached with a smaller piece of heatsink. This is because the chip could get pretty hot as it is required to handle the second display at higher refresh rates than other similar chips used in other cards. Besides that, the card also allows you to upgrade with the Rainbow Runner G-Series to enable hardware MPEG video editing. In addition, a special add on is also available to enable your G400 to display on a Digital Flat Panel monitor.

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The Good

256-bit DualBus Architecture

The dual bus architecture is not new to Matrox. It has implemented this architecture in its previous MGA-G200 which uses a 128-bit DualBus architecture. The Matrox G400 doubles the bandwidth by implementing a full 256-bit DualBus architecture. This is actually composed of two independent unidirectional 128-bit buses that runs parallel inside the chip. This is in contrast with traditional 128-bit chips that transfers data into the graphic chip via a 128-bit bidirectional input/output bus. The 256-bit architecture helps in increasing the performance of both 2D and 3D acceleration. The figures below will help explain the difference between Matrox's 256-bit DualBus and the traditional 128-bit chip.

Environment Mapped Bump Mapping (EMBM)

This is one of the most talked about feature of the G400 line of video cards. I'm sure most of you have already seen some of the most breathtaking shots ever reproduced on a graphic card. This feature significantly improves the visual realism of 3D rendered scenes. What's more, it is part of the DirectX 6 feature that enables any 3D hardware with this built-in feature to take full advantage of rendering scenes with a higher level of detail. This feature virtually add details such as scratches, surface textures or water rippling effects (just to name a few) to your 3D game environment, thus, adding a lot more visual enjoyment rather than just frame rates. To date, there are already a number of games that support this feature, and Matrox promises more titles to come. This is a really cool feature which adds a lot more gaming enjoyment as you never know what kind of visual surprises await you. Well, here are some nice pics (although not the best) that I've captured to add to what you've already seen in other reviews.

Without bump mapping
With bump mapping





Vibrant Color Quality (VCQ2) Rendering

Basically, this rendering engine ensures that richly textured 3D environments are rendered with vibrant colors and sharp contrasts. According to Matrox, multi-texturing requires the combination and blending of various textures onto a single polygon. However, if proper care was not taken, the color precision can be lost on each texture pass which would result in cumulative rounding errors and ugly dither patterns appearing in the image. In order to preserve the color accuracy, the VCQ2 rendering engine actually uses a 32-bpp color throughout the rendering pipeline to produce smoother color gradients. The difference is most notable on 16-bit rendering where most video cards would fail to render accurate color reproductions. However, on the Matrox G400, even when the display is set to render at 16-bits, all internal rendering would still be performed with 32-bit accuracy and the final image is actually dithered down to 16-bit. This results in rich image quality with smoother and accurate color reproductions. This is another plus to gaming enjoyment as opposed to increased frame rates. The pictures below compares the image quality of the G400Max to nVidia's TNT2 Ultra. Notice the sharper image produced on the G400Max, especially the 3D Mark logo near the top right corner of the image. Also note the jagged patterns in the TNT2 rendered image. Both of these images are produced with 16-bit rendering.


Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra


Matrox G400 Max DualHead

 

32-bit Z buffering

32-bit Z buffering helps provide increased depth precision. This is actually a requirement in the CAD world, where exact depth precision is needed. In fact, games have become so complex nowadays that leaving this feature out would reduce the rendered image quality. In a worst case scenario, one would actually observe artifacts in a 3D rendered scene, such as a flickering shadow on an uneven floor. In addition to 32-bit Z-buffering, the G400 also supports 8-bit stencil-buffering (with 24-bit z-buffer). Stencil buffering actually represents a mask or stencil (hence the name?) on the frame being rendered. Instead of rendering an entire scene, stencil-buffering determines the area which does not need rendering, thus, saving unnecessary rendering. The best example for the use of stencil buffering is in flight simulator games, where the view of the cockpit is masked out since it does not need constant rendering, and only the scene outside the cockpit is rendered.

DualHead Display

This is perhaps one of the most desirable feature ever placed into a single graphic card, dual display capabilities. The DualHead display offers a wide range of possibilities, for both gamers and professionals alike. Gamers would find it an irresistable feature as it offers high quality TV output, as well as a second display for certain games that utilizes the feature. Imagine playing a flight simulator where one screen displays your cockpit, and the other displays a map or the status of your plane. The gaming possibilities are endless. For professionals, the dual display feature helps improve productivity by doubling up your display workspace. You can have an opened spreadsheet on one display, and your favourite word processor on another. I showed a similar feature to my colleague the other day, using a friend's notebook and he was already drooling at it. Imagine how much more saliva he would leave on my keyboard if he sees it being done on the G400 Max. :)

For home entertainment use, the DualHead DVDMax feature outputs high quality DVD/VCD video into your NTSC/PAL TV for your family to watch, while you surf the net on your display monitor. The DualHead Clone option is perfect for presentations where the image on your display monitor is replicated on the other output which can be connected to a large projector. On the other hand, the DualHead Zoom option actually uses the second display to zoom into any area that you have selected to magnify in your primary display. The resulting zoomed area could be displayed on the secondary display. An excellent feature for the visually challenged? As you can see, the possiblities are endless!

Oh yes, before I forget, you can still set your Windows refresh rate on your primary monitor to 100Hz while you output your screen image to the TV. Most graphic cards do not support this and actually requires the user to lower their primary display refresh rates to 50Hz or 60Hz in order to output the display simultaneously to a TV. However, the G400 DualHead display technology eliminates the need to change your primary display refresh rate and yet it is able to output flicker free high resolution images to the TV, thanks to the MGA-TVO video encoder chip. This is certainly a great feature that none has been able to match, so far.

DVD Playback

The G400 is also capable of high-quality DVD playback at full resolution and frame rates. It contains various features, such as full hardware alpha-blended sub-picture blending and real-time aspect ratio conversion. The ratio conversion allow users to display 16:9 (letterbox) DVD content full screen on a standard 4:3 aspect ratio television. This eliminates the black bands on the top and bottom of your TV screen, especially when viewing DVDs encoded in the Letterbox or Widescreen formats. Comparing its output quality with the Creative TNT2 Ultra, the G400Max is certainly the better choice in terms of video quality as well as TV-output clarity and sharpness.

The Installation, Driver features and Programs

I'm sure most of you would have been drooling by now, after getting a load of all the great features that's packed into this little baby. But before I do that, let's take a look at some of the driver features that the G400 has to offer. This is something that a lot of users would want to know, and skipping this section would certainly be a catalyst for a flaming session.

First of all, the installation of the drivers was fairly simple and straightforward. No hiccups and no glitches. I had no problems whatsoever even when changing from one version of the driver to the other, although Matrox did recommend to fully uninstall the previous driver before installing the new version. The manual in the accompanied CD details the proper procedure should you encounter any problems when installing other driver versions.

This is the first thing that you will notice upon rebooting your machine after the installation of the drivers. The Matrox PowerDesk taskbar icon is already a standard in every Matrox video card products. It allows easy navigation and setup of your display with one click of a button. Most of the options available in this pop-up menu is not native to all of you anymore, thus I will not talk about them.

The Matrox DeskNav is a little utility that you can call up to zoom into a particular section of your desktop. Handy tool if you need to magnify a certain area of your screen. On the other hand, the Matrox Diagnostic is a small utility to check if your system is ready to use the G400. It basically test the system if DirectX 6.1 is installed and whether bus mastering is working properly.


Calling up the Display Properties, one would be confronted with a lot of options to configure your video card. Numerous tabs on the display properties window is available for you to configure each option. Now, let me go through some of the more interesting ones. Click on the images to see the full view of the picture itself.

The Information tab displays all the necessary information you need to know about the card from the size of the memory to the serial number of the video card. It also displays all the software version numbers. Good utility to have to help check if you have all the latest softwares installed.
The Options tab allows you to enable certain performance options, such as polygon acceleration, device bitmaps caching, bus mastering and 32-bit Z-buffering. It is nowhere near nVidia's Quick Tweak menu. A little disappointing for tweakers I must say. Other options are self explanatory.
This tab allows one to control the gamma settings of your display. There's also a slider to adjust the color temperature. Nothing new here as this option is almost a must for any video card driver.
The Monitor Settings tab allows one to configure the proper display refresh rate for each resolution. Besides adjusting for refresh rate, you are also given the option to adjust for the screen size and position via the software drivers. This utility is useful especially for those who own older monitors that does not automatically store the user's settings. If you configure this properly, you hardly need to readjust your monitor every time you execute a game that uses a different resolution.
The DualHead tab is only accessible if you own a DualHead version of the G400. The options here allow you to configure your second display to use DualHead Clone, DVDMax or Zoom. On the other hand, you can also choose to use the second display adapter to do Multi-Display, thus enlarging your desktop area. The DualHead settings are further explored below.

There are several more settings available if you enable DualHead display. Ok, ok, I know some of you are getting overloaded already, but just bear with this for another second. Anyway, if you want to skip this, you can go directly to The Test section.

The DVDMax options here gives you the option to view your DVD movies scaled to full screen with a standard aspect ratio of 4:3. However, if you prefer not to watch a compressed version of the Starship Enterprise, you can always choose to preserve the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.
The Desktop TV settings gives you the option of optimising your TV display. Image settings here include Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Hue, Gamma correction and Anti-Flickering. The Enhance Text option really helps make text look sharper on the TV. However, it really depends on the quality of your TV, and with most TVs, the resolution is pathetic, and there's only this much you can do with the hardware.
In the DVDMax TV settings, you are again given the choice to adjust for brightness, contrast and saturation.

The provided Matrox DVD Player allows one to play DVD movies straight out of your DVD-ROM drive. The software is fairly simple to use and install. However, it does require you to fix a certain region code before you could start playing your favourite movies. Thus, if you have DVDs from different regions, you might find this a big problem. I didn't have such problems as I always buy movies from one particular region code. Anyway, you do not need to play DVDs with the provided software as any other software DVD players (InterVideo's WinDVD for example) would also do an equally good job. The Matrox G400 is smart enough to output any encoded DVD/VCD video to your TV in full screen mode. This is provided that you have set the DVDMax option to scale the movies into full screen. Here are some screenshots of the Matrox DVD Player in action.

The Matrox DVD Player offers simple to use options. Nothing really fancy and almost every function available here are standard. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture any screen shots of the movies that I tested. :(

Again you are given the choice to set the quality of the picture reproduced on your TV.

This is a nice option for parents who want to restrict their children from watching movies with adult content.


OK, OK! Enough already. Show me what it can do!

3D Quality & Features

Well, I have tested the card running several games and I must say that I'm impressed with the sharp and rich picture quality. The bump-mapping feature made playing Expendable a pleasant and surprising experience as the graphics had improved visual realism.

Here's the complete 3D feature set for the Matrox G400 as detailed in their product specs.:
  • Alpha Blending
  • Anisotropic Filtering
  • Bilinear Filtering
  • True eight-sample per pixel Trilinear Filtering
  • True Environment Mapped Bump Mapping
  • Single cycle multi-texturing
  • Vertex and table fog
  • Specular highlighting
  • True color ARGB Flat and Gouraud Shading
  • Vibrant Color Quality2 (VCQ2) Rendering
  • Non-square texture support
 
  • Perspective Correct Texture Mapping
  • Opaque Texture Surfaces
  • Alpha in Texture Palettes
  • Texture transparency
  • 11 level mip-mapping
  • Z-buffering (32-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit plus 8-bit stencil buffer)
  • Guard Band Clipping
  • Single, Double or Triple buffering
  • Sort independent (full scene) anti-aliasing
  • Vector/edge anti-aliasing
  • Hardware dithering including dithering of LUT textures

The screenshots below were taken using 3DMark 99 Max for comparison between the TNT2 Ultra and the G400Max. The images were captured at 640x480 in 32-bit mode (I know, I know, it's not high resolution enough. But look at it this way, if you could see differences here, guess how much more you would see at higher resolutions?). Click on the screenshots to view the image in full size.

Creative TNT2 Ultra Matrox G400Max 3DMark99
Reference Shots
Description
Alpha Blending

The image quality for both the TNT2 and G400Max were almost identical and I really couldn't spot any difference here. They are almost perfect.
Texture Resolution

Again, it is difficult to spot any noticeable difference. However, under very close observation, I can see that the G400Max image quality is crisper and more well defined.
Game-1

As I have shown previously, the TNT2 falls short in the image quality comparison. The image is less crisp as compared to the G400Max. Even when the image is taken using 32-bit colour, the TNT2 is in no way better than the G400Max.
Game-2

In this scene, it is harder to make out any noticeable difference. However, if you do look closer, you would notice that the G400Max image quality is still better than the TNT2 Ultra.

Yes! We finally made it to the benchmarks. Let's see if the G400Max really lives up to its hype.

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The Benchmarks

The benchmarks were performed in Windows 98 Second Edition using the default DirectX 6.1. The system was equipped with 128MB of SDRAM and different processor speeds were also used to assess the difference in speed gain with higher processor speed. I did not try any overclocking on the card as I felt that it is too precious and expensive to fry the card. Perhaps when it has reached the end of its useful life, I would probably try overclocking the card. But for now, we shall test it in its intended form.

Wintune 98 1.0.34 Benchmarks

Benchmarks
G400*
G400 Max*
CL TNT2-Ultra
C-466**
P2-300**
P2-450**
P2-300
P2-450
P2-450
Video (2D)/Mps
103
85
122
85
124
104
Direct 3D/Mps
305
300
305
347
356
203
OpenGL/Mps
162
145
173
159
197
165
* Matrox driver version 5.13 was used here
** ECS P6BXT-A+ motherboard was used here


Judging from the Wintune 98 benchmarks, we can see that the G400 Max really performs with flying colours, beating the TNT2-Ultra in every single video benchmarks. The 2D Video speed was expected as Matrox is well known for its 2D video speed. What's surprising is the Direct3D scores, which is almost 75% more than the TNT2-Ultra. At 450Mhz, the G400 also managed to beat the TNT2-Ultra in all the three benchmarks. Comparing the scores of the G400 cards using the Pentium II-450, we can see that the Max version performed only slightly better than the non-Max version. Note that I did not run any Wintune tests on the Pentium III as I did not have the Pentium III with me at the time when I tested the G400. Also, driver version 5.13 was used for the G400 and G400Max tests and it was slightly older than the current version. At the time when the G400 was tested the driver version was 5.13, and to keep things consistent, I used 5.13 on the G400Max as well. The TNT2-Ultra driver version was the reference driver version 2.08. Anyway, I wouldn't take Wintune benchmarks as truth as it is not the most accurate benchmarking software around. Let's take a look at how these three cards perform in Quake II.

Quake II v3.20 demo1.dm2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
G400*
G400 Max*
CL TNT2-Ultra
C-466**
P2-300**
P2-450**
P2-300
P2-450
P2-450
640x480
65.5
48.8
72.0
49.3
74.2
103.8
800x600
64.2
48.3
70.2
48.8
72.7
95.3
1024x768
58.6
46.3
62.1
47.7
67.4
70.0
1152x768
51.6
44.3
53.0
46.6
60.6
56.5

Quake II v3.20 demo2.dm2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
G400*
G400 Max*
CL TNT2-Ultra
C-466**
P2-300**
P2-450**
P2-300
P2-450
P2-450
640x480
62.4
46.8
70.3
47.1
71.5
98.7
800x600
61.3
46.5
69.5
46.8
70.1
92.0
1024x768
56.9
45.5
61.7
46.4
66.4
70.5
1152x768
51.4
44.0
53.0
45.3
59.8
56.4
* Matrox driver version 5.13 was used here
** ECS P6BXT-A+ motherboard was used here

The same driver versions were used in the Quake II tests. Here, we see the actual behaviour of the G400 in real world application. The TNT2-Ultra is the champion at lower resolutions, but performed a little slower at high resolutions. The G400 Max performed well throughout all the different resolutions, with little drop in frame rates in various resolutions, unlike the TNT2-Ultra. Again we see the G400 trailing only a little behind the G400 Max.

Well, I certainly did not stop all my benchmarking here. I continued to test the card further with the more recent driver version, which is 5.21. Also, I used the Pentium-III 500 and 600Mhz processors. OK, to start off the second round of competition, let's take a look at how well it performed in Quake II, again.

Quake II v3.20 demo1.dm2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
Pentium !!! 500Mhz
Pentium !!! 600Mhz
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
640x480
113.4
58.5
127.9
59.2
800x600
99.1
58.5
101.4
59.2
1024x768
70.1
55.0
70.2
55.7

Quake II v3.20 demo2.dm2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
Pentium !!! 500Mhz
Pentium !!! 600Mhz
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
640x480
109.4
56.9
123.6
58.5
800x600
95.2
56.9
98.7
58.7
1024x768
71.2
54.5
72.2
55.9

Quake II v3.20 crusher.dm2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
Pentium !!! 500Mhz
Pentium !!! 600Mhz
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
640x480
55.5
36.3
99.4
40.7
800x600
55.5
36.1
62.3
39.3
1024x768
52.8
34.5
57.8
37.1

The results from the Quake II benchmarking on the G400 Max was disappointing. I was hoping that the OpenGL ICD in the newer driver revision would be improved, but instead, its performance dropped as compared to the older 5.13 driver. If you compare the Quake II demo1 and demo2 framerates for the G400 Max benchmarked using the Pentium II-450 in the previous table above, you would find the framerates much higher than using the P!!!-600. This is certainly strange considering newer driver revisions should contain improvements. Anyway, I do hope Matrox would continue to work on their OpenGL drivers. On the other hand, if you compare the framerates at both 500 and 600Mhz, the performance was almost on par, and only a few framerates away from each other as compared to the TNT2 Ultra. This shows how much more processor dependent is the TNT2 as compared to the Matrox G400. In addition, framerates also differed by only a few frames with different resolution settings, unlike the TNT2 Ultra. I was hoping to run Quake II at higher resolutions of 1280x960, but somehow, the program reported an error, and I had to stop the test at 1024x768. I'm not sure whether to blame Quake II or the driver, but I tend to believe that it is the driver's fault.

Anyway, the results show that the Matrox OpenGL drivers are still not matured yet. This is quite normal as the product only began shipping some one to two months ago. Some product drivers that I know never even matured after the product was delivered into the market many many months ago. But for Matrox, I'm confident that they will come through with a set of good drivers eventually.

Quake III Test v1.08 q3demo1 tests (FPS)

Resolution
Pentium !!! 500Mhz
Pentium !!! 600Mhz
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
640x480
73.0

41.0

82.0
49.6
800x600
68.8
43.7
72.9
48.4
1024x768
50.1
41.3
50.2

44.4

1280x960
31.1
31.8
31.1
31.9

Quake III Test v1.08 q3demo2 tests (FPS)

Resolution
Pentium !!! 500Mhz
Pentium !!! 600Mhz
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
CL TNT2 Ultra
G400 Max
640x480
67.3
40.8
76.4
47.9
800x600
66.7
42.7
73.8
47.2
1024x768
58.4
41.2
61.8
45.4
1280x960
41.1
35.5
41.3
37.5

Again, the TNT2 Ultra triumphed in almost every category. The G400 Max only managed to out-do the TNT2 Ultra at 1280x960 running the q3demo1 test. This is not surprising as we saw from earlier tests that the G400 Max is really better at higher resolutions. Anyway, the G400 Max is still at the mercy of the TNT2 Ultra.

Let's look at how they perform in 3D Mark99 Max, shall we?

3D Mark 99 Max - Pentium !!! 500

Resolution
Test
CL TNT2-Ultra
Voodoo 3 2000
Matrox G400 Max
640x480
3DMark score
5017
4907
4954
Game 1
53.5
53.4
53.1
Game 2
47.2
45.4
46.4
Rasterizer Score
2303
2130
2651
Fill Rate
227.9
131.0
239.1
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
229.3
247.8
237.9
800x600
3DMark score
4998
4840
4946
Game 1
53.0
52.0
52.9
Game 2
47.3
45.3
46.5
Rasterizer Score
2302
1981
2561
Fill Rate
235.4
130.9
248.6
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
232.3
248.7
247.9
1024x768
3DMark score
4968
4258
4878
Game 1
52.7
40.5
52.3
Game 2
47.0
44.8
45.7
Rasterizer Score
2266
1884
2472
Fill Rate
247.7
132.3
256.3
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
237.9
252.8
255.6

At 500 MHz processor speed, we can see that the TNT2 Ultra scored the highest in the overall 3DMark score for all three resolutions. The TNT2 Ultra also score higher framerates in both Game 1 and Game 2 tests, although the lead is only very small. However, the G400 Max strength lies in the Rasterizer and Fill Rate tests where it scored a lot higher than the rest. The Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing test was surprisingly led by the Voodoo3 2000 at low resolutions. However, at 1024x768, the G400 Max was the highest of the lot.

3D Mark 99 Max - Pentium !!! 600

Resolution
Test
CL TNT2-Ultra
Matrox G400 Max
640x480
3DMark score
5514
5391
Game 1
57.6
56.9
Game 2
52.9
51.2
Rasterizer Score
2341
2695
Fill Rate
231.9
240.6
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
231.8
240.4
800x600
3DMark score
5527
5423
Game 1
57.9
57.1
Game 2
52.9
51.6
Rasterizer Score
2331
2592
Fill Rate
238.2
250.5
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
234.0
250.1
1024x768
3DMark score
5476
5367
Game 1
57.3
57.2
Game 2
52.4
50.6
Rasterizer Score
2286
2494
Fill Rate
249.8
257.8
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
239.1
257.4

At 600MHz, the situation is pretty much the same as the previous results with the TNT2-Ultra dominating the overall 3DMark score and the Game 1 and 2 tests. The G400 Max is not far behind and leads in the remaining tests.

At this point, I was still not very satisfied and decided to run one last round of tests. Since the VCQ2 rendering engine actually renders scenes in 32-bit mode and then dithered down to 16-bit (if you are using 16-bit display mode), I suspect the G400Max should perform well in 32-bit as compared to the 16-bit mode. Anyway, we should see the difference in performance to be minimal between 16-bit and 32-bit rendering. Also, it should be interesting to see how the G400Max can edge out the competition with 32-bit rendering. Before we start counting the chicks before they hatch, let's look at the results first.

16-bit and 32-bit rendering comparison

In the 16-bit and 32-bit comparison tests, I only used Q3Test 1.08 and 3D Mark 99 Max. Due to time constraints, I did not run any further tests. Anyway, I believe there are more than enough results for you guys (or gals?) to compare.

Quake III Test v1.08 q3demo1 (Pentium !!! 600)

Resolution
CL TNT2-U
(16-bit)
G400Max
(16-bit)
CL TNT2-U
(32-bit)
G400Max
(32-bit)
640x480
82.0
49.6
79.9
48.9
800x600
72.9
48.4
58.5
47.8
1024x768
50.2
44.4
40.7
40.8
1280x960
31.1
31.9
23.8
26.1

Quake III Test v1.08 q3demo2 (Pentium !!! 600)

Resolution
CL TNT2-U
(16-bit)
G400Max
(16-bit)
CL TNT2-U
(32-bit)
G400Max
(32-bit)
640x480
76.4
47.9
74.6
48.3
800x600
73.8
47.2
65.5
47.4
1024x768
61.8
45.4
47.7
42.3
1280x960
41.3
37.5
28.0
31.8

Comparing the framerates between 16-bit and 32-bit rendering, the TNT2-Ultra is still the clear champion in this category, especially at lower resolutions. However, the G400 Max did manage to beat the TNT2-Ultra at high display resolutions. Also to note is the small difference between 16-bit and 32-bit performance for the G400 Max. Typically, the drop in performance is less than 1 fps at lower resolutions, but at higher resolutions the drop ranges from about 4-6 fps. On the other hand, the TNT2-Ultra suffers a larger performance hit when moving from 16-bit to 32-bit rendering.

We can see that the G400Max suffers little performance hit when moving from 16-bit to 32-bit rendering. In fact, the performance at 32-bit for q3demo2 was better than 16-bit for low resolutions. This shows that the G400Max is actually using the VCQ2 rendering engine which renders 3D graphics at 32-bit and then dithered down to 16-bit. This could explain why the G400Max performance at 32-bit and 16-bit colours yielded similar results. One wonders if the VCQ2 engine could be turned off to maximise the G400 for speed. I'm not sure if it could be done, but if it, perhaps Matrox should consider placing that option in their next driver revision?

Anyway, let's take a quick look at some 3DMark 99 Max benchmark scores.

3D Mark 99 Max - 16-bit and 32-bit comparison (Pentium !!! 600)

Resolution
Tests
CL TNT2-U
G400 Max
16-bit
32-bit
16-bit
32-bit
640x480
3DMark score
5514
5504
5391
5440
Game 1
57.6
57.4
56.9
57.4
Game 2
52.9
52.9
51.2
51.7
Rasterizer Score
2341
1895
2695
2266
Fill Rate
231.9
135.1
240.6
181.0
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
231.8
212.1
240.4
193.9
1024x768
3DMark score
5476
4600
5367
4873
Game 1
57.3
43.3
57.2
48.9
Game 2
52.4
49.0
50.6
48.5
Rasterizer Score
2286
1749
2494
1942
Fill Rate
249.8
137.0
257.8
188.4
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
239.1
219.6
257.4
202.7

OK..ok.. I know the table looks a little messy. I had to format it that way in order to squeeze all the numbers into the table. Well, if you are sick of numbers already, the comparison basically shows that the G400Max is more superior in terms of performance at at high resolutions using 32-bit rendering. However, at lower resolutions, the TNT2-Ultra is still the better choice. Just count how many bold coloured numbers you see for each card, and you will know what I mean. :)

3D Mark 99 Max - 32-bit comparison at 1280x960 (Pentium !!! 600)

Tests
CL TNT2-U
G400 Max
3DMark score
2816
3218
Game 1
25.5
30.3
Game 2
31.4
34.6
Rasterizer Score
1660
1780
Fill Rate
133.8
183.1
Fill Rate with Multi-Texturing
219.6
201.5

OK, I promise, this is the last table of results. The results for 3D Mark 99 Max at 1280x960 with 32-bit per pixel rendering are shown above. G400 Max is the clear winner for 32-bit rendering at high resolutions.

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The Bad

There is nothing really bad about the card except that it did not deliver the performance that all gamers wanted. The OpenGL drivers are still not as matured as I'd like it to be, and there are certainly a lot more that could be done to improve the OpenGL performance. Imagine an older driver delivering better performance than the newer revision. Now, that's certainly a case for Mulder.

The Matrox DVD Player is just an average DVD Player without support for MPEG-2 Extended Audio. This means that it will only playback audio in stereo only, and with reduced audio volume. Thus, do not expect any support for 4 speakers or more. This is a letdown since the G400 support is superb for DVD, but the software limits its capabilities. Hopefully, Matrox will send an update to enable better audio support. However, you can still choose to use other software DVD players to obtain better features, but with a price. Anyway, you should not need worry as the driver is smart enough to output the video playback in full screen to your TV. I did not try all software DVD players to see if it works, but if it is able to output my Southpark episodes full screen on the TV using Windows Media Player, I don't see why other softwares cannot do the same.

Besides that, the price tag is not small either. The G400 Max version is indeed pretty expensive, costing about USD$249. I do not know what will be the final price over in Singapore, but I suspect it to be in the region of about S$450-S$500. Anyway, we shall all know in due time if my guess is right. :)

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s)

Intel Celeron 466A
Intel Pentium II-300 (o/c to 450MHz)
Intel Pentium !!!-500
Intel Pentium !!!-600

Ram 128MB PC100 Mitsubishi SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard ECS P6BXT-A+ (when indicated with **)
MS-6163 Pro
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar 22GXP (DJNA-371350)
Operating System Windows 98 Second Edition (Build 4.10.2222A)
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6.1
Other software used

Matrox DVD Player (provided on CD)
InterVideo WinDVD 1.0

Video Card(s) Matrox G400 Max
Creative Labs Riva TNT2 Ultra
3dfx Voodoo3 2000
Video Card Drivers Matrox G400 drivers 5.13 (when indicated with *)
Matrox G400 drivers 5.21 (latest version)
nVidia Reference Detonator drivers 2.08
3dfx Voodoo3 drivers 1.02.13

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Conclusion

Well, that's about it. We finally know the truth about this much hyped product. There is no doubt that this product is packed with some of the best features you can find, or will ever find in one single offering. The DualHead feature is superb for all different individuals, from gamers to professionals and could very well make it as a personal home theatre solution too. This card is an above average performer, giving the best in 2D video, the sharpest in TV-out quality, the richest in graphic quality and acceptable 3D video performance. For those that do not play much 3D games (like me), this card will offer you the best there is (for now). Those who want a kick-ass 3D card, I suggest that you wait for the next generation of video cards which will be released in the coming months. Due to its average 3D performance, I would only give it 4.5 stars as an overall rating, but I'd surely give this the Most Innovative Product Award.

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VIDEO CARD RATING

Overall Rating
(Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****
Price **
Software Bundle *****
Material Quality *****
Overall Rating ****½

Any comments/remarks? Submit your views to this review here.

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