Almost a year has already passed since the first appearance of the graphics cards based on MatroxG200. This chipset became the leader of the new graphics processors generation in 1998. We allremember quite well the exciting battles, which broke out in those times around Matrox's abilityto produce 3D-accelerators. Then Matrox Millennium G200 presented a very illustrative example ofits powerful 3D-graphics very close to 3dfx Voodoo2 and at the same time providing the user withbrilliant 2D-graphics. But time passed and Matrox G200 was severely ousted from the market by muchmore powerful new nVidia Riva TNT and 3dfx Banshee. And in the beginning of 1999 we all witnessedthe appearance of ATI Rage128, and then 3dfx Voodoo3 and nVidia Riva TNT2, which in fact setabsolutely new standards among 3D-accelerators. That is why we were very anxious to see theMatrox's newest development - G400, which promised not the permanent lagging behind all themost powerful graphics accelerators, but a significant step forward to the very beginning ofthe leaders chain. So, Matrox G400 was expected to become a serious competitor to both: nVidiaRiva TNT2 and to 3dfx Voodoo3. And we hope that our review will give you the fullest idea of howpowerful G400 really is.
As is known, Matrox is going to produce three models of graphics cards based on G400:
- Matrox Millennium G400 16MB AGP;
- Matrox Millennium G400 32MB AGP;
- Matrox Millennium G400 MAX 32MB AGP.
Matrox G400 MAX is something like a High-End version of the G400 family, working at higherfrequencies.
Well, we would like to start with a full specs list for Matrox G400:
|Matrox Millennium G400||ATI Rage128||nVidia Riva TNT2||3dfx Voodoo3|
|API support||Direct3D, OpenGL||Direct3D, OpenGL||Direct3D, OpenGL||Direct3D, Glide/OpenGL|
|Core frequency, MHz||125||100||125-150||143-183|
|Memory frequency, MHz||166||110||150-175||143-183|
|Max supported graphics memory, MB||16-32||32||16-32||16|
|3D Truecolor (32bit) rendering||yes||yes||yes||no|
|3D maximal resolution|
|- Highcolor (16bit)||2048x1536||1600x1200||2048x1536||1600x1200|
|- Truecolor (32bit)||2048x1536||1600x1200||2048x1536||no|
|The number of rendering pipelines||2||2||2||1|
|Fillrate, mln pixels per second||250||200||250-300||143-183|
|Processing power, mln polygones per second||8||4||8||6-8|
|Larger (1024x1024) texture support||yes||yes||yes||no|
|- AGP 2x||yes||yes||yes||no|
|- AGP 4x||yes||no||yes||no|
|Z buffer accuracy||32||32||24||16|
|Per pixel MIP-mapping||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|- Single pass||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|OpenGL support||ICD||ICD||ICD||Miniport (wrapper)|
As you can clearly see, all the main chipset parameters are up to the mark of the presentgraphics accelerators. However, all the listed features do not reveal a lot of interesting innovationsmade in Matrox G400.
First of all, we would like to point out 256-bit Dual Bus architecture. G400 is based on 128-bitG200 Dual Bus with the doubled graphics engine bandwidth. This allows Matrox to announce the comingof the first gaming graphics accelerator with 256-bit bus.
This architecture is none other than a combination of two similarly directed 128-bit buses,which work simultaneously. Within each time step the data is transferred from the input bufferinto the core via 128-bit internal input bus, and within the same time step the data is transferredfrom the graphics engine via the analogous output bus into the output buffer. Data compressing systemcontrols both data buffers in order to guarantee continuous data transfer through internal buses.However, you should bear in mind that the potential of this dual bus is restricted by the bandwidthof the external 128-bit memory bus.
Hence we can conclude that the faster is the memory used the higher is the overall performanceof the 256-bit Dual Bus. At the same time the graphics memory working frequency in no way dependson the chipset working frequency, and may be really high. And at last we would like to note thatthis Dual Bus architecture completely excludes the necessity of wait states while fulfilling Reador Write operations, which is its main advantage, of course.
We can divide all modern 3D accelerators into two main groups: double-pipelined (nVidia RivaTNT2, ATI Rage128) and single-pipelined (3dfx Voodoo3). The first ones treat two pixels per timestep, however, the second ones can superpose two textures per time step, which makes them muchfaster than their double-pipelined fellows.
And as it comes to Matrox G400, we can hardly decide where to position it here, because thecompany-manufacturer keeps silent about it. Matrox made up its mind to distinguish its offspringfrom all the rest by means of introducing the whole bunch of new terms and expressions into the3D-core description. According to the press release, which contained a phrase about "3Drendering array processor", we arrived at the conclusion that G400 had multitexturing.Besides, we've also learned that there are two engines in G400 responsible for definingthe location of polygons. Therefore we may suppose that G400 possesses double-pipelinedarchitecture. And the term VCQ2 (Vibrant Color Quality 2) describes a special method intendedto provide internal 32-bit precision while the rendering pipeline is working.
Matrox G400 is a fully fledged AGP 2x/4x device, which allows transferring data via AGP busat 1GB/sec.
We are already familiar with the texturing hierarchical scheme typical of G200. Well, we can seethe same in G400 as well. As for the superposition of the smaller frequently used textures, theyare downloaded from the local graphics memory (or from the chipset cache). However, larger textures(up to 2048x2048 pixels) or the rarely used ones are superposed after they are downloaded fromthe system memory, i.e. with the help of AGP. For this purpose G400 has a special built-in memorycontroller, which together with the drivers serves to optimally distribute the available memoryresources.
And of course Matrox G400 offers us a wonderful unique technology - Environment mapped Bump mapping.We will dwell on it a bit later in this review when we talk about 3D-graphics quality.
Before we pass over to the card itself, take a look at the testing systems configuration:
- Intel Pentium III 500 and AMD K6-2 450 CPUs;
- ASUS P2B-B (i440BX) and Chaintech 5AGM2 (VIA MVP3) mainboards;
- 128MB system memory in each testing PC;
- Windows 98;
- ViewSonic P810 (21") and Nokia 447Xav (17") monitors.
And now let's get started. Here is the sample we've tested - Matrox Millennium G400 16MB SGRAM AGPgraphics card:
The graphics card is supplied in the Retail-package accompanied by the user's manual, TV-outconverter and a CD-ROM with the required software, including the Expendable demo, which was workedout especially for G400.
As you can see on the photo, the graphics card has four memory modules SGRAM 6ns 4MB each. Andon the reverse side of the card there is enough room for another four memory microchips for a 32MBversion. The chipset is hidden under a massive rectangular radiator, which provides better heatdissipation. Probably it is due to this particular radiator that Matrox G400 heats much less at workcompared to its competitors. Besides, the card is also equipped with special connectors intended forthe daughter card - Matrox Rainbow Studio G, as well as special chipsets for TV-out and another card'speculiar feature - Dual Head.
You can also notice that there are two similar connectors for monitors on Matrox Millennium G400,however, we can assure you that the same cards with single monitor connector will be also available.
The first option is to utilize it as a TV-out. The card is accompanied by a VGA-TVout converter, whichcan be connected to the second VGA-port with its one end, while the second end has an S-Video and aComposite connector for a TV-set or video-player. In this case the image displayed on the TV-screenis of really high quality, and the picture displayed on the monitor also remains stable and doesn'tsuffer at all as it often happens to a great number of other cards with TV-out.
And the second option is the most interesting: your system can simply acquire a second monitor!In this situation you can either use the second monitor as a copy of the first one (in other words,everything displayed on the second monitor completely repeats the picture of the first one), or asan additional space to increase your desktop. This possibility deserves our attention most of all.So, we choose one of the two monitors and change its settings for resolution, refresh rate, etc. Thisis possible only because Matrox Millennium G400 has two separate CRTC (Cathode Ray Tube Controller)modules, which allow utilizing two monitors simultaneously and absolutely independently from each other.Thus, Matrox Millennium G400 supports the pairs of monitors with absolutely different technicalcharacteristics (with the only exception of LCD, which requires a special module). Having changedall the necessary settings for the monitors (in our case the resolution was set to 1024x768 on bothof them) we get a desktop of a very unusual size:
The left part of the screenshot represents the former main desktop, and the right part - a newadditional desktop, which is actually empty. We placed the display properties panel in that part ofthe desktop, in order to show you that you can easily move all the windows opened on the desktop fromone monitor screen to the other. It is really pretty funny to watch the mouse pointer disappear on onescreen and in a moment appear on the other. So, this feature helps you to get a significant increase ofthe desktop size in Windows 98 without increasing the screen resolution. Besides, we are also expectingsome new games using this feature of Matrox Millennium G400 to come out rather soon. Take for instance,some flight-simulators, when the first screen displays the picture as it appears from the pilot's cabin,and the second one - the situation behind the plane, etc.
And now a few words about the installation process of Matrox Millennium G400. Its software isrepresented by Matrox PowerDesk 5.10.010 drivers, which installation ran without any problems, asit always takes place by Matrox.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that these drivers totally lack such important 3D settings asenabling/disabling of Vsync, MIP-mapping, filtering, etc..
And now it's high time we started talking about the benchmarks and the results achieved by thegraphics card. Let's begin with 2D-graphics, which belongs to Matrox's favorites. Nowadays the marketis full of various graphics cards with cool 3D and poor 2D, which scares away the owners of largermonitors. That's why the cherished dream of most users is a new graphics card, which would combinefast high-quality 2D graphics with the powerful 3D. So, what has Matrox Millennium G400 preparedfor us concerning 2D? We studied this question using Winbench 99. The 2D benchmarks were run atthe resolution set to 1600x1200 in 32-bit color on Pentium III-500 testing system. Here are theresults obtained:
As we can see, the speed is the highest of all! So, we have every reason to announce the comingof the new 2D leader among gaming graphics cards. Matrox Millennium G400 will suit even professionals,who work in 2D regime with very fine and detailed images, because this card provides absolutelyimpeccable image quality in all the highest resolutions, including 1600x1200.
Our next discussion point will be the performance of Matrox Millennium G400 in 3D-graphics.The time of this card's launching (right after nVidia Riva TNT2 and 3dfx Voodoo 3) and its announcedfeatures made us regard it as a highly competitive product. In this respect we made up our mind tocompare Matrox Millennium G400 with its fellows based on nVidia Riva TNT2 chipset (Diamond ViperV770 16MB) and 3dfx Voodoo3 3000. If we rank them by their price, we'll find Matrox somewhere inbetween. Besides, for the 32-bit color regime we have also included the results shown by ATI RageMagnum based on ATI Rage128 chipset, which also belongs to in the same price group G400 does andhence is its another worthy competitor. Moreover, we considered it quite interesting to offer youthe results demonstrated by one of the today's fastest graphics cards - Creative 3D Blaster RivaTNT2 Ultra. You will see that it is not for nothing, believe us.
For our benchmarks we applied certain software, which allows regarding the performance of thegraphics card in 3D from different points of view, so that to get the best idea of it. Thissoftware includes:
- FutureMark 3D Mark 99 MAX. It is a synthetic benchmark for versatile study of the card'sperformance in Direct3D (Direct X 6.1);
- Monolith Shogo. This is a 3D shooter-game, which allows estimating the card's performance inDirect3D in multitexturing regime (we applied Revshogo demo);
- Rage Expendable. This demo-version of the game is a benchmark wonderfully demonstrating Matrox'sEnvironment Mapped Bump Mapping and the performance drop, which takes place when this feature isenabled.
- Id Software Quake2. This is a famous 3D-shooter, which serves to watch the card's performance inOpenGL (we applied massive1.dm2 demo).
And the last thing: we utilized two testing systems based on Intel Pentium III and AMD K6-2. Ok,enough for intros, let's take a look at the concrete results and diagrams. We will start with 16-bitcolor. All the diagrams below correspond to the results obtained in the system based on Pentium III -500MHz.
So, what can we conclude judging by these benchmarks? Well, Matrox Millennium G400 proved to be anindisputable leader over nVidia Riva TNT2 and 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 in Direct3D (G400 managed to stayon a level with nVidia Riva TNT2 Ultra and even to leave it a bit behind in Expendable and Incoming).However, in OpenGL G400 suffered a shattering defeat. Here the performance of Matrox Millennium G400needs absolutely no comments: the diagram shows more than enough. Hm, remember the numerous forecastssaying that Matrox will succeed in everything except OpenGL support! Well, those pessimistic predictionscame true. But we have to be fair: the gaming quality remains on a quite acceptable level in all theleading resolutions (up to 1024x768 including). We may actually blame the beta-version of the driversfor the inability of the graphics card to work at 1280x960 even in a window (MatroxMillenium G400 hadn't been launched yet, while we were working on the review, and hence the driversrelease was still unavailable).
Nevertheless, we can clearly see that 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 is no longer ahead even in such a gameas Expendable, which supports multitexturing: it performs almost on the same level with MatroxMillennium G400. However, we have to sacrifice fastness for the sake of such a beautiful effectas Environment Mapped Bump Mapping. But still, the performance drop is not that dramatic to makeus give up this cool peculiarity of Matrox Millennium G400.
The results in Shogo with the enabled multitexturing are also worth being mentioned here:
3dfx Voodoo3 3000 has slightly surpassed Matrox Millennium G400 at lower resolutions, but ingeneral our card has retained its positions on practically the same level. Besides, we should alsokeep in mind that Matrox Millennium G400 works at 125MHz chipset and 166MHz memory frequencycompared to 166/166MHz correspondingly of 3dfx Voodoo3 3000.
And now here is the testing system based on K6-2 - 450MHz:
Well, here we don't see any monotonous diagrams with similar results. In Direct3D MatroxMillennium G400 starts taking the lead only at higher resolutions (1280x1024 and up). As forthe chances of G400 to achieve something in a cut-throat competition with Creative 3D BlasterRiva TNT2 Ultra, they are just miserable. And in OpenGL the situation is absolutely the sameas in the previous case: G400 seriously falls behind everywhere. The results obtained are so lowthat the card can simply be regarded as unsuitable for normal gaming.
Ok, and what do we get from Matrox Millennium G400 in 32-bit color? This regime has long been astumbling block for most graphics accelerators when their performance in True Color turned out evenlower than the acceptable minimum. Let's make everything clear here. First comes the testing systembased on Pentium III - 500MHz.
Hurrah! Finally we see a credible victory of Matrox Millennium G400 almost in all the Direct3Dregimes. Even nVidia Riva TNT2 Ultra failed to retain its leadership (only in Expendable the oddswere slightly in its favour). Again Matrox Millennium G400 falls somewhat behind its rivals whenworking with Environment Mapped Bump Mapping, but this lag is quite tolerable. However, we againsee a fly in the ointment here: OpenGL performance. Even ATI Rage128 evidently defeats our card!
Let's have a look at what the card can achieve on K6-2 - 450MHz based system.
Here Matrox Millennium G400 showed better results in Direct3D than in 16-bit color regime: the cardcouldn't catch up only with nVidia Riva TNT2 Ultra. And as for OpenGL, everything is still dispiriting.
And now we will try to answer the question, which cropped up, when we started speaking about theperformance in 32-bit color. Namely, it is the price we have to pay for carefree work in True Color.(We mean not your bucks but the performance drop, of course :) ) Here are the Expendable diagramsshowing the performance drop. Take a look:
Well, actually Matrox had promised a bit different performance drop - somewhat not that tangible,we should say, which was supposed to increase the rating of 32-bit color regime. But we have to admitthat the results shown during benchmarks are not up to our expectations. The drop by Matrox Millennium G400is bigger than that by nVidia Riva TNT2 Ultra, however this is not that dramatic as the performance dropof nVidia Riva TNT2, which is actually the main competitor of Matrox Millennium G400.
And finishing with the performance of Matrox Millennium G400 let us offer you a scalabilitydiagram, i.e. the dependence of the graphics card performance on the CPU frequency:
Nothing unexpected here. All the proportions remain the same on the less powerful processors.
So, let's sum up our observations and conclusions in terms of Matrox Millennium G400 performance.First of all, it proved just perfect in Direct3D. Listing all the regimes will make absolutely nosense here: Matrox is an indisputable leader, no doubt. Even a more expensive 3dfx Voodoo3 3000failed to keep its superiority in 16-bit color. However, in OpenGL the picture is not that glowing…it is almost tragic. The only hope that still glimmers is that Matrox software developers will finallymake an acceptable ICD OpenGL. But today, Matrox Millennium G400 keeps on losing points because of thissituation.
In systems based on AMD K6-2 (Socket7) our graphics card performed less brilliant than in IntelPentium III (Slot1) based ones. We should also mention certain instability of the card working inSocket 7 platform. We watched some strange delays and haltings, which led to compulsory restartingof the system. All this assured us once again that Matrox Millennium G400 is intended mostly for Slot1platforms.
Well, we have at last come to the most interesting part of our Matrox Millennium G400 review - thequality of 3D-graphics. We would like to start with Environment Mapped Bump Mapping - the real zest ofMatrox Millennium G400 graphics card.
Everybody knows that 3D graphics cards evolution aims directly at providing the user with themaximally true to life image. We can already see the marble walls of palaces, lamps with almostnatural flecks of light playing around, water rippling in the wind, etc. By the way, speaking aboutthe water. When Unreal came out a year ago a lot of people, and we also, were simply impressed by thequality of the water in this game. Remember the natural colors, the moving and rippling and all theother very realistic effects… But time took its natural course and now these effects will hardlysurprise anyone that much. And what do we get then? Monotony! Of course, the developers can usevarious colors and hues, various levels of transparency, but all this will still be insufficientfor real water, especially in larger reservoirs. The thing is that usually there are waves, nomatter, large or small, but they exist! And every wave has a certain height. But in games the watersurface is always flat that's why you have to resort to your imagination and to endow the water yousee with waves, ripples, etc… However, it is much better to see real waves, don't you think so? Well,in order to satisfy this particular demand Environment Mapped Bump Mapping technology was developed.Although this method has already been accepted as a standard within DirectX, Matrox Millennium G400 isthe first graphics accelerator, which has the required hardware support for this technology. Take a lookat two screenshots from Expendable taken with Environment Mapped Bump Mapping and without it:
Environment mapped Bump mapping enabled
Environment mapped Bump mapping disabled
You can see the difference with a naked eye. Unfortunately, it's impossible to show all the beautyof the Environment Mapped Bump Mapping on a screenshot, because it is the dynamics that strikes us.
They have even released a special demo - PowerRender, in order to demonstrate Environment MappedBump Mapping in full:
It allows disabling bump mapping, so that you could compare the quality obtained in both cases:
Environment mapped Bump mapping enabled
Environment mapped Bump mapping disabled
However, there are some remarks here as well. We have already discussed the occurring performancedrop when Environment Mapped Bump Mapping is enabled, but here it is the quality that also suffers:
Everybody sees these twisting lines. Unfortunately, we have no explanation for that, but if it isthe side effect of the Environment Mapped Bump Mapping then we can do nothing but put up with it.However, if it is the result of some technical carelessness, then Matrox should definitely take noteof it and eliminate all the defects.
Another game supporting Environment Mapped Bump Mapping, which is already available, is SpeedBusters from UbiSoft. To our great disappointment the bump mapping effect is noticeable only onthose cars, which are damaged in the race:
We have already said so much about Environment Mapped Bump Mapping, and what is it in reality?This is a hardware acceleration of bump mapping, which is carried out with the help of environmentalmaps. Environment Mapped Bump Mapping is a combination of three different texture maps for eachpixel: a bump map, an environment map and a base texture. The bump map is a map of heights made as ahalf-tone black and white bit-image. The info about different heights is transformed into a mapcontaining all the heave values for each texel coordinate of the bumped texture. These values areread by the first texture processing block and are then used by the bump-map processing block inorder to move all the coordinates of the environment map. Then according to the moved coordinatesof the environment map the texels are chosen and transferred into the second texture processingblock. The environment map texels with deviating coordinates are saved in the pixel cache. This isthe end of the first pass.
During the second pass the first texture block chooses a texel from the environment map andthe second one - a corresponding texel from the basic texture. They are superposed and as a resultwe get a bump texel.
Besides Environment Mapped Bump Mapping there is another method of getting realistic relief -Embossed bump mapping. However, the first one is considered to be more progressive, because it doesn'thave any limitations of the angle of light incidence on the surface. The screenshots below show thevisual differences of the two technologies:
Environment mapped Bump mapping
Embossed bump mapping
Here we would like to finish with bump mapping. Let's wait for some new games supporting thiswonderful effect to come out.
And what about the 3D quality in ordinary 3D games? Here we can assure you: the quality is veryhigh. The lesson of Matrox G200 was not for nothing that's why Matrox Millennium G400 now offers usperfect quality of 3D graphics. The screenshot below is taken from Quake3:
Before we pass over to our final conclusions, a few words about DVD support. It has become verypopular to mention MPEG2 playback support. Almost all the today's graphics cards can partiallyfree the CPU from MPEG2-decoding. And in our case we have 67-70% CPU utilization while playing DVD-Video, which gives us every right to speak about hardware support of certain DVD-streams decodingfunctions.
Matrox Millennium G400 graphics card proved a very powerful graphics accelerator. We saw brilliantquality and performance in 2D and evident superiority over its competitors in Direct3D in 3D-graphics.The card showed better results in Slot1 system than in Socket 7. We can recommend this card to largermonitors owners without any hesitation, because Matrox Millennium G400 will perfectly suit forprofessional 2D graphics as well as for entertainment - 3D-games. The dedicated Quake-fans mayget confused at the card's weak point - OpenGL, however, the gaming features of the card remain ona pretty high level in this regime that's why we suppose they won't be disappointed.
And in conclusion we would like to add that we had a testing sample of the card with beta-drivers,so we really hope that mass Matrox millennium G400 will be provided with improved software, which willhelp reduce all the negative effects we saw. So, if you are willing to purchase a graphics card for$130-140, Matrox Millennium G400 16MB can meet all your demands.