By now, everyone’s read all the reviews of the Parhelia, seen all the benchmarks, and digested the feature set of the card. Since Matrox is always on the cutting edge of feature sets, we decided to get into more depth, writing a follow up article to examine the Parhelia in further detail just as we did with the G400 and its Dual Head functionality. We believe that features like these deserve more than a tick off on a feature set list or a passing mention in a review. They require a good deal of extra testing to give them a thorough evaluation, so today we check out Surround Gaming – playing games across three monitors. Many cards on the market can support two displays off one card, but the Matrox Parhelia can do one better than that and support up to three. After trying out Dual Head on the G400, and being a big proponent of two monitor use, picking me to do the Surround Gaming article was a no brainer. The fact that I have the best monitor tan on the FS staff actually did not factor in the decision.
At first, I slapped the card into my home system, the same machine I built two years ago for the Gigahertz Box project. But not long after installing the Parhelia into that machine, I realized I should probably build a more impressive rig in order to bring the best out of the card. I’d need an entirely new set of hardware to bring home and test with! At least, that’s the rationalization I gave when I snagged an Athlon XP 1800 from the hardware test bed, and an appropriate motherboard and RAM to go along with it. Hey, the other staffers bought that line while I slipped out the door with the hardware, so don’t laugh.
- Athlon XP 1800
- Abit KR7A RAID motherboard
- 256MB Corsair PC2700 DDR
- One Sony G400 19” FD Trinitron Monitor for the center display
- A pair of Sony E400 19” FD Trinitron Monitors to flank the center display
- Fresh WinXP install
- Newest 220.127.116.11 Parhelia driver
The Parhelia does not have three video outputs on the card. It actually has two digital video outputs. The card comes with a pair of dongles, one of which simply converts a DV-out into a standard HD-15 connector for an analog display, and the other which splits one of the DV-outs into two HD-15s. This means you can connect one digital display and a pair of analog ones, or three analog displays. One interesting note is that if you choose to go the triple display route, each monitor must display the same resolution, color depth, and refresh rate as all the others. The upper limit on each display for resolution is 1280x1024, giving you a maximum desktop of 3840x1024. If you use only two monitors/LCDs on the Parhelia, the card WILL allow you to set resolutions, color depths, and refresh rates on each monitor independently and allow each of the two monitors to go up to much higher resolutions than 1280x1024.
To test out Surround Gaming, we picked out one representative game from a few different genres, in order to get an idea of what Surround Gaming can offer to different types of gamers. We tried out Quake 3 in Surround to represent the first person shooters, Neverwinter Nights to represent role playing games, the Imperium Galactica 3 demo on the Parhelia software disc to represent strategy games, and NASCAR 2002 to represent racing games.