Matrox – Millennium G550 review

no 3D monster, but good 2D features
Photo of Matrox – Millennium G550
£95 + VAT

It seems like Matrox has been in the graphics cards business forever, but in recent times the company has been overshadowed by the likes of ATI and Nvidia and has been left behind in the race for the most powerful 3D graphics cards. On performance alone, this latest card isn’t going to get Matrox back into the race.

The main problem with the Millennium G550 is that it doesn’t go head-to-head with the competition in any 3D category; only in dual-screen and 2D acceleration features. In addition, it doesn’t support DirectX 8, although it does have a sub-set of the DirectX 8 functions.

The G550 is much like its predecessor, the G450. Built using a 0.18-micron process, it is pin-compatible with the G450 and uses the same 64-bit DDR memory interface. The fact that it is pin-compatible makes board layout and implementation very easy, but it also means that the chip experiences a memory bandwidth bottleneck. As with the older G450, only memory configurations up to a maximum of 32MB of DDR are supported.

The rendering pipeline of the G550 has changed somewhat from the G450; the chip still has two rendering pipelines but is now capable of applying two textures to every pixel rendered in one clock pass (something Nvidia introduced on the GeForce2 GTS). The G550 also has dual RAMDACs, a 360MHz primary and a 230MHz secondary.

On the plus side, you do get what is probably the most useful aspect of Matrox cards these days, namely dual display support. The card has one DVI-I output (for digital-input LCD screens) and one D-Sub 15-pin output built in, with adapters to convert DVI to D-Sub or composite or S-video. The 360MHz primary RAMDAC can output a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 at 32-bit color depth on analogue monitors or flat panels and in dual-screen mode you can use up to 1600 x 1280 pixels at 32-bit colour depth on a secondary analogue screen. That should be enough for most dual screen users. With digital flat panels you can get 1280 x 1024 at 32-bit on both screens and the G550 supports dual digital flat panels without the need for external gizmos.

The feature that Matrox is particularly pushing with the G550 on is something called HeadCasting and the ability to do ‘Graphics over IP’; essentially low-bandwidth video conferencing. The HeadCasting engine is the only major 3D feature added since the G450. The problem with video conferencing over the net right now is the lack of bandwidth between the users. This results in poor quality video, stuttering and a general loss of the original intent of being able to see the person you are talking to.

HeadCasting works in very low bandwidth situations, such as over a 56Kbps modem connection, by only sending co-ordinate data and relying on the G550 to manipulate a 3D model of the head of the person you are conferencing with. The end result is a virtual face that mimics your own movements and impressions as if you were using a videoconferencing kit. A somewhat spooky experience.

Company: Matrox

Contact: 01753 665544

The Millennium G550 isn't going to challenge the leaders of the 3D graphics card market, but it is a high-end 2D product in an era when 2D doesn't get as much attention as the arguably less important - from a business point of view - 3D rendering engine.