If you go back far enough in the computer industry, there have been many successful video card companies. Back before the whole 3D craze kicked off, some of the fastest 2D video cards came courtesy of Matrox, and while they made some attempts at producing compelling 3D graphics cards, they were never able to grab the performance crown from NVIDIA or ATI. Their last real attempt at the 3D graphics market came in 2002 with the Parhelia-512, and as was the case with previous efforts it basically ended up falling short. Interestingly, the Parhelia-512 supported "surround gaming" long before AMD's Eyefinity, and that may have opened the gates for what would become Matrox's core focus over the next decade: multi-display video cards.

Since 2002, there haven't been many reviews of Matrox cards because the focus shifted to industries that need not just two or three but potentially a dozen or more displays all running from a single system. Their last graphics card update was in 2009, and since then the top product has been the M9188, a single card capable of driving eight DisplayPort or DVI connections, with the possibility of using two cards to drive 16 displays. Who needs that many displays? Well, the financial and security markets are two easy examples, as they both have use cases where six or more displays is "reasonable", and digital signage is another category where Matrox can provide useful technology. These are all professional markets, and the M9188 is priced accordingly ($1500+), but if you were looking to build a system with good graphics performance, Matrox basically hasn't been relevant as their cards seem to focus almost exclusively on 2D performance these days.

That might be changing with future products given today's announcement, as Matrox will be switching to AMD-designed GPUs for their next generation of multi-display products. These will continue to support Matrox's PowerDesk desktop management software, but what's not clear is whether Matrox will be doing much in the way of customized hardware. The announcement states that "key features of the selected AMD GPU include 28nm technology with 1.5 billion transistors; DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.4 and OpenCL 1.2 compatibility; shader model 5.0; PCI Express 3.0 and 128-bit memory interface."

From that we can surmise that Matrox will be using a variant of the Cape Verde GCN core, which is one of the lower performance GCN parts from AMD. In fact, Matrox may actually be using AMD's FirePro W600 cards, only with custom Matrox-developed software applications. This would also mean Matrox is looking at a maximum of six display outputs per graphics card (compared to eight on the M9188), but AMD already has the ability to run up to six GPUs in a system with the appropriate motherboard meaning up to 36 displays off a single system is theoretically possible.

The hardware is of course only part of the equation, and Matrox's PowerDesk software is something that benefits many businesses and professionals. Matrox notes that "critical productivity-enhancing features available with Matrox PowerDesk software will continue to be supported on the next line of Matrox graphics cards designed with AMD GPUs." These features include the ability to configure and manage multi-display setups, which can get tricky once you move past two or three displays. PowerDesk has tools to configure stretching, cloning, pivot, bezel management, and other items that are important for a professional multi-display configuration.

There are plenty of upsides to this announcement. For one, it allows Matrox to reallocate resources that are currently going into hardware development and instead focus on their core competency, which at this point is multi-display solutions. PowerDesk is well regarded in their target market, and this will allow Matrox to continue to improve the platform without trying to design their own hardware. AMD benefits as they're able to partner with Matrox and potentially sell their GPUs at higher "professional" prices, and they may also increase their share of digital signage and other multi-display markets.

And of course the customers that purchase the cards benefit as they get to move to a modern platform with support for all the latest DirectX, OpenGL, and OpenCL libraries. Long-term, this also opens the doors for Matrox to offer substantially higher performance 3D solutions from AMD for customers that need such features. Overall, this announcement isn't likely to affect most computer users, but it's good to see Matrox still hanging around after several decades in the computer graphics industry, something many of their competition from the 90s didn't manage to achieve.

Source: Matrox PR

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  • StevoLincolnite - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Yep, I had the Millennium paired up with a 3DFX Voodoo 2, good times! I actually still have those cards boxed up somewhere.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - link

    I think they still had a niche in the medical space, for highly accurate 2d renders of medical scans on high res displays.
  • Guspaz - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    I worked at Matrox once, and I'll just limit myself to saying that I would be surprised to hear somebody say that their software was an asset.
  • Guspaz - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    Actually, to address the competitiveness thing, they do more than just graphics cards. They have an imaging division (frame grabbers and machine vision and stuff) and a professional video division (pro AV gear for broadcast and live video and stuff).
  • nerd1 - Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - link

    I still remember the days when you have to purchase separate VGA card - and matrox card with dual VGA output was quite a popular choice (plus voodoo accelerator card).
  • Laxaa - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    Blast from the past indeed!
  • MartinT - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    Kind of odd to see them going with AMD, but I guess AMD's refusal to implement proper power saving modes for more than a single display (and resulting considerably higher power use in dual-display modes) becomes irrelevant when you're talking about using >3 displays at once, and the higher total number of outputs per GPU takes over as the main concern.

    As for Matrox, well, I enjoyed my Mystique 220/Voodoo² SLI combo back in '97. They never figured out how to do 3D, though, good thing they found a niche.
  • wireframed - Saturday, September 6, 2014 - link

    I have two displays on my R290, and it clocks down to 300/150MHz just fine. My GeForce 570 originally didn't clock down from its 3D speed with more than one display, but they kinda fixed that. (Kinda, because originally you had to have two identical resolution displays for it to work. Not sure if that's still the case.)
  • iwod - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    Arh... Good old Matrox....
    My First thought into the story was, how does 1 display card actually drive that many display? Aren't there any bandwidth contention? Or do they use Low Resolution and Scale up?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 4, 2014 - link

    The current M9188 has 2GB RAM and is focused primarily on 2D use cases. It can drive all eight displays at up to 2560x1600 over DisplayPort, or 1920x1200 over DVI. How it works with eight displays for "normal" use is something I couldn't say, but apparently the markets that use that many monitors are okay with its performance.

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