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Matrox Mystique 220

By Loyd Case, Computer Shopper
August, 1997

The original Matrox Mystique was the first graphics card to support high-speed SGRAM. Matrox has upped the ante in its new Mystique 220 by adding greater expandability and a faster RAMDAC. Carrying a manufacturer's estimated price of $179, the Mystique 220 is a versatile card, though it sacrifices some image-quality features for speed.

The 220MHz RAMDAC allows the Mystique to run at up to an 80Hz refresh rate at 1,600x1,200 resolution. One feature of the Mystique that we'd like to see in more graphics cards is its flash-upgradable BIOS.

Available expansion options include the Rainbow Runner Studio digital video-capture daughtercard, which sells for about $249, and the Rainbow Runner TV, a half-size ISA TV tuner card that connects to the Rainbow Runner Studio and sells for about $79 by mail. The Rainbow Runner Studio's specs are impressive: 720x576 PAL and 720x486 NTSC motion-JPEG capture at a full 60 fields per second. Depending on what compression ratio you set in the Rainbow Runner control panel, you can generate a video-capture data rate that would easily overpower most EIDE drives--you need a large, fast SCSI drive to handle high-resolution video. The Rainbow Runner Studio comes bundled with VDOnet's VDOPhone Internet videoconferencing software and Ulead's iPhoto Express software for editing still images and creating photo albums or personalized documents such as greeting cards, business cards, and calendars.

The Mystique 220's 2-D performance was impressive and its video playback smooth. On the 3-D side, Matrox has proven somewhat controversial in its decision to sacrifice some 3-D image-enhancement features, such as bilinear filtering and MIP mapping, in exchange for a faster frame rate. It maintains the high frame rate because some games detect the presence of the Matrox card and use point sampling, rather than implement Direct 3D's slower hardware emulation routines to perform rendering features not supported by the card.

Other games allow users to disable software emulation of features not supported by the board. In fact, the Mystique's performance on the 3D WinBench test placed it squarely in the middle of the pack, despite its having to use software emulation in the majority of the tests. This is a good indication that the Mystique 220 will get high frame rates in hardware-accelerated games, though its images might not look as pretty as those of other cards.

The Mystique 220 supports PCI bus mastering, freeing the CPU to process new triangles while current triangle coordinates are being transferred over the bus to the graphics card. Although our Micron testbed's Micronics M54HI motherboard should have supported this feature, we did not attain the expected performance benefit, even after consulting with Micron's technical support staff. When we installed the card into another P166 testbed with an ABIT IT5H motherboard, its 3-D performance improved markedly, earning a 3D WinMark score of 35. When we disabled the bus mastering feature, the Mystique 220's score dropped to about 29, virtually the same as the score we achieved with our testbed.

To its credit, Matrox did add in support for CLUT-8 and CLUT-4 palletized textures. Allowing each texture its own color lookup table can improve the graphics quality of an image, but not many PC games support CLUT, though ports from console games often do.

Our review unit came with a postcard for its software bundle, which was just being finalized at press time. Matrox plans to include titles such as the Matrox-ported TombRaider game as well as Kai's Power Goo and Vream's WIRL. For the same price as the standard Mystique 220, you can purchase the Mystique 220 Business; it has a more business-oriented software bundle that includes titles such as Micrografx's Simply 3D and Picture Publisher, and Netscape Communicator.

The Mystique 220 is a competent product that offers attractive options such as its integrated video-capture solution. If you're more concerned with frame rate than image quality, then you'll find the Mystique a good 3-D gaming fit.

Peripherals: Graphics Cards

Mystique 220
Matrox Graphics, Inc.,
Dorval, PQ

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