It happens in all walks of life but especially in our own beloved industry it is the case that people love to root for the underdog. Whether it's AMD vs. Intel or Intel vs. VIA, there is almost a certain level of compassion that is felt for the company without the upper hand. There isn't a sector where this is any more prevalent than in the graphics business where at one point in recent history there were as many as six major competitors but now only two.

When 3dfx was king it seemed like everyone was on a hunt to find the Voodoo2-killer that would offer greater performance at a comparable price. And when NVIDIA finally did that it didn't take long for the mob to turn on today's giant. It was around the release of the GeForce2 that we started to see the first signs that NVIDIA was getting a bit too big to be considered the underdog anymore, and we all know what happens then.

Since that point many companies have tried to dethrone the undisputed king of the 3D graphics but none have as of yet succeeded; and it's understandable why. With three design teams working in parallel, employees from some of the most talented graphics firms in the industry (3dfx, Appian, Matrox, PixelFusion, etc…), an extremely high employee retention rate (over 95% employees have been with the company for the past 5 years), a gifted set of software engineers (there are more software than hardware engineers at NVIDIA) and an incredible amount of capital it is very clear how NVIDIA is able to stay on top.

Is NVIDIA worried about the advances from companies like 3DLabs with their P10 VPU? Of course, there's always reason for concern and any successful company is always mindful of the competition but there's very little chance for any of the competing parts being released over the next couple of months to take significant market share away from NVIDIA. What can happen however is that during the months between NVIDIA's product releases there is usually opportunity for a company to get their foot in the door with a well-timed product launch.

ATI exploited such an opportunity with the Radeon 8500 and much more successfully later on with the Radeon 8500LE 128MB. 3DLabs is taking advantage of the gap as well with their P10 VPU and as you can all probably guess by now, the other company with plans to do the same is Matrox.

Matrox has been very quiet on the 3D front for two years now but they've always maintained that high-performance 3D graphics is too lucrative of a business to simply ignore. A few weeks ago Matrox invited me to fly out to San Francisco for a meeting that would last no more than 90 minutes (a flight that spans the length of the country for this North Carolina based editor). I agreed to the meeting under the conditions that what I'd be seeing would be worth the trip out there and Matrox assured me that it would be. AnandTech has had a working relationship with Matrox for more than four years and never during those four years has Matrox ever exuded such confidence in a product before.

What is this product? It's Matrox's comeback kid, the Parhelia-512.

What is a Parhelia?

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