Wright's View - by Chris Wright
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The Horse's Mouth

Last issue I reviewed the Matrox G400. The review was pretty favorable, and I recommended it. End of story, so I thought.

As it turns out, there were some people who didn't agree with this review... they pointed out that the OS/2 drivers don't support all of the G400's features -- for example, it did not support the G400 MAX's built in support for dual monitors. They also pointed out that, performance-wise, the G400's 3d acceleration was average compared to some of its competitors.

There was actually a pretty lively discussion about this review in one of Stardock's usenet forums. One group was claiming that the review was flawed because, when compared tot he windows drivers, the G400 drivers weren't nearly as full featured. Another group was claiming that the review was fine because it wasn't INTENDED to compare the G400 and it's OS/2 drivers with the Windows version of the product... it was intended to compare the OS/2 drivers with OTHER OS/2 drivers.

In truth, when I was reviewing the G400, I wasn't thinking about windows drivers, the windows capabilities or anything like that. I was thinking of the G400 as a 32 meg RAM AGP card with OS/2 drivers, and compared to all the other video cards out there that support OS/2 (and I've experimented with quite a few) I found the G400 to be an excellent card. So on the one hand, I think my review was reasonably legitimate (though I should have pointed out that the dual-monitor feature does not work under OS/2.)

On the other hand... the first group has a point. A very strong point. The G400 drivers for OS/2 are, quite simply, incomplete. When you use a G400 -- or practically any other card -- under a Windows operating system, you get many more features and performance enhancements that you don't get when using the OS/2 equivalent. Compared to a Windows 95 or 98 driver, the OS/2 drivers are very, very basic... and yet I was still able to laud the G400 as an excellent card for OS/2 users everywhere.

Oh, how our standards have fallen.

I'm not bashing Matrox -- they are to be commended for consistently releasing OS/2 drivers, and releasing UPDATES and BUG FIXES for those drivers. Honestly, not many hardware vendors do that, and as far as I know Matrox is the only video card vendor that does it to the degree they do. Buying a Matrox Millenium, G200 or G400 card is practically buying a guarantee that you will have a working video card on your OS/2 system. And for us, as a community, that means a great deal. Anyone who ever had to fight with a Diamond Speedstar Pro or Viper during the early days of OS/2 Warp 3 knows the horrors and hells that you can go through to get a poorly-designed driver to work under OS/2. So when someone says "this card installs easily and works well," that's a glowing endorsement in the OS/2 community. And when someone adds "they also fixed this bug in the latest release of their drivers" that's a major event in itself.

And this is a crying shame, because there's no reason why we should be happy with drivers that work... we should be able to EXPECT that drivers will work well, that they'll be easy to install, and that they won't flake out at random intervals. Unfortunately, we can't expect this at all. Many video card manufacturers simply don't care, and if they bother to supply us with drivers at all, they're usually completely unsupported.

The sad fact of the matter is that OS/2 users are forced to expect less from drivers, because that's just the way it works. And it's a sorry commentary on the industry as a whole that Matrox puts other video companies to shame for doing nothing but releasing stable, reliable, and supported drivers for their products.

A parting thought: while the G400 has many features under Windows 98 that it doesn't have running under OS/2, I can't use any of them, because Windows 98 locks up solid when it starts up with the G400 drivers installed. Common lore has it that if your G400 isn't resting in the AGP slot in exactly the right position, it won't work at all. I was never quite able to get this worked out, so for the moment I've switched to an ATI 128 Rage Pro. Funny, having to switch out a card because WINDOWS doesn't like it...

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Copyright © 1999 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696 December 1, 1999