It was a pretty interesting time for graphics in the 1990s. The graphics industry was going through its boom years as we transitioned off CPU-powered 2D graphics and into GPU-driven 3D graphics. Id Software was blowing minds with its games and making the most out of new GPUs from companies like S3, 3Dfx, Chips & Technology, Tseng Labs, ATI and Nvidia.
Starting with the release of Windows 95 and the DirectX library, game development shifted from DOS-based to Windows-based software. The industry would consolidate to two competitors; Nvidia and ATI. But in the years before we shifted to Windows-based gaming, Canada's Matrox was the card to own by hardcore gamers. Forget the CPU, if you had a Matrox Millennium and SoundBlaster 3D, you were hardcore.
Since then, Matrox has faded into a tiny niche: high-end desktop apps for enterprise, engineering, industrial and government applications. It has a tiny market share, only around 3-5%, but it's a good share given the market.
Its latest cards could make the company competitive again among performance enthusiasts because they support many monitors and are AMD-powered, instead of Matrox's own home brew chips. Matrox has not disclosed what level of AMD technology is being used, which will make the difference, but the potential of one card to run six 4K displays is seriously appealing.
Matrox has announced two new graphics cards, the C420 LP and the C680. The C420 LP is a low-profile graphics card, which means it is passively cooled (ie. no fan, just a heat sink) that can run up to four separate displays with resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600. The C680 is the high-end card capable of driving up to six 4K displays. There is one caveat. It can only do 4K at 60Hz across three displays. If you attach any more, they will operate at 30Hz.
So these are not necessarily cards for playing "Call of Duty," but having a single card to power four or six displays is pretty handy. Most video cards can only run two. If you want to use more monitors, that means putting more cards into your PC and getting them all in sync. Matrox provides desktop management software to coordinate all of the cards and desktops. The cards use Mini DisplayPort ports, which are much smaller than DVI, so they all fit on one card.
Both cards are based on AMD GPUs and come with 2GB of GDDR5 graphics memory. Matrox said the cards will support DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.4 and OpenCL 1.2, so they are likely based on the Graphics Core Next technology, but clocked low to allow passive cooling. They will support Windows and major Linux distros.
The Matrox C-Series cards will be available in Q4 2014. Prices have not been revealed yet.