ATI's X8xx CrossFire Graphics Arriveby Derek Wilson on September 26, 2005 1:00 PM EST
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The Details of the Resolution LimitThe foremost issue we want to address in this section is that of the 1600x1200 resolution limit and the Single Link TMDS receiver on the CrossFire master cards. Much speculation has been passed around on the subject, and we wanted to get to the bottom of the issue. It is true that digital operation of the vast majority of ATI X8xx series parts are limited to single-link DVI speeds per display. ATI's position is that since most current X8xx series cards do not support dual-link output, a single-link receiver is all that is needed. This is a fine solution. The problem is that ATI is currently fixing maximum CrossFire resolution to 1600x1200@60Hz. While they have stated that it is technically possible for them to run resolutions at a similar pixel clock, they will not allow asymmetric timings between the TMDS receiver and the final output. In general, this means that any resolution larger than 1600x1200 will require a lower refresh rate than 60Hz. While this may be ok at HDTV resolutions or on a digital flat panel, CRT owners may elect to drop resolution even lower than 1600x1200 in order to play their games with a decent refresh rate. For an expensive, high end solution, a 1600x1200 60Hz limit is simply unacceptable.
We asked ATI why the capabilities of the TMDS receiver on the master card must limit the resolution of CrossFire output to 1600x1200@60Hz. The answer is that scaling would diminish at higher resolutions due to the limited ability of the slave card to contribute in a balanced way. Granted, AFR (alternate frame rendering) modes could not be run and SuperTiling would have to be tweaked or dropped, but ATI does support 60/40 and 70/30 split frame load balancing as well. Enabling high resolutions only under their scissor mode should give some additional performance along with the ability to run at higher resolutions. To us, including the option for a customer to choose how the hardware he or she owns will work is absolutely a good thing. In our minds, a lower performing 2048x1536 is definitely better than not having the option at all. We would strongly urge ATI to consider adding such options in future driver releases if it is at all possible.
On top of that, multiple other options spring to mind on how resolutions could be increased. PCIe bandwidth could be used heavily to transfer screen data. NVIDIA has multi card configurations working with no direct physical link. In addition, it shouldn't be impossible for ATI to use both outputs on the slave card to send data to the master. Two single-link connections are the building blocks of a dual-link connection after all. But in the end, ATI stands behind their decision to implement CrossFire with a single-link resolution limit.
With maximum resolution limited, we must rely on features and quality to drive the decision to purchase a CrossFire setup. And the feature that ATI hopes will push CrossFire is their Super AA.