All of the ATI Crossfire attention seems to have concentrated on Crossfire Graphics performance. Most everyone found the X850 Crossfire to be roughly equivalent to NVIDIA 6800 Ultra SLI. However, the biggest story is not Crossfire graphics, but the launch of one of the most enthusiast-friendly chipsets ever produced by any manufacturer.

Those of you who have been following ATI's chipset development realize that the road to Crossfire has been a long one - perhaps too long. When AnandTech looked at the introduction of RX480/RS480 chipsets for AMD last November, we found the performance of the new chipsets to be very impressive. ATI had done a particularly excellent job targeting the enthusiast for the new chipset launch, but that realization seemed to come late in the chipset development process. This meant that this excellent chipset was largely ignored by motherboard manufacturers who had already pegged the new ATI parts for Micro ATX integrated video.

To ATI's credit, they have stayed the course of targeting the enthusiast, with a firm conviction that they could win the enthusiast with the right stuff, and that would mean penetration of the AMD market. Along the way, we have seen the original Bullhead board give way to Grouper (single GPU) and today's launch of Crossfire AMD (Halibut). Enthusiast-Level performance was an add-on for Bullhead, but Grouper and Halibut were designed from the ground up to satisfy the most demanding enthusiast.

The Intel side of the Radeon Xpress 200 came later, but ATI has also introduced, with little fanfare, the recent Jaguar board for Intel. This design culminates in Stingray (Crossfire Intel), which ATI also introduced today. While ATI did not provide Reference boards for Crossfire Intel testing, Crossfire Intel will ship at the same time, or shortly after Crossfire AMD. The AMD and Intel Crossfire solutions will be equivalent ATI chipset options. While this chipset performance review talks about ATI Crossfire AMD, keep in mind that there are potentially 8 new chipset board combinations with the new ATI chipsets. There are single video and dual video (Crossfire) versions for both AMD and Intel. There may also be an integrated graphics solution with any of these four combinations. Why would anyone want integrated graphics with this combination? Because, you can run additional monitors simultaneously with the add-on graphics. This opens many interesting possibilities for multi-monitor solutions.

The talk of Computex in early June was ATI's new Crossfire dual-video solution for AMD and Intel, which was on display for the world to see. However, it is now late September, almost 4 months after Computex, and we are finally seeing the ATI Reference boards for Crossfire. ATI tells us that they decided to wait for Crossfire release until boards and cards were ready for market. We have been able to confirm this, since we know from recent conversations with ECS, Gigabyte and Asus that Crossfire boards will appear very soon from these vendors. DFI will also have a full-blown performance oriented Crossfire released in October. There are also many other ATI Crossfire motherboards that will appear in the market very soon. Motherboards will definitely be available, but we have yet to see a Master video card for sale.

We have concentrated in this Reference Board review on the AMD side of ATI chipset performance with add-on graphics cards. We will talk more about Intel Jaguar/Crossfire Intel performance in a future article. We also will ignore integrated graphics from a performance viewpoint, even though all options can provide integrated graphics if the necessary Radeon Xpress 200 north bridge is used. The integrated video solutions basically combine on-board ATI X300 graphics limited to 2 pixel pipelines on either the AMD or Intel Radeon Xpress 200 chipset. You can read more about the performance of these integrated solutions in our review comparing ATI and Intel integrated graphics solutions.

About two months ago, we published benchmarks comparing Crossfire AMD to NVIDIA SLI and found Crossfire X850 XT to be very competitive with NVIDIA 6800 Ultra SLI - even with prerelease hardware and drivers. Of course, NVIDIA has since released the 7800GTX, which performs as a single card about the same as two 6800 Ultra cards running SLI. ATI does not have a comparable video card today that will compete with the 7800GTX, but ATI will be releasing the X1800 in the next couple of weeks. Keep this in mind when looking at any Crossfire reviews, as X1800 video cards in Crossfire mode will likely bridge the performance gap to single/dual NVIDIA 7800GTX graphics.

Yesterday, our Derek Wilson took a close look at the release Crossfire Graphics performance compared to NVIDIA SLI. However, this article will look more deeply at ATI Crossfire as a chipset. How does Crossfire perform compared to the best AMD chipsets on the market? What features will be available on ATI chipset boards? Of course, ATI has clearly targeted the AMD enthusiast with their new chipsets. With that in mind, the biggest question is whether ATI is worthy of consideration by AMD enthusiasts?

The ATI Xpress 200 Chipset Family
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  • n00b1e - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Great article, but how about benchmarking real apps on the overclocked settings and comparing the result to the non-overclocked ones instead of just comparing the highest attainable memory/bus speed overclocks? Reply
  • Quanticles - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Another bought review...

    "The ATI Crossfire AMD has every option a serious overclocker could wish for."

    How about the option to use a CRT? I like to use 1600x1200 at 85 Hz.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    A 7800GTX or X1800 can easily do 1600x1200 at 85 Hz - and probably outperform X850XT Crossfire. It's all a matter of perspective.

    In addition, Derek has already said the next gen (X1800), due out in less than 2 weeks, does not have this limitation in Crossfire mode. That's why he did not recommend Crossfire X850/X800 and said to wait a short while. THAT Crossfire solution will also work on this board.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Red Herring. We're talking about the motherboard and how wellit can overclock the cpu). The graphics card is irrelevant (and the limitation on the xfire cards themselves not the motherboard). Reply
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    2nd page:
    The various ATI Radeon Xpress 200 north bridges can also be combined with ULi south bridges. The current ULi 1573 provides all the features of the ATI BS450 except integrated Gigabit Ethernet.

    should be SB450
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    I have spoken witrh ATI and several mfgs this morning to update board availability. Between today and the 2nd week of October we should see RETAIL Crossfire motherboards appear from DFI, Gigabyte, ECS, MSI, Asus and a few others. RETAIL availability means you will be able to buy them at New Egg or other e'tailers at that time.

    X850XT Master Cards are expected to be for sale RETAIL tomorrow, September 28th, with X800 Master Cards several weeks away.

    I have a Gigabyte Crossfire AMD in my hands as I write this. It is the release Vewrsion 1.0 board and I received the release BIOS this morning.
    Reply
  • eastvillager - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    "yeah, we know our usb performance sucks on SB400, we're fixing it in SB450"

    "Yeah, we know our usb performance sucks on SB450, we're fixing it in SB600"

    prediction:

    "Yeah, we still don't have USB 2.0 working properly on SB600, wait till SB700, when USB 3.0 comes out and we'll be ok."

    Kind of hard to understand how they can do just about everything else on the mobo correctly, but continually screw up USB 2.0. USB 2.0 is a commodity at this point, it is just suppose to work, with no worries, etc.

    I use USB 2.0 on a daily basis, it really isn't an area I'm willing to slack on.
    Reply
  • Leper Messiah - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Hm. I'm getting a new mobo soon (as in the next 2 weeks). Is this a paper launch, or will we see single slot solutions out there soon? nVidia has set a precedent with the instant availiblity and massive volume (relatively, I mean they're selling below MSRP for a reason) of their 7800 series. It could be more damaging than delaying the R520 if they don't have it and this mobo out STAT.


    Would be kinda funny though...for years I've run nVidia chipsets and ATi graphics. Looks like it might get reversed...
    Reply
  • allnighter - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Agreed. Not that I'm referring to AT's conclusions being questionable in any way, shape or manner, I know they say what they see, but it's pretty much obvious that ever manufacturer/vendor simply handpicks any given piece of hardware that is sent to AT for review, since they all know that AT is pretty much the most trusted site. Although I appreciate early previews we get here, I'm a much bigger fan of reviews of retail products. That's about what you'll be able to buy, right away or in just a couple of weeks. Many of these reference pieces are on steroids and simply never materialize in real world performance.
    Other than that - a very good write up, as usuall.
    Reply
  • TehSloth - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Well mates, this sure does look nifty, but remember what happened to the RS480, which also received Anand's accolades as the best overclocking reference board ever, they couldn't release it right. The Gigabyte board that they talk about in the article was never actually released, and I have a long chain of correspondence with them as it got pushed back more and more. MSI, ECS, and Jetway were the only manufacturers that delivered, and they disabled all the OCing options. Psshhhah! Reply

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