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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  • ShadowVlican - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    well i hope i can buy the Xpress200.... ATi ain't real until i can buy their motherboards readily everywhere i go (like nVidia's NF4) Reply
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    It's no secret ATI has the ability to produce equal or better chipsets and GPUs than Nvidia - they have done this before. What ATI needs to do is get their sh*t together on the details and CUSTOMER SERVICE - Yeah, they've heard of it but evidently they don't know the MEANING OF IT ! Nvidia ain't much better, but ATI's so called Customer Support is a bad joke. Delivering what you promise is a VERY IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION when you are charging the enthusists market segment El PREMO PRICES for your hardware and you had better DELIVER THE GOODS. ATI has failed miserably and Nvidia ain't far behind despite the fact both companies have reaped fortunes from the consumer enthusiast market. Until both companies improve their CUSTOMER SUPPORT neither are getting any of our corporate dollars. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Okay so the first good vendor (Asus or similar) to come out with a passively-cooled northbridge, the ALC-880"D" audio chip, a Southbridge with better USB performance, and the rest (it can even be a single GPU board so it's under or around $100 in price) gets my money. =P Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Okay that wasn't supposed to reply to your post. Interesting. Reply
  • Live - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Does ATI crossfire support NCQ hard drives or not? Have I understood it correctly in that it is not supported trough the 4 SATA ports from the Southbridge but you can get support from the 2 ports from the included Sil controller?

    I have read the http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=24...">What's in a name? SATA II Misconceptions
    But I still fail to get the facts straight. Does a SATA 2 controller, either from a SB or separate like the Sli, support all of the capabilities in the SATA 2 specs as long as the hard drive does so?

    Since I plan on going dual core next, no NCQ seems like a deal breaker to me.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    The SB450 Southbridge does not support NCQ. The ULi M1573, used on the retail Gigabyte Crossfire AMD and some upcoming retail boards, DOES support NCQ. The Silicon Image 3132 on the ATI Reference Board supports both NCQ and 3Gb SATA2 on the extra SATA ports.

    The just introduced ULi M1575 Southbridge, which can be used with the ATI Crossfire Northbridge (as soon as it hits the market) supports 3Gb SATA2, NCQ, PCIe Gigabit Ethernet, Azalia HD audio, and features competitive USB throughput. The ATI SB600 will also implement all these features.
    Reply
  • etriky - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Anyone have some links to shed some light on this quote.

    "There is a lot of discussion on the web these days claiming that you can minimize the impact of the 2T setting with certain options on Revision E AMD processors."

    I've done some searches and come up with nothing.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • bigtoe36 - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    forcing a burst length of 8 and forcing burst2opt can bring back some of the lost performance going to 2T, both these features are on the crossfire reference board.

    Also, i mamaged to talk DFI into making a direct copy of the ATI reference that will run reference bios files, we should see this board in October. This board will be released along side the board already designed by Oskar...so you will have the choice of 2 CF boards from DFI.
    Reply
  • Palek - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    On page 1, 2nd paragraph the article says:
    "AMD 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."
    I suspect that AMD should be ATI.
    On page 3, 1st paragraph:
    "AMD Crossfire" first, then "Crossfire AMD" later. "ATI Crossfire" or "ATI Crossfire AMD" may be less confusing.
    Also on page 3, in last paragraph "AMD Reference Board" is used twice, but the board is referred to earlier on in the article as the "ATI Crossfire AMD Reference Board". "AMD Reference Board" makes it sound like AMD made it.

    Question:
    How hot did the northbridge get during various phases of your testing? I think a lot of users would appreciate some info regarding operational temperatures. If the ATI chipset turns out to run a lot cooler than nForce4 chipsets, I will gladly forgive the USB speed problems and go with an easier to cool motherboard.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Corrected.

    See other comments for NB heat and cooling. My subjective observation is the ATI Northbridge is cooler during heavy OC than the nF4 under the same conditions. However, many of you push boards a lot further than I do so you can take that with a grain of salt. ATI designed this board for the enthusiast and extrene overclocking and temperature under stress was a definite design consideration.
    Reply

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