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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  • stromgald - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Is it just me or is there a molex connector and small fan on the reference board . . . and what exactly are they for? It looks like the north and southbridge are under the silver ATI heatsink and the black heatsink with lots of fins. I'm not sure what's under the fan and what the molex connector would be for. Reply
  • stromgald - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Well, I suspect its for the crossfire graphics, but I'd like some confirmation. The passive heatsinks are good, but that itty bitty fan looks noisy. It suggests that whatever's under that fan gets hotter than either the north or south bridge, then again its just a refernece board. Reply
  • Palek - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    Actually, the silver heatsink is more likely cooling MOSFETs/voltage regulators, while the black heatsink/fan combo is probably for the N/B and the passive black heatsink for the S/B. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    On the article board photo:

    The silver heatsink is cooling MOSFETs, the black with fan cools the Northbridge (the small fan is really very quiet), the short heatsink cools the southbridge. I also have another board with all passive heatsinks. On both boards the NB gets warm dutring extreme OC, but I did not experience any throttling or shutdown issues.

    The 4-pin Molex is to power the Crossfire PCIe x16 slots.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    looks good, but where is it? ati must ethier be getting close to releaseing something, or
    tired of not really being talked about
    Reply
  • aGreenAgent - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    It's called a reference board for evaluation purposes :)

    Board manufacturers get to clone this for their own boards, I do believe.
    Reply
  • ariafrost - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    This looks to be one sweet chipset, hope it hits retail really soon. Reply
  • flexy - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    i have to say that this is nice and interesting we finally have a contender in the NF4 dominated high-end mobo sector. No there's something else than always "dfi NF4" - this is nice. Competition is a good thing so are choices.

    I dont know, however, if it is interesting for me, eg. i am preyy ok with my dfi lanpartu....but...

    Question: So...i got a X850 - and ('scuse me, i am kinda shocked !) i would need a DIFFERENT card for crossfire ("X850XT Master") because the "normal" X850XT would not work in crossfire (dual) mode????

    (Not that i am interested in CF or SLI, i am just not a fan of dual gfx-card solutions. But this just caught my attention.

    Regarding USB:

    Well that's a shame...but then you can always get a USB pci (oe even pci-ex) card for a few bucks if you want fast and perfect USB 2.0 etc..... this is a bit bad - but then NOT a reason not to get this board. I can get a USB2.0

    Btw. a USB2.0 pci-card (got a free slot, i hope so ? :) card at newegg is $5.89 + $4 s/h.....if you seriously think lack of stellar USB performance is a major downside of this board....well :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    quote:

    Question: So...i got a X850 - and ('scuse me, i am kinda shocked !) i would need a DIFFERENT card for crossfire ("X850XT Master") because the "normal" X850XT would not work in crossfire (dual) mode????


    You need two cards for Crossfire to work. One card is a Master card, and the other card is a slave card. I believe there are three Crossfire cards:

    X850 XT Crossfire: $349
    X800 256MB Crossfire: $299
    X800 128MB Crossfire: $199

    Note that I'm not positive on the prices, but the original MSRPs for R4xx Crossfire have all dropped substantially. The X850 XT CF can be used with any X850 series card, the X800 cards are the same, but you would want to get the version with the same amount of RAM as your existing GPU.

    Now, here's where things are a bit tricky. At present, let's say you don't have an ATI R4xx card. If you want Crossfire for such a platform, you need to buy a regular card as well as a Crossfire card, and the CF card needs to be in the primary slot. As Wes (or Derek?) stated, you can upgrade in stages if you want by purchasing the CF card first. To my knowledge, you cannot use two CF cards together - I could be wrong on this, but I think you want one card to *not* have the compositing chip and DMS port.

    Hope that answers your question.
    Reply
  • anandtechrocks - Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - link

    I agree, this board looks amazing! Might be time to sell the DFI NF4 Ultra-D. I really like how the voltages are in decimal increments instead of the precentages like in my Ultra-D. Reply

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