The Multi-GPU market is a very important one to a number of companies, yet it is presently only dominated by one: NVIDIA.

We have to hand it to NVIDIA, even though they had some problems with SLI early on, they managed to turn a slightly bumpy start into complete dominance of the Multi-GPU market in a year's time. And NVIDIA couldn't be happier; the incredible attraction to SLI, either from an upgrader's perspective or from the desire to have the absolute best in performance means that NVIDIA gets to sell one of their most expensive chipsets, and a potential of two GPUs to each customer. Three chips from one company in a single system? Only Intel had been able to accomplish such a feat in the past.

But what about ATI and their fabled CrossFire solution? Historically ATI hadn't done well at all at getting any sort of end user penetration with their chipsets, but they finally got somewhere with their latest CrossFire chipsets. What's even more amazing is that it wasn't the support for CrossFire that sold the motherboards either, it was the excellent overclocking features and end-user centric nature of the reference platform. CrossFire too might have been a success, had ATI done more copying of NVIDIA rather than taking a different approach this time around.

While the performance of the CrossFire X850 XT was respectable, the total package didn't make any sense. What we wanted was an ATI version of NVIDIA's SLI platform, instead we got a mess of master cards you couldn't buy and dongles that gave us more problems during testing than even the earliest SLI testing we did. And to make matters worse: there was a not-so-nice resolution limitation of 1600 x 1200, which is fine for mid-range offerings, but for a pair of Radeon X850 XTs running in parallel, you really need to be at higher resolutions to truly get the benefit of (at the time) $1000 worth of graphics cards. Even if you didn't heed our warnings, ignored the fact that NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GTX was a better buy and still wanted a pair of X850 XTs on a CrossFire motherboard - you couldn't: the required master card wasn't available.

You know what they say, if at first you don't succeed... So we're back here today with the CrossFire solution that should have been: the ATI Radeon X1800 CrossFire Edition. The dongle is still there, as is the master card, but the resolution limit isn't and ATI's finally using a GPU that is a worthy competitor to the 7800 GTX. This time around, ATI has a chance and now, more than ever, do they need it.

The success of CrossFire means much more than whether or not ATI ends up at the top of some silly graphs; it will determine whether or not ATI has a chance at stealing away some of NVIDIA's very profitable Multi-GPU business. And believe it or not, CrossFire's success is very important to Intel. Intel's soon to be launched 975X platform will ship with full CrossFire support, but NVIDIA hasn't blessed it with SLI support, so Intel's only chance to be taken seriously as a high end gaming platform is with ATI's assistance.

A successful CrossFire could mean that Intel would have added leverage against NVIDIA, maybe even pressuring them into bringing SLI support to Intel's chipsets, as they would no longer have the exclusive on viable Multi-GPU. With both ATI and Intel very interested in the success of the launch, we're curious to see how it turns out. And we're sure you are too.

ATI: The A is for Availability?


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  • almvtb - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    Has anyone ever compared SLI and crossfire performance using a dual core compared to just a single core cpu? I mean if there is enough overhead for sli or crossfire a dual core chip could improve performance. Reply
  • kristof007 - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    I don't know if that dual core thing would work. I mean it might but the two slower CPUs would not help in my opinion. Games are single threaded so the multi CPU wouldn't take off the overhead .. at least that's my knowledge of it. Reply
  • almvtb - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    See I thought that was a big deal with one of the latest Nvidia driver releases. That it was made multithreaded so that in a situation such as when you have sli or any other kind of driver overhead it would be taken care of by the a second core if one existed. I do not know it was just a thought that i had never seen discussed, so I thought I would ask. Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    That was an ATI driver release that had the multithreading stuff, I think. Reply
  • kilkennycat - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    We shall shortly soon find out whether Crossfire is serious or just a ATi marketing straw-grabbing ploy to get some suckers (er, "enthusiasts") not to buy SLI. If the compositor is fully integrated into EVERY R580 GPU, (thus never requiring a masterboard and implementing the board communications via a passive bridge a la nVidia) then we shall finally know that ATI is serious with Crossfire. It was probably a stupid cheese-pairing management decision not to integrate the Crossfire functionality fully into the R520 GPU, or else Crossfire does not have enthusiastic support from ATI engineering and is purely a ATi marketing ploy anyway. The R580 details will reveal the truth. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    What changed since the">Battlefield 2 GPU Performance Analysis article? It seemed like you were able to demonstrate the advantages of SLI in those benchmarks.

  • bob661 - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    I think AT has a different benchmark now for BF2. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Thursday, December 22, 2005 - link

    As far as I know the only thing that has changed along the way are the addition of BF2 patches (according to the overclocking the Athlon X2 article, they are up to using the 1.03 patch) and newer nvidia drivers. I believe they are still creating a demo and running it with the timedemo option. With this being such a popular game (BF2), it seems like it would be worthwhile to confirm whether SLI/Crossfire does or does not offer significant improvements for BF2. Reply
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - link

    Ya, DICE seems to screw up demos with new BF2 patches. Reply
  • ElFenix - Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - link

    i wonder if you can change b&w2's name to make the score go up as well. maybe there is poor optimization going on in the catalyst AI? Reply

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