So, lots of people were asking really good questions about Lucid and their Hydra engine after we posted the initial story on it. We had the opportunity to sit down with them and ask some of those and other questions. And they had quite a lot of really interesting things to say.

From a mile high and the promise of hardware not this year but next, it is tough to really get a good understanding of exactly what's going on and what the implications of this hardware could be if they can deliver on what they say they can. We'll do our best to explain what we know and also what the pitfalls could be.

First, let's address the issue of the box we showed off in the previous coverage. No it will not need an external device. Lucid has designed this to be solution that can be dropped onto a motherboard or a graphics card so integration and user experience should be seamless.

This would be even more transparent than SLI and CrossFire because not even an internal bridge would be needed. Just plug any two cards from the same vendor (and i think they also need to use the same driver version though this is less than clear) and performance will scale linearly with the capabilities of each card.

They did mention the fact that they can implement a solution in an external box for notebooks. For those who need something portable but want high end graphics at home, they could just attach the graphics cards linked with a Hyrda 100 (via PCIe over cables) to the notebook. Not ideal, but it still offers some advantages over high end internal cards (especially in the area of heat) that you might not need when you're on the road.

Sound too good to be true? Yes. Did we see it working? Sure. Do we have performance numbers? Not yet. So there's the rub for us. We really want to put this thing through its paces before we sign off on it. Running on both UT3 and Crysis (DX9 only for now -- DX10 before the product ships though) is cool, but claiming application agnostic linear scaling over an arbitrary number of GPUs of differing capability is a tough pill to swallow without independent confirmation.

We asked them for hardware, and we really hope they'll get us some sooner rather than later. They seemed interested in letting us test it as well. Even if we can't publish numbers on it, it would go a long way for us being more excited about the product if we could run our own benchmarks on it just to see for ourselves.

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  • pool1892 - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    i think it is possible to build a solution like this, but this thing has a lot to do, on-the-fly qos and scheduling and optimizing and so on. with data in the gigabits/s. sounds like a heavy duty cisco switch.
    i can imagine this working, but the chip will be a heavyweight - and it will be power consuming and expensive.
    and it only has potential in the marketplace if the price premium for a mainboard with hydra beats the faster graphics you can buy for this premium. that will be tough.
    larrabee is as usual a totally different animal, hydra could very well be a software feature for it (esp. with qpi in gen 2)
  • pool1892 - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    gotta correct myself - after a little diggin: the hydra is a tensilica diamond based programmable risc controller with custom logic around it running at 225mhz. it uses about 5watt. this is a tiny chip, it might be affordable. (but how is liquid going to earn money? and: they have to optimize their driver and the the programmable parts of the chip for different rendering techniques in different games - who is paying for that?)
  • Goty - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    I don't see this as a bad thing for GPU makers, personally. Since ATI no longer has anything like the "master card" for crossfire, as long as they're selling two GPUs to people running multi-card systems, they're not losing out. Sure, they may lose a bit of money on the mainboard side of things since consumers will be able to use any chipset they want with this technology, but the margin on the GPU silicon is probably higher than that on the chipset side, anyhow.
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    "Lucid also makes what seems like a ridiculous claim. They say that in some cases they could see higher than linear scaling. The reason they claim this should be possible is that the CPU will be offloaded by their hardware and doesn't need to worry about as much so that overall system performance will go up. We sort of doubt this, and hearing such claims makes us nervous. They did state that this was not the norm, but rather the exception. If it happens at all it would have to be the exception, but it still seems way too out there for me to buy it."

    Come now guys . . . if a CPU dependent game such as World in Conflict could offload the CPU 10%, would it not make sense that the CPU could do an additional 10%, thus offering more performance ? I am not saying I believe this is possible myself, but taking Lucid at their word, this just makes sense to me.

    "The demo we saw behind closed doors with Lucid did show a video playing on one 9800 GT while the combination of it and one other 9800 GT worked together to run Crysis DX9 with the highest possible settings at 40-60 fps (in game) with a resolution of 1920x1200. Since I've not tested Crysis DX9 mode on 9800 GT I have no idea how good this is, but it at least sounds nice."

    Just going from this review, and assuming you meant a 9800GTX/GTX+: 47-41 FPS average with 16x AF/ 0x AA.

    "An explanation for this is the fact that the Hydra software can keep requesting and queuing up tasks beyond what graphics cards could do, so that the CPU is able to keep going and send more graphics API calls than it would normally. This seems like it would introduce more lag to us, but they assured us that the opposite is true. If the Hydra engine speeds things up over all, that's great. But it certainly takes some time to do its processing and we'd love to know what it is."

    Wait a minute . . . did you not just mention on a previous page somewhere that the number of cards implemented were limited due to latency implications ? . . .

    "Of course, while it seems like an all or nothing situation that would serve no purpose but to destroy the experience of end users, NVIDIA and ATI have lots of resources to work on this sort of "problem" and I'm sure they'll try their best to come up with something. Maybe one day they'll wake up and realize (especially if one starts to dominate over the other other) that Microsoft and Intel got slammed with antitrust suits for very similar practices."

    OR, they could just purchase the company outright, which seems to me what Lucid may have been aiming for to begin with. After that the buying company could do whatever they please, such as kill the project. or completely decimate the opposite camp *if* the hardware truely does what it claims. At least where gaming is concerned . . . and we all know that IGP's make up for a very large portion of home systems.

    Now what I have to say is that this totally smells like the gaming Physics "fiasco". Buy the hardware now, and the hardware is dead in a year or two. Sure a few games implemented features that leveraged these cards, but do you think developers are going to write code for hardware that has gone way of the dodo ? Probably not.

    The idea is interesting yes, but I will believe it when I see the hardware on sale at the egg . . .
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    it was not 9800 gtx cards -- they were GT cards ... lower performance, single slot.

    also game devs wont have to optimize for it, so there is no problem with them ignoring the situation -- if it works it works
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    9800GTX/GTX+ benchmarks --->">
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link">9800 GT FTW!

    Basically, performance is closer (identical) to that of 8800 GT. You know, this goes along with the whole "let's rename 8800 GT and 8800 GTS 512MB to 9800 parts, because after all G92 is GeForce 9 hardware." Why the 8800 GT was ever launched with that name remains something of a mystery... well, except that performance was about the same as 8800 GTX.
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    So basically just a 8800GTS with fewer ROPs ? nVidias naming convention definitely leaves a lot to be desired : /
  • Lakku - Saturday, August 23, 2008 - link

    Who are nVidia and AMD/ATi supposed to strong arm in this situation? I don't think they would be in any kind of position to strong arm ANYONE, if this works as advertised. Why? Because they'd have to strong arm Intel (apparently a very big investor into this tech and company) to do so, and that's just not going to happen. Intel only need put this on their own Intel branded gaming or consumer boards, and/or Intel can strong arm Asus and the others into putting this chip onto their motherboards if they want Intel chipsets, still by far the best selling PC chipsets. If this works as advertised, it's probably Intel who will be the biggest winner... and maybe us end users in some way, provided Intel and this company don't charge outrageous prices for this tech.
  • djc208 - Monday, August 25, 2008 - link

    Easy, like the author stated nVidia just writes in some code that looks for the Hydra software or hardware and shuts down parts of the driver. Therefore you can't use their hardware on a system running or equiped with Hydra. If it was a unified front then Intel will have only Larabee to use with this for gaming.

    Problem I see is that it could upset the market if the boycot isn't universal. If ATI let their hardware work with this and nVidia didn't then it could seriously hurt nVidia, as there would be even less reason to go with their chipsets or graphics cards at the high end, where nVidia likes to play.

    More likely is that ATI/nVidia will quickly push out something along the same lines and now we'll have three competing solutions, and then ATI and nVidia will lock out Hydra since they offer an alternative, just like now.

    All this assumes that Hydra works the way it's said to, if not then all bets are off.

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