ATI's Answer to SLI: CrossFire (The Motherboard)

As with NVIDIA's multi-card graphics solution launch, ATI is bringing to market their Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire-Edition chipset. Motherboards based around CrossFire will feature 2 physical PCI Express x16 slots with x8 electrical connections. If the motherboard manufacturer implements it, the second PCI Express slot does not require a selector card and can be used with any other x8 or lower device. When only one graphics card is installed, the BIOS is capable of reconfiguring dynamically the number of lanes that the PCI Express slots run, provided that the motherboard includes support for this feature. Some vendors will sell motherboards set up just like NVIDIA's solutions (more on that later).

Limiting the cards to only 2 x8 PCI Express connections may be a bottleneck if a game makes heavy use of the bus. Of course, we will run into similar issues with NVIDIA's solutions when paired with games that are PCI Express intensive. Unfortunately, as none yet exist, testing of this category of application is very difficult.

The Xpress 200 CrossFire-Edition is also capable of supporting integrated graphics. One excellent feature of the Xpress 200 CrossFire system is that, on boards where the OEM has included integrated graphics and two display outputs, 6 displays can be driven simultaneously (two from the integrated graphics, two from the standard Radeon, and two from the CrossFire card). Having the ability to support so many displays, while also offering the speed up of multiple GPUs is quite compelling; especially if ATI allows multiple GPU operation alongside multiple display support.

The need to buy a new motherboard in order to upgrade to a multiple GPU solution will likely keep some people from upgrading, but NVIDIA's solutions have the same problem. The fact that CrossFire is only being offered for the X800 and X850 series does limit the upgrade potential at this point. We have been recommending against using multi GPU solutions as an upgrade path option, but offering that freedom is still a plus.

ATI has given us the indication that CrossFire should work on Intel Chipsets as well as their own. This could give new life to those Intel designs originally targeted at SLI. Though not explicitly stating that CrossFire will work in an NVIDIA SLI board, it definitely seems possible. From an adoption/compatibility standpoint, ATI is certainly "evaluating other options".

There is also no physical reason why SLI cards could not work in an ATI Xpress CrossFire-Edition motherboard. The only thing that should stand in the way of this combination is NVIDIA's driver support. With the price premium that NVIDIA charges for their SLI chipset, it is clear that they want to discourage users from going another route. As they had owned the market on multi GPU solutions until now, that was an option. Now that ATI is throwing some competition in the ring, it would not be smart to exclude potential customers from using SLI just because of their motherboard choice.

Index ATI’s Answer to SLI: CrossFire (The Card)


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  • Panndor - Monday, June 13, 2005 - link

    Lets hope that this endevor by ATI doesn't end up in the same situation at the RAGE Fury Maxx they came up with. The last time they tried this they screwed it up and then cut support for the card like it never existed.

    Looks promising, but I could see problems if they allow different hardware to run in a combined mode as well.

    Competition is good so maybe this will bring down the price of the boards and the cards now.
  • vision33r - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    Those 2 X850XT PE cards add up to $1000+ alone while price of 6800U are going down.

    I think the biggest prob is not if this works or not, is if the mainboard performance is sacrificed due to the ATI north-bridge. I don't gave 90% of the time on my system, I can't sacrifice losing system performance for gaming perf.
  • xsilver - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    what's funny is that a few months after the xfire is released, nvidia will probably announce SLI v2.0 and then everyone will talk about how that's so cool Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #49 & #50 - The Uli 1573 we've seen paired with Crossfire DOES suport NCQ. this was confirmed this afternoon with engineers here at Computex. The upcoming ULI 1575 southtridge supports both Sata 2 and NCQ.

    We also saw demos of Splinter Cell on Crossfire with the 2.0 Shader. The demos were at 1280x1024 with all eye candy enabled. Frame rates in the various demos were 118 to 120. Since we did not have reference benches for Splinter Cell, it didn't make much sense to publish these results in the launch article. What we have seen is very promising, but we need more "hands-on" benchmarking before we can say much more.

    Wesley Fink
  • mkruer - Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - link

    #51 That is the real question to be answered. My guess is that ATI will work on a SLI board and visa versa unless there is something specifically in hard coded that prevents the second slot from being used by anything other the chipsets manufactures video card, which is highly unlikely. From the BIOS and driver standpoint the MB is either has 1x16 PCIex slot or 2x8 PCIex slots. Reply
  • elecrzy - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    its possible to have Crossfire work on the NF4/945/955. Its just that ATI won't support them through the drivers. Sigh... Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    Does the ULi southbridge have NCQ support? Reply
  • weblizard - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    No Sata II or NCQ support. That's all I need to know to NOT want a crossfire system. Reply
  • bob661 - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    I had the Abit board with the AMD chipset on it. Worked flawlessly. I gave it to a friend when I upgraded that box and it was running until last year when he upgraded his box.
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    26# That was the 760MPX or the dual processor chipset. Don't recall any irongate issues (that was 750, 760 was the DDR version, right?) Reply

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