A Look at the Hydra Software

At the center of all of this is the Hydra software, which as we said before is where much of the magic is happening.

Once installed, the Hydra software sets up a control panel that allows the user to enable/disable the Hydra feature, and to adjust game profiles.

Yeah, you read that right – we still haven’t completely escaped profiles.

At its highest level, the Hydra software is generic. It looks at just D3D/OpenGL commands and decides where to go from there. However the process isn’t perfect, and a lot of games encounter errors with the current drivers. So in order to keep the Hydra feature from being enabled on games that can’t handle it, Lucid keeps a list of approved games, which are built into the software as profiles.

Think of this as lite-profiles however. The profiles are simply a list of executables that the Hydra feature has been tested on and approved; the profiles aren’t a list of game-specific optimizations like NVIDIA and AMD’s game profiles are, and as far as we can tell Lucid isn’t doing any other game detection in the drivers, so it’s as generic as they claim. To this extent, the profiles serve largely as a list of recommended games, rather than an absolute list. You can easily add additional game profiles to the list, however there’s obviously no guarantee that they will work correctly with the Hydra.

The latest version of the Hydra driver is version 1.4, which was released this past week. The Fuzion board is shipping with 1.3, while the 1.4 drivers will be available for download.

Currently only Direct3D 9, 10, 10.1, and OpenGL are supported. The Hydra software does not support DirectX 11 (not that you currently have a lot of cards to choose from), which is something Lucid will be adding in March with the 1.5 drivers. Also coming in the 1.5 drivers will be much more generic support for video cards. Right now the software only supports video cards on a hardcoded list (e.g. the 1.3 drivers didn’t know about the Radeon 5000 series), with the 1.5 drivers they will recognize and support every card within an entire family, including unreleased cards. So a Radeon 5860 for example would be supported, which means the drivers won’t be out of date the moment someone releases a minor new card variant.

Speaking of new releases, we asked Lucid about what the software support policy is for the Hydra. They are planning on quarterly releases (1.4 being their Q4’09 release), which worries us somewhat. The issue is that the Hydra technology runs the risk of being out of date for months at a time. When NVIDIA launches Fermi, it won’t immediately work with the Hydra. If a hot new game comes out and doesn’t already work with the Hydra, you’ll have to wait. Lucid has said that they’re willing to do minor drops if a situation particularly demands it, but it’s not a concrete promise like quarterly driver releases are. And to be fair we encounter these things with NVIDIA and AMD as well, but AMD and NVIDIA have proven to be fairly reliable in getting beta/hotfix drivers out when it counts.

For anyone curious, Lucid has said that it takes them on average a couple of weeks of work on their end to build in support for a new family of video cards. When Fermi is released, potentially it may be supported by the Hydra in a short period of time.

Finally, we’ll quickly cover some terms that Lucid is using to describe various card configurations. A-Mode is the name for running 2 AMD cards. N-Mode is for running 2 NVIDIA cards. And X-Mode is for running a mixed pair of cards. This matters since some games don’t work with all of the modes.

The unfortunate state of reality for the Hydra technology right now is that the game support is still rather limited. In the last month Lucid has been putting most of their effort into getting X-Mode working (in the 1.3 drivers, it only worked on a couple of games, now it’s 40+) since X-Mode only became possible later last year with the launch of Windows 7. A-Mode and N-Mode are better supported than X-Mode, with between 60 and 70 games supported depending on the specific mode.

Besides working on X-Mode, Lucid has been working on various games based on a triage list of sorts to decide what gets added first. They’re effectively adding games based on their popularity & sales, which means that many popular games are already on the list.

Under normal circumstances we would agree with this list, but launching the Hydra with the Fuzion first presents us with an odd situation. Most popular games aren’t graphically intensive games, but the Fuzion is quite the expensive motherboard. What this means is that we can’t imagine anyone is going to pair the Fuzion with anything less than an equivalently-priced video card, which at this point in time would be the Radeon 5850. The Radeon 5850 runs just about everything well, in fact it’s a challenge for us to come up with things it doesn’t run well. The things it doesn’t run well, like Crysis and Battleforge, aren’t fully-supported games. So the Hydra is of limited utility at this point in time if it can’t be used to pair up powerful cards on graphically intensive games.

Where AFR Is Mediocre, and How Hydra Can Be Better The Test & Our Results


View All Comments

  • liveonc - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - link

    Hydra is still pretty raw, but can it be the One Chip to rule them all, One Chip to find them, One Chip to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie? CPU, GPU, GPGPU wars comming to a standstill, where it doesn't matter if you use an Intel, AMD, Nvidia or Ati. Reply
  • Focher - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I think people should really give Lucid their due in regards to proving the underlying concept - that it is feasible to deliver mixed frame rendering in real time. Granted, the technology still seems immature but one has to remember that AMD and NVIDIA have both rejected the approach at this point.

    I'm still prepared to wait and see how the technology - and not just the current approach from Lucid - evolves. For example, perhaps AMD and NVIDIA will put some RnD efforts into multi-GPU cards that are better equipped at mixed frame rendering. Having it all on the same board could alleviate some of the bottlenecks.
  • Baron Fel - Sunday, January 10, 2010 - link

    Crysis has a 91 at Metacritic and sold millions.

    Just wanted to point that out.
  • x86 64 - Saturday, January 9, 2010 - link

    I thought the Hydra didn't do SLI\CF through software? I thought that was one of the main benefits of Hydra, no software profiles were needed. The preliminary results you guys posted are less than impressive. Not to sound like a pessimist but I figured it was too good to be true. Reply
  • Focher - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I think the term "profiles" isn't appropriate, as the review suggests it's more of a whitelist than any type of profile with customized settings for the specific game. Reply
  • prophet001 - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    The implications of this technology are tremendous. I'm rather surprised at people brushing it off. It is fledgling and will obviously need some work but they will be able to do some really neat things once this matures. I'm thinking GPU farm via external PCI-E. Reply
  • hyvonen - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    "We’ll start with Call of Juarez, which is one of the Hydra’s better titles. With our 5850s in Crossfire, we get 94fps, which is just less than double the performance of a single 5850 (49.5)."

    Don't mean "... we get 94fps, which is more than double the performance of a single 5850 (49.5)."

    Or, on other words, WFT happened - how do you get more than double the performance with CF?!?!? Something got messed up in your test here, bro.
  • Veerappan - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    Read it again... He's saying that the 94fps that they got is just slightly LESS THAN double 49.5 fps. So if a single 5850 gets 49.5 fps, double that is 99 fps.

    They got 94 fps, which is just a little bit less than 99.
  • jmurbank - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    To me Lucid got something going but they should have done it differently. If they created the Hydra chip to be an on-board graphics chip and dispatcher, things will be different. Right now all they have is a dispatcher chip that uses a discrete graphics card to output video which makes it have multiple bottlenecks. It will be better if the Hydra output the graphics on on its own through its own display port while all the processing is done by the discrete graphics cards using stream processing technology like CAL (ATI) and CUDA (nVidia).

    Of course bad drivers screws up everything. Have look at ATI's history. ATI still makes poor software, but people do not mind. It seems people care more about performance than reliable and stable drivers. I care more about reliable and stable drivers, so it screws up my day if my computer crashes because of a driver.
  • beginner99 - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    The worst thing you can do is promise stuff you can't deliver. it's sad. After these first benchmark, the tech will just have a bad reputation even if it will get better over time. Intel way would have been better. Just don't release it at all if it's an underperformer.

    I do see that it must we extremly complex to get this running at all. So it's actually quite an achievment but it's similar to cars. Combustion engines have been optimized during the last 100 years. No wonder no new technology can compete.
    Maybe in 1-2 years this will be usable. If lucid is still alive then...Don't believe many will buy this board.

    I also was rather suprised about CF. Used to be quite bad too as I remember? Probably due to a driver update? And how nows what nvidia or ATI is doing in there drivers. I assume they could put in stuff to cripple hydra on purpose.

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