ATI Crosses Swords: First Try
Before the release of NVIDIA’s SLI, the RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition graphics card from ATI Technologies was the performance leader in the market of consumer graphics solutions. It surpassed the GeForce 6800 Ultra due to its higher clock rates, more efficient memory controller and increased speed at processing version 2.0 pixel shaders. Not supporting Shader Model 3.0 and OpenEXR HDR, the card was functionally inferior to NV45-based devices, but its performance was really higher in a majority of applications. The arrival of a technology that could join two NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra or GT graphics cards into a single, even though very expensive, graphics subsystem dethroned the RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition immediately, stripping ATI of the crown of the manufacturer of the fastest graphics solution. Even the RADEON X850 XT Platinum Edition released a little later couldn’t wrest the crown from SLI configurations based on NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra and GT.
Being the main market opponent to NVIDIA, ATI Technologies couldn’t let this just pass. Rumors began to spread out immediately after the release of NVIDIA’s SLI that ATI was working on its own project called AMR – ATI Multi Rendering. ATI should be given credit as an experienced developer of multi-chip graphics solutions. At least, GPUs from this company work in professional simulation & visualization systems manufactured by Evans & Sutherland since 2001 and in SGI’s systems since 2003. ATI’s technology was expected to be free from the main downsides of NVIDIA’s SLI – to be more configuration-flexible by allowing to use different graphics cards, to be independent from the driver’s support, to synchronize the two GPUs via the PCI Express bus thus making a connecting adapter between the cards unnecessary.
The reality turned to be different, as usual. ATI officially announced its CrossFire technology on May 30, 2005. The technology lacked the expected flexibility of configuration. CrossFire-compatible cards are divided into Masters and Slaves and these are to be joined by means of a special external link. More expectedly, it turned out two different graphics cards (for example, a RADEON X800 and a RADEON X700) could not be used in a CrossFire system. Well, it would be very hard to ensure stable operation of such a system while the performance gain would be very small or even negative due to the problem of load distribution between two different GPUs. Master cards – equipped with a special frame-combining chip – were announced for RADEON X800 and RADEON X850 only.
Alas, CrossFire has only remained on paper ever since its announcement on May, 30. Real products – mainboards and graphics cards – were expected in June and July of this year, but after numerous delays due to some technological problems they still did not appear. Moreover, CrossFire took so long to reach the market that NVIDIA managed to release its new-generation graphics processor G70 in the meanwhile. G70-based graphics cards soon came to the shops and thus devaluated SLI configurations with two GeForce 6800 Ultra. As a result, the perspectives of CrossFire grew less certain, at least in its current, RADEON X850/X800-based incarnation.