Before we draw our conclusions about ATI CrossFire technology, let us share our personal impressions of this platform with you first:
- The mainboard PCB layout of the ATI’s reference board leaves much to be desired, although the great number of additional features supported by this mainboard should definitely be given proper credit.
- We experienced some problems with the installation of Microsoft Windows XP and couldn’t use 1GB memory modules from OCZ in our system, which may indicate that there are problems with the current BIOS version of the ATI RADEON ZPRESS 200 CrossFire Edition mainboard for AMD Athlon 64 processors.
- The stability of this platform didn’t arouse any concerns during the test session, which is natural for soon-to-be-available product.
- Unfortunately, ATI CrossFire software is still far from perfection, which we could clearly see during our test session.
- We would like to specifically mention the SuperAA image quality.
ATI Multi-GPU CrossFire: Myths and Reality
Just like its primary competitor, ATI managed to declare a lot of advantages for its CrossFire technology compared with the rivalry multi-GPU SLI. We criticized NVIDIA SLI technology and the developer’s praising promotion-like statements pretty severely back in the days. The things we said early this year remained acute up until now and we have to admit that they are also true for ATI CrossFire from many stand points.
The current incarnation of ATI CrossFire has one serious drawback for CRT monitor owners, namely, the maximum resolution it supports is 1600x1200 with 60Hz refresh rate. Unfortunately, it is also impossible to connect HDTV for CrossFire mode via the composite connector of RADEON X850 XT, which limits the application field for this technology even more. In fact, the only user group that will be able to use the 1600x1200 resolution on ATI CrossFire platform efficiently is the owners of large LCD panels.
RADEON X8 CrossFire Edition graphics cards can really be paired with any X800 and X850 cards from any vendors, which proves that this solution is highly flexible in terms of compatibility. However, if you have two graphics cards, one with 16 and another one with 12 pixel pipelines, we will actually get a pair of cards with 12 active pixel processors each and hence will not be able to support SuperTiling. As a result, there will be no tremendous performance increase from the second graphics accelerator in the system.
Although ATI introduced the so-called Compositing Engine, it didn’t completely eliminate the dependence of the system performance on the drivers in the multi-GPU mode. ATI CrossFire requires performance optimizations for each particular game, just like NVIDIA SLI. As a result, we can see the performance growing up high in some games, while remaining unchanged or even dropping down in other ones.
Just like with NVIDIA SLI 10 months ago, we cannot say that idea of CrossFire is bad or defective. However, the current situation is hardly favorable for getting a CrossFire based system. As for the solution offered by some ATI partners, namely to buy a second CrossFire Edition graphics card to upgrade the video system, it will hardly arouse a lot of enthusiasm, because many users will also have to replace their mainboard with a CrossFire one. It is much easier to go for a single GeForce 7800 GT, GeForce 7800 GTX or the upcoming RADEON X1800 XT, which is anticipated to be as fast as a pair of RADEON X850 XT cards but will not depend on the driver support for the given games and will definitely have no resolution limitations.