No matter how high the speed in 3D games is, there are always people who would like to have it higher and higher. This process is generally known as graphics chips’ constant evolution and promised to leap performance forward every six to twelve months sometimes in the late nineties, when graphics chip designers started the race that continues nowadays. But there is something that can deliver you the next-generation performance here and now, which is beyond evolution, this is multi-GPU.
Multi-GPU: Seduction for Unbeatable 3D Graphics Performance
Both ATI Technologies and NVIDIA Corporation deliver astonishing speed with their RADEON X8 and GeForce 6800 graphics processors these days. Nevertheless, even today there are demanding applications that do not run perfectly even on the top graphics cards. It is obvious that those applications will play blisteringly fast with all the eye-candy set to the max on the next-generation graphics cards, but what if someone wants to play those games with amazing quality at this moment? Graphics cards designers have known the answer for ages: just put two graphics cards into one system and get performance close to unbelievable.
3dfx Voodoo 2 SLI
Ages ago, in 1997 to be precise, 3dfx Interactive offered a technology called Scanline Interleaving (SLI) that allowed to install two graphics cards, or equal amount of chips on one board for professional apps, into one system and get higher performance in 3D games. The idea found its supporters and graphics chips designers realized the power of multi-chip approach: 3dfx later released its Voodoo 5 that could sport up to 4 VSA-100 graphics chips, while ATI put two Rage Fury Pro chips onto one board.
In fact, both 3dfx Voodoo 5 and ATI Rage Fury MAXX were virtually forced to be made by very high performance NVIDIA’s GeForce 256 and GeForce 2 GTS products had to offer. Neither Voodoo 5, nor Rage Fury MAXX, became popular, but could formally showcase ability of 3dfx and ATI to compete against NVIDIA.
3dfx Voodoo 5 5500
There were strong rumors about possibility of launching dual-RADEON 256 graphics card to beat the GeForce 2 Ultra and GeForce 3, but ATI has never released such a product for consumer market possibly due to its high cost. Probably those multi-RADEON applications were used for some aerospace simulators, though. Starting from late 2001, ATI’s RADEON 8500 were used in simulators by Evans & Sutherland, then, in late 2002, ATI announced that its RADEON 9700 PRO graphics chips were used by E&S’ other simulation systems. In mid-2003 ATI said its graphics processors were used in multi-GPU solutions by SGI.
For sometime no multi-GPU solutions for consumer market were available until in late 2003 XGI Technology launched its Volari Duo product lineup that featured two chips. The Volari Duo V8 Ultra was also a graphics card which development was also forced by performance of ATI RADEON 9800- and NVIDIA GeForce 5900-series based devices. Needless to say that XGI’s product did not win benchmarks and did not become widespread.
NVIDIA’s GeForce Scalable Link Interface (SLI) made a loud marketing noise in mid-2004 and was finally adopted by numerous gamers seeking for extreme speed in early 2005, demonstrating that there indeed is a market for such kind of solutions despite of their pricing of about $800 for graphics cards alone. Despite of the fact that the GeForce 6800 Ultra delivered performance close to that of the RADEON X800 XT Platinum Edition, NVIDIA probably had an unconquerable seduction to add another GPU and beat ATI’s top offering by a substantial margin. Putting aside the issues SLI may have, NVIDIA succeeded – the absolutely fast graphics solution today comes from its camp. Naturally, ATI just did not want to eat humble pie: it has yielded to temptation and now brings its own multi-GPU technology to the market to prove its perfection.
NVIDIA GeForce 6 SLI
There is a huge difference between multi-GPU technologies “then” and “now”. Earlier they were either professional or were required to be made because competition had superior single-chip offering(s). Today professional solutions remain multi-chip, whereas consumer multi-GPU products are made not because of poor performance of single-chip cards, but because there is a relatively small market of gamers (perhaps, about a quarter of a million configurations yearly) who care to buy graphics sub-systems at virtually any cost.