Articles: Graphics

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Multi-GPU technologies that allow to combine a few GPUs into a single top-performance graphics subsystem have never been truly recognized and accepted by the user community. Historically, no such technology had ever really taken off, from antediluvian artifacts such as 3dfx Voodoo2 SLI and ATI Rage MAXX to recent solutions from ATI and Nvidia. At some point you could get certain performance benefits by using such technologies (often accompanied with all manner of technical and software problems, though) but the next generation of GPUs would always be faster than a multi-processor system built out of previous-generation GPUs.

But as it transpired recently, the system requirements of modern game engines had been growing far faster than the capabilities of monolithic graphics cores that might be able to meet those requirements. The release of the Radeon HD 3870 X2 was the first sign of the changing situation even though that graphics card was introduced only because ATI didn’t have competitive premium-class GPUs then. The dual-processor card performed well in 3D applications and indicated ATI’s new approach to building top-performance premium-class solutions. Ironically, it was the lack of a fast monolithic core that helped ATI to see its future strategy. In our review of the Radeon HD 3870 X2 we wrote that ATI’s introduction of the multi-GPU graphics card was just a tactical decision. It was kind of forced on the company. But it actually marked the beginning of a new era.

Nvidia also introduced a dual-processor premium-class solution of its own making but the GeForce 9800 GX2 was not much of a success. The graphics card suffered from all manner of typical problems while the developer abandoned it and focused again on creating yet another monolithic monster chip. And they did create it. But soon after the announcement of ATI’s new solutions it turned out that the G200 chip, notwithstanding its huge size, tremendous complexity and high power consumption, was not overwhelmingly better than the simpler RV770. It could even be slower in some situations! Nvidia even had to cut the prices on GeForce GTX 200 series products to make them competitive.

AMD’s graphics department, the former ATI Technologies, was calm, relying on its new strategy. The company’s $199 and $299 solutions delivered superb performance and enjoyed deserved popularity. And ATI was ready to strike the final blow and dethrone Nvidia completely by introducing a new generation of Radeon HD X2. The announcement of this product was delayed to August 12, although the RV770 chip had been introduced on June 25. They were in no hurry just because Nvidia had nothing to respond with. ATI put all that time to good use in order to polish off its new generation of dual-processor graphics card to perfection. Now it’s time for us to check out the results.

The Radeon HD 4870 X2 is originally targeted at the over-$500 segment. To avoid a gap in the product line-up, the less expensive Radeon HD 4850 X2 is released into the below-$400 sector.

Thus, ATI covered every price range from $199 to $549 and challenged Nvidia where the latter had been superior. We will see if AMD can win the battle in this review. Welcome the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2!

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