A leading producer of high-end computers for gamers and professionals – Alienware – revealed some additional details about its new initiative to install two graphics cards into one PC for hardcore gamers. It seems that the new ALX computers will greatly use Intel’s server technologies to make games run faster.
Alienware ALX – New Ultimate Performers
Last week it was announced that Alienware will come up with ALX computers for gamers that will eventually handle two high-end PCI Express graphics cards for extreme performance in conventional 3D games. The most advanced versions of ALX PCs that are slated for release in Q4 2004 will come with Intel Tumwater-based X2 mainboard featuring 2 PCI Express x16 slots and will allow installation of two identical graphics cards into one PC.
However, ALX brand-name does not necessarily mean that the PC comes with two graphics cards. The ALX systems form luxurious ultra high-performance PC lineup that will be available starting from June 2004.
Forget About 3dfx’s SLI
Despite of some earlier assumptions, Alienware’s technology is claimed to be proprietary, patent-pending and has nothing to do with existing techniques, e.g. 3dfx SLI.
“Alienware is using an exclusive software solution as well as a video merger hub. Both solutions are patent pending and were developed in house by Alienware. In addition Alienware has developed a dual PCI-Express graphics slot motherboard (X2). This motherboard is exclusive to Alienware and is also patent pending. To Alienware’s knowledge, no other motherboard currently supports dual PCI-Express graphics slots,” the company’s spokeswoman said.
The dual graphics cards option will not require driver support from the graphics card manufacturers. The system was designed to be stand alone using Alienware’s Video Array (including software and merger hub) and X2 mainboard.
Video Array Technology divides the screen in multiple parts, in contrast to 3dfx’s SLI that required every single line to be rendered by different graphics card. In the case of using two video cards, the screen is divided, vertically, in two parts: one video card renders the upper section, and the second video card renders the lower section.
Video Array uses a ‘Predictive Load Balancing’ technology that evaluates on each frame the processing load for each GPU. Based on this, it ‘predicts’ the load distribution for the next frames, and adjusts the ‘Split Ratio’ accordingly. While the system always starts at a 50% split, as the content of the screen changes, the ratio changes accordingly (75%/25%, 85%/15%, 80%/20%, etc., etc). This logic enables Video Array to maximize the use of the graphics processing power from each card.
Preliminary testing of dual graphics cards shows performance gains of more than 50% compared to single graphics card configuration. The more graphics intense the application, the more performance increase gained.
The X2 mainboards will be based on Intel E7525 (Tumwater) core logic and besides 2 PCI Express x16 slots as well as 2 sockets for CPUs will also support dual-channel DDR2 memory, Serial ATA ports with RAID capability, PCI-X support, Gigabit Ethernet and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.
Ultimate Speed at Ultimate Cost?
Alienware keeps silence over the pricing of its ultimate systems with two processors and two graphics cards. Typical machines for extreme gamers from Alienware cost about $3000. Systems with two processors and two graphics cards are likely to cost considerably more: high-end Xeon DP chips intended for 2-way systems typically cost from $851 to $1043 each. High-end graphics cards usually cost $499 each.