If you have even a passing interest in 3D graphics, youâ€™ve probably, like me, been waiting for the eventual appearance of ATIâ€™s dual GPU solution. It seems like eons ago that ATI announced that it would produce a dual GPU platform to rival nVidiaâ€™s tremendously successful SLi offering, but now, finally I have a CrossFire system in front of me and itâ€™s time to see if it was worth the wait.
In case you really donâ€™t know what a dual GPU setup is, what Iâ€™m talking about is the ability to install two graphics cards in a single PC. The idea is that the two cards share the load when it comes to 3D rendering, resulting in a significant performance boost when you fire up your favourite game.
My first foray into the dual GPU scene was when I got my hands on two 3Dfx Voodoo2 cards. I was still working at PC Pro magazine at the time, and I remember having to keep pretty quiet about it in the office â€“ having one Voodoo2 at the time was considered lucky, but installing two in the same machine was positively greedy! This was the birth of SLi, although as I remember, back then it stood for Scan Line Interleave, rather than the Scalable Link Interface that nVidia now attributes to the acronym.
It was a long time before I gave up my dual Voodoo2 cards, despite advances in 3D technology from other companies. But eventually 3Dfx went the way of the Dodo, and it was time to move on. I had to wait quite a while before I saw a PC with two graphics cards again.
The barren spell without dual graphics cards ended about a year ago when nVidia started to ship SLi kit into the market. Although there were cards available quite early, it took a while for the mainstream motherboards to appear, but when they did the flood gates opened. Now, dual graphics card systems are common place, even at the low end of the market.
Obviously ATI didnâ€™t want nVidia to have everything its own way, and it wasnâ€™t long before rumours of a platform to compete with SLi started to appear. But it was at the beginning of June that those rumours started to take shape, and ATI announced the CrossFire branding. Hardware was expected soon, allowing ATI to hit the streets with CrossFire before the launch of nVidiaâ€™s next generation 3D solution â€“ the GeForce 7800GTX. Unfortunately, things slipped and CrossFire didnâ€™t appear, despite nVidia raising the bar with the launch of the 7800GTX.