Ultimately, ATI would probably gain more if CrossFire enjoyed cross platform support, but this is down to driver support on those other platforms and as that is out of ATI's control it canâ€™t say one way or the other. Of course, once we are able to test CrossFire boards in our Labs we will be able to find out for ourselves.
The CrossFire Edition cards feature a new connector that handles the input from the other card and output as well. The system was hooked up to a 21in LCD monitor via DVI, so despite the loop through at the rear, there was no signal degradation to affect image quality. Admittedly, the external cable arrangement isnâ€™t as elegant a solution as the internal connectors on nVidia SLI capable cards. This is because while nVidia had SLI in mind when designing its 6800 and 6600 cards, CrossFire was an addition, and ATI had to ensure that its existing high-end cards in the marketplace offered full compatibility. But while the cables might be messier, CrossFire might well prove to be the more powerful and flexible solution, which might be a lot more persuasive for gamers.
After the system booted the display flickered off briefly due to the two cards interfacing. In Device Manager, no less than four entries appeared - one for each of the outputs.
I also tried the latest version of ATI tool, but it couldnâ€™t make much sense of the two cards and couldnâ€™t detect them. This was because the machine was running an internal developer version of the Catalyst driver rather than the standard version.
One feature that really leapt out at us though was the setting for FSAA. With CrossFire, this can go up to a remarkable 14x, which basically, is really cool. It might not turn out to be practical for many titles but if you've got a slightly older game that won't be too demanding, then why not?
While we were really keen to see what this actually looked like in a real game, we were unfortunately thwarted by the early nature of the drivers - it seems that even though the hardware is real, ready and running off the production line, there's still a bit of work to be done at the driver level before we can see a proper game running on a CrossFire system.
So there we have it â€“ ATIâ€™s CrossFire hardware has finally arrived. However, thereâ€™s now work to be done on the software side of things. If ATI gets it right, the potential is enormous, as unlike nVidiaâ€™s boards, it is tipped to work with any game, without requiring a profile, and in addtion, might turn out to be cross platform compatible. Profiles might be available for some games as well, but only to increase performance by using AFR mode other than the default method.
My only concern is that the timing of CrossFire's emergence might be a little unfortunate with ATI's next generation GPU, the R520, rumoured to be just around the corner. But that said, with the inevitable delays that new technology always faces it could be a great way of getting those frame rates up right now. It also raises the intruiging question of what's faster - dual X850XTs or a single R520? Once we get all this technology in the lab we'll be right here to bring you the definitive answer.