Caught In The CrossFire

ATI's SLi beating twin graphics card solution is unveiled, but how will it compare to nVidia's already established platform.

So what’s the downside? There’s got to be one, doesn’t there? Well, as with nVidia, you need a motherboard with two x16 PCI Express slots. The flaw in ATI’s reasoning here as far as I can see is that the “optimal CrossFire platform” is based on ATI’s Radeon Xpress CrossFire Edition chipset, either for AMD (below) or Intel (further down).


The problem here is that by ATI’s own admission, this chipset was originally designed as a value proposition, which is why it lacks some features enjoyed by other chipset offerings. However, the chances are that anyone looking to spend a significant amount of money on two high-end graphics cards, will probably want a high-end motherboard chipset to match. Looking at the Radeon Express CrossFire Edition, I think ATI will have a hard time convincing the enthusiast users to move across. This is because ATI’s new southbridge is missing integrated LAN as well as SATA-II. These are basic features on a brand spanking new performance board.

That said, Riyad has been speaking to ATI and its board partners out at Computex, and the word on the street is that CrossFire “could” work on any motherboard with the right slot configuration. And to ATI’s credit, you should only need a 475W PSU though, which is far lower than the 500-550W nVidia estimated for its own SLi solution.


With this in mind, there’s a good chance that you could see two ATI cards beavering away in an Intel chipset board, or even an nVidia nForce 4 SLi product! One thing is for sure, as soon as we get our hands on a CrossFire card we’ll be trying as many combinations as humanly possible before ATI prises it back out of our hands.

Announced motherboard partners will be Asus, ECS, DFI, Gigabyte, MSI, Sapphire and Tul (also known as PowerColor) so there will be no lack of support at least. No doubt Riyad will have pictures of boards from all these partners pretty soon, as Computex is aparently awash with CrossFire.

What about cost? Well, there will be three different CrossFire Edition graphics cards to add to the confusion: an X850XT and two X800XL based boards. The X850XT will apparently retail at $549 (UK pricing yet to be verified), while the 256MB X800XL will cost a much more reasonable $249, with the 128MB X800XL coming in at the bargain price of $199.


One final point, and this is a bit of a downer. ATI says the CrossFire Edition cards will automatically scale down their speeds to match the cards they are connected to. In the case of the X800XT and X800XT PE cards (which are actually faster than the X800XL CrossFire edition) they could be scaled down to match the CrossFire card. Once again though, Riyad has been trying to get confirmation of this from ATI and board partners at Computex, and it appears that a CrossFire setup will allow a certain degree of disparity between the two cards before any throttling is employed. Whether the two cards can operate at different speeds will probably depend on the rendering method that is being employed, but to be honest, there’s no way of making any real comment until we’ve tried different card combinations and judged the results for ourselves.

So, while there’s a chance that if you have say, an X800XT PE, and you slap it in a board with an X800 XL CrossFire card, you won’t get performance as high as if you had twin X800XT PE cards. But that said, even taking this into account, running two cards will still be much faster than one.

Ultimately, there are some potential issues with CrossFire, the most obvious being the motherboard chipset. Put simply, a high-end graphics solution like this deserves an equally high motherboard chipset. Of course that’s not to say that there isn’t such a product in the pipeline, and it there’s still the possibility that CrossFire will run happily in a non-ATI chipset motherbaord. One thing’s for certain, as soon as we get our hands on some hardware and find out for ourselves, you’ll be the first to know!


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