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Eyefinity and Me - An Idiot's Guide to AMD's Multi-Monitor Technology

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Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: AMD

The Dirty Laggard

 

It may seem odd, but sometimes reviewers are some of the last folks to implement new technology.  This has been the case for myself many a time.  Yes, we get some of the latest and greatest components, but often we review them and then keep them on the shelf for comparative purposes, all the while our personal systems run last generation parts that we will not need to re-integrate into a test rig ever again.  Or in other cases, big money parts, like the one 30” 2560x1600 LCD that I own, are always being utilized on the testbed and never actually being used for things like browsing, gaming, or other personal activities.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “woe-is-me” rant about the hardships of being a reviewer, but rather just an interesting side effect not often attributed to folks who do this type of work.  Yes, we get the latest to play with and review, but we don’t often actually use these new parts in our everyday lives.

One of the technologies that I had only ever seen at trade shows is that of Eyefinity.  It was released back in the Fall of 2009, and really gained some momentum in 2010.  Initially it was incompatible with Crossfire technology, which limited it to a great degree.  A single HD 5970 card could push 3 x 1920x1080 monitors in most games, but usually only with details turned down and no AA enabled.  Once AMD worked a bit more on the drivers were we able to see Crossfire setups working in Eyefinity, which allowed users to play games at higher fidelity with the other little niceties enabled.  The release of the HD 6900 series of cards also proved to be a boon to Eyefinity, as these new chips had much better scaling in Crossfire performance, plus were also significantly faster than the earlier HD 5800 series at those price points.

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Continue on to the rest of the story for more on my experiences with AMD Eyefinity.

 

 

A few things happened to fall together this past month for myself, and between a combination of horse trading and some manufacturer help, I was able to put together an Eyefinity system.  There were some lessons learned in this process, and I hope to pass those onto others so that perhaps their experience can be more enjoyable.

Setting the Foundation

AMD has been pretty good about licensing out Crossfire support throughout the industry.  While the first Crossfire boards were based on the old RD 480 and RD 580 chipsets from ATI, the company set new standards by licensing support to Intel with their latest X38 and later X48 chipsets.  Support trickled down to the midrange platforms at Intel, and it is essentially superfluous on the modern Intel platform.  NVIDIA based boards did not obviously support this technology, but now that NVIDIA is out of the chipset business, we see nearly 100% compatibility with Crossfire on both the AMD and Intel sides.

I chose to use the Asus Crosshair IV Formula board for the basis of my Crossfire system.  This is a last generation AM3 board that was released over a year ago that we had reviewed.  I really like the layout, as it provides for not just Crossfire support, but the usage of a PCI-E 1x and a PCI slot even with two dual slot graphics cards installed.  The board is robust, offers a nice array of overclocking features, plus performs very well considering the processors that are used with it.

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The Asus Crosshair IV Formula is a solid board with great features.  Perfect for Crossfire duties.

The processor I am using for this setup is the Phenom II X4 970.  This particular number is clocked at 3.5 GHz and does not have any type of turbo mode like the X6 models do.  These processors are showing their age, but are still adequate performers in most games.  Unfortunately for AMD, we see better multi-GPU scaling with current Intel Nehalem and Sandy Bridge based processors.  Even with the high end Phenom II X6 1100T, we just do not have enough performance to push most of these multi-GPU setups.  If a user is on a budget, then AMD is fine when it comes to the CPU.  If they want the best overall performance, then Intel is the way to go.  This is partially mitigated by the fact that pushing 5760 x 1200 or 5760 x 1080 will push the GPUs more than the CPU.  Still, we might expect a 5% to 10% improvement in performance with one of the faster Intel processors on the market today.
 

July 13, 2011 | 10:09 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Interesting write-up Josh :)

July 14, 2011 | 01:25 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

You say that now Tim, but wait until I steal your girlfriend and your laptop.

July 14, 2011 | 05:41 AM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

First of all your case needs a good dust

Secondly, I myself tried Eyefinity a couple of months back... Epic Fail... I already had a couple of cheap 19" 1080p Hyundai LCD monitors so I picked up another. My reason for choosing these monitors was a, my budget and b, they have the thinnest frame available which is key for Eyefinity. I do not believe you mention this is your monitor section. Having a decent IPS panel with a thick frame would be much less desirable when gaming, even if color was more realistic.

I used an i920@3.6ghz on an X58 motherboard with 2 x 2gb 6950's flashed to 6970's.... So a fairly powerful machine. I don't doubt that for productivity this kind of setup is great but if you are looking for just multi-monitor support for productivity you certainly do not need this kind of setup a single 5770 will work. This kind of setup is for gaming and very few games natively support this type of stretched image. There are tweaks and www.widescreengaming.com have some custom ini files that can help but I always felt that the images were too stretched in the side panels and the landscape mode was awkward. Cut scenes created issues as these would often be in a different resolution and the side screens would blank out during cutscenes and then take time to come back when the game started again....

Not enough games support NV Surround or Eyefinity to be honest, also there were issues with the drivers and power states when using more than one monitor, something that created a lot more heat and higher temps than when using one screen...

Perhaps I will try again in a few months, this time with a different screen but in portrait mode and not landscape, also I prefer Nvidia's solution at the moment as it appears to be a little better supported in games, also you do not have to buy an Active DV to DVI dongle (admittedly you need sli, but to power 3 screens two vga cards are mandatory really). Although the 6950's were powerful solution I personally do not think that Eyefinity or NV Surround are ready for prime time, not until more games natively support the odd resolutions. I don't think this will be anytime soon either, PC gaming is still being held back by the very nature of the consoles using DX9 VGA solutions... Even though DX10/11 hardware has been available for a couple of years few if any true Dx10/11 games have been released, so why support Eyefinity or NV Surround?
IMHO of course, still nice article.

July 14, 2011 | 08:29 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Why yes, my case does need a good cleaning. I think that will be a project for this weekend.

Oddly enough, the bezels on these monitors do not annoy me all that much. They did take a little bit to get used to, but once I used bezel correction most of my issues went away. About the only thing that is annoying is sometimes using Firefox and going to my Favorites drop-down... depending on how expanded the browser is,it can be bothersome to try to get to some of the subfolders due to them opening up to the right, which usually makes it unreadable due to it being stuck behind the bezels of the adjoining monitors.

I haven't had any issues with power states. Everything just sorta works like I would expect it to. It also doesn't really bother me when I get into a game where I use a single monitor and the two others go to sleep. Sure, it takes a few seconds for them to wake up once I exit the game, but it hasn't caused me to lose any hair or sleep over it.

I guess one area that I really didn't cover is that a person's personality and pet peeves will obviously have a huge impact on the enjoyability of Eyefinity. I realize it isn't perfect, but there are some instances where I derive a lot of enjoyment from it. Mileage will obviously vary from person to person, and if a user is expecting a seamless and trouble-free experience, then they will be sorely disappointed. There is a lot of manual tweaking that needs to occur, so for those that really enjoy a challenge, the multi-monitor Eyefinity or NVIDIA Surround will be a nice playground for them. For those just expecting it to work, they will likely be frustrated at the more troublesome applications.

July 15, 2011 | 02:01 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

Agreed with you 100%, please don't think my comments were meant as critism of your article, just my own experience...

I enjoyed your article actually.. I'm fond of PC Perspective. Perhaps if you get the time and ability you can do a comparison of NV Surround (2d)like me?

The 6950/6970 solution is easily the most powerful VGA solution in the price bracket, HOWEVER, AMD do not handle transparent anti-aliasing well currently and this is why I choose Nvidia. Having said this Transparent Anti Aliasing only works with Nvidia solution of Supersampling is used (not multisampling)...

Come on guys get your damn drivers working properly!!!

July 15, 2011 | 04:54 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Heh, I didn't take your post as unneeded or unnecessary criticism. You have some good points in your comments, and they are certainly welcome here.

I will eventually do a NV surround article, but need to put together a few things before I do such a thing.

July 14, 2011 | 07:34 AM - Posted by nabokovfan87

Nice insight.

I enjoy what eyefinity is, but the reason I still have a 4850 and haven't upgraded is because I don't believe the power is there yet. I would be interested in the console effects of this technology, something like Wii U can really benefit from it, but on PC it is difficult enough to run Metro 2033 at a butter smooth 60-90 FPS and I would always rather have a higher FPS then spend triple the money and get a little more peripheral view.

I have been playing games for nearly 20 years. Always used one screen, and I don't see the need for upgrading (much like 3d) until it is perfect. I won't go out of my way to have it, but I wouldn't mind it one bit.

July 14, 2011 | 07:46 AM - Posted by PCPerFan (not verified)

I'm planning on picking up 3 Dell u2711 LCD each with a resolution of 2560x1440 as well as building a sandy-bridge system with 16GB of ram and a 2600K OC to 4.5-5Ghz, what video card should I get to play portal 2 in eyefinity or nvidia surround. I don't game a lot, mostly will be used for productivity but I would like a decent experience with multi-monitor gaming with Portal 2 at those resolutions either nvidia or amd.

Thanks.

July 14, 2011 | 08:20 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

If you are going to go NVIDIA surround, you definitely need two video cards. The GTX 560 Ti is a nice choice for the money, and are about as fast as the AMD HD 6950. The only issue that might be a stickler for you is the 1 GB frame buffer that most of those cards have. There are a few examples out there that have 2 GB onboard, and considering the resolutions you are likely going to game in, it would be a good idea to get as much memory as possible. Also consider that 2560 x 1440 will really push even a single card in most applications, and you are going with 3 of them. So I would recommend the fastest cards possible (GTX 580 or the AMD HD 6970) and pair those cards up.

July 15, 2011 | 02:08 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

Depends on many factors. Currently I have 2 x 560Ti's in my gaming PC. However I also owned 2 x 6950 (2gb) CF cards.

I can tell you that the extra frame buffer (2gb) makes a real difference in Eyefinity, especially if you want to use FSAA.....

You will find it hard to beat the 6950 CF solution. However for me FSAA is important. I'd rather play games on one single high resolution screen rather than multiple screens. AMD do not handle transparent FSAA well, the Nvidia solution is better for Transparent FSAA....

You can buy 2gb versions of the 560 or 560Ti cards so this would be my first choice. IMO of course.... A pair of 6950/6970's will be slightly faster but IQ will not be as impressive. Also you need to factor in cost of DV to DVI dongle ($30) which you dont with Nvidia solution...

And no I am no Nvidiot fanboy, just someone who loves technology.....

July 14, 2011 | 11:10 AM - Posted by adster

I like the Samuel Adams cup front & center, Josh. That's how I game too.

July 16, 2011 | 06:12 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

^ This.

July 18, 2011 | 06:20 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Professionalism. I has it.

July 14, 2011 | 01:42 PM - Posted by MB (not verified)

I've been running a 3 monitor 24" Eyefinity setup myself (for a whopping 5760 x 1080 resolution) off a Sapphire 2 GB 6950 for a while now and I have to say I'm 'meh' on the whole deal.

While it's great to have the real estate and it is nice to have a lot of big widows up and available without having to tab through things. But I actually find that I can't take in the full 3 monitors at once, so I need to continually turn your head to see the right/left monitors. Even with the monitors angled in, they measure 59" from bottom left to bottom right. What that might sound cool, it's actually a pain to have to turn and look to the right to see what time it is and then turn and look to the left for my windows button or find an icon for an app you want to open. I know, it sounds cheesy, but after a while it gets annoying.

Gaming is occasionally great, but often so-so. Like you said, sim types games, flight sims and racing, do look great, because they seem to actually use the full resolution on the side screens. But often games that claim to support eyefinity just stretch the side graphics and it really looks awful. At first I thought Left 4 Dead/L4D2 looked awesome acros the three monitors and then I noticed how stretched out the side images are. Also, many compatible games don't put your UI in the center screen. I die more often than I'd like in most shooters because my health bar is all the way to the bottom right and I don't even notice it about empty. I actually find myself sadly playing more games in windowed mode now than I used to, just so I don't have to deal a lot of these problems.

That being said, if you do have an eyefinity setup a couple of games that seem to have done the Eyefinity thing right that I can think of off the top of my head include Supreme Commander II, Wings of Prey & DiRT 3.

If I had it to do over again, I think I'd likely go with 3 smaller (20-22") LCD's or a large center monitor and then two side monitors that have the same horizontal resolution as the vertical resolution on the center monitor. Then they could be turned landscape mode and be used that way.

July 14, 2011 | 03:38 PM - Posted by neliz (not verified)

Josh, dust it or get an NZXT Phantom or I'll never send you another BIOS again :p

July 16, 2011 | 10:52 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I dusted it out yesterday and swapped in a 1200 watt power supply that I have had for ages for this particular machine...

Now if I can get rid of a new BSOD everytime I turn on the machine. How it goes is... I turn it on, about 20 seconds after hitting Win7 desktop, the three screens go crazy, and then it blue screens.

How I have to fix it is start in safe mode, set both adapters to Standard VGA, reboot in normal mode, uninstall the Catalyst drivers, reboot, re-install drivers (I have tried 11.5, 11.6, 11.6a, and 11.6b so far), reboot and it works like it is supposed to. When I shut it down... I have to go through the same thing again to get it started.

Any suggestions? I did do driver sweeper this morning, which I hadn't done before. But I will wait for tomorrow to restart it again and see if it jacks up.

July 14, 2011 | 05:21 PM - Posted by Tesla1776 (not verified)

I am using a quadfire setup (4 x 5870's w/ GA-990-FXA-UD7) with a 3 x 1 eyefinity landscape w/3-25" monitors and found that AMD GPU's use 'supertiling' rendering during Eyefinity usage. Each card renders alternating 32 x 32 pixels squares. The memory of all cards is pooled and each GPU has access to (in this case) the 4 GB of buffer. At 5760 x 1080 the performance is superb.

http://imageshack.us/f/62/metro2033veryhigh23.jpg/ very high settings

http://imageshack.us/f/816/crysiswarhead5760.jpg/ enthusiast settings

at any rate , you do not have to spend $1500-$2000 on GPU's to enjoy Eyefinity as has been implied by so many sites around.

Here is a list of officially supported eyefinity games.
http://support.amd.com/us/eyefinity/Pages/eyefinity-software.aspx

July 14, 2011 | 06:06 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Nice... my Eyefinity system just suddenly started crashing. After some trial and error, it seems that the Catalyst 11.6 drivers can exhibit BSODs when one of the DisplayPorts or HDMI connection is used. Updating to the 11.6b hotfix seems to have fixed this problem.

It is just plain odd that this problem showed up after it has been running for as long as it has.

July 15, 2011 | 01:52 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

Hey Josh I'm using the 11.6b drivers also. Did you notice that CCC identifies them as 11.7?

July 14, 2011 | 07:27 PM - Posted by Mr. Tea (not verified)

Nice write-up, I have been using Eyefinity for over a year now and love it. I would tell people to think twice about those ASUS monitors with the large bezel area at the bottom, though. Once I tried using Eyefinity in portrait mode, it was quite addicting and I ended up selling my ASUS TN panels to buy some Dell IPS's that have the rotatable stands for portrait mode. Besides game looking really good in portrait mode, it also solves the problems of some games either not working or not working well at 48:9 aspect ratio which is how I ended up trying it in the first place since Borderlands is a pain the neck to run super widescreen, but works fine on a huge desktop.

July 14, 2011 | 11:21 PM - Posted by Ominou5 (not verified)

A little dust never hurt anyone.

July 15, 2011 | 01:25 AM - Posted by neliz (not verified)

but dust can hurt *anything*

July 15, 2011 | 03:54 AM - Posted by Jules (not verified)

There was a AMD Eyefinity setup at Computex Taiwan not long ago.

http://www.expreview.com/img/news/2011/05/31/AMD-1.jpg

Can anyone identify the model of those monitors used? I am very interested in building a future Eyefinity setup like one one in picture.

They look like 27" monitors with ultra thin bezels.

July 15, 2011 | 02:10 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

Samsung kit.

July 15, 2011 | 02:11 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

Link:http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/monitors/LS23MUQHB/ZA

July 15, 2011 | 03:45 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I went eyefinity about 5 months ago and love it for Bad Company 2. I am rockin 1x 6950 reference unlocked to 6970 and was also able to overvolt it and OC it to really high levels successfully just for running 3dmark tests.

I am using 3x Asus 24" LED monitors i picked up for about $100 each and i couldnt be happier.

A lot of you guys are claiming you NEED 2x 6950..You don't. I was planning on getting another eventually but so far i can play bad company 2 at max resolution and mostly max settings with no lag.

July 16, 2011 | 10:54 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

For myself I need two cards, mainly because I do like the extra prettiness that affords in most games. I did run for a while on one card, but I was much happier with performance and quality settings after I installed the 2nd.

July 15, 2011 | 04:14 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

I have a question for any eyefinity experts out there. I have 3 monitors and 1 TV i connect to my Computer. I have a 6950 w/ 2x mini dp, 1x hdmi, 2x dvi. I have 2x active display port adapters already available. Can i do 2x active DP + 1 DVI for 3x eyefinity monitors and then HDMI to the TV and run the eyefinity group as "1 monitor" and the TV as another? It's just nice so i can use the TV for netflix without having to change everything everytime.

July 16, 2011 | 10:53 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I don't think it will work that way. But I am not entirely sure. When creating an Eyefinity group, you might be able to remove the TV from the group, but I have no clue offhand.

July 15, 2011 | 04:19 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

Also another interesting subject is getting the monitors to look good. The best thing i have seen is the XFX stand, which is amazing but expensive - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824994053&Tpk=xfx%....

I am thinking of taking 2 of these 2x monitor stand and arranging them to work with 3 monitors so that the middle monitor has 1 connected and 1 attachment empty behind the monitor: http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=DLB103-PB&cpc=SCH.

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