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