ATI CrossFire Review - Dual X850 XTs Are Finally Here
New Details - Installation and Support
The physical installation of ATI's CrossFire platform is really no more difficult than NVIDIA's SLI technology, but there might be a bit more confusion on the side of the dongle cable, monitor usage and those kinds of things. ATI has setup a pretty good FAQ on their website concerning multiple monitor usage on their website: though the short story is you'll only be able to use one monitor when in CrossFire mode.
The two video cards sit in their respective PCI Express x16 slots (one is designated the master card slot) and are connected with the dongle you see above. The dongle is made so that in reality you can not hook anything up to the wrong place; save you connect it to the wrong DVI port on your slave card. Your primary monitor is then connected to the remaining third of the dongle and off you go.
If you happen to buy a CrossFire motherboard and only use a single graphics card, you'll have to utilize a transposer card pictured below.
Even though ATI previously stated that their solution would NOT need a switch of any kind to go between single card and CrossFire mode, that no longer seems the case. I received an email after receiving the review kit that stated: "This card is for single graphics card operation. If you are testing the CrossFire kit in a single graphics card configuration, the transposer card needs to be plugged into the PCI Express slot closest to the chipset to ensure full x16 PCI Express lane operation. Without the card in single-GPU mode, the motherboard will default to x8 PCI-E lanes and you will not see the true performance of the graphics card." Well then, I guess ATI's chipset DOES need a switch after all...
The Catalyst software driver will not allow you to enable CrossFire without having a monitor hooked up to the dongle, which makes a lot of sense being as that is the only monitor connection that will function once CrossFire is turned on. There is a new menu item at the bottom of the CCC labeled 'CrossFire' with a single check box to enable or disable the feature. In a step over NVIDIA's current state of SLI, CrossFire can be turned on and off without having to reboot your system.
I have heard some people complaining about the dongle cable being used rather than the internal connector card that SLI uses. Mostly the comments were about cable management and additional confusion for the users. I would like to think that users buying this kind of technology would have no problems with the cable management and hooking the cables together, though I could be proven wrong. I also know that the internal connector on the SLI technology does a good job of bracing the card in place, but that shouldn't be a big issue either once the cards are installed in a case.
The software installation is just as simple as installing a standard graphics driver. Ours was a revamped version of Catalyst 5.8 and should everything function correctly, you should have no more hassles than you would normally have with the Catalyst Control Center.