Alienware's Dual PCI-E Graphics System Uncovered
After walking through the isles of E3 in search of something to make our jaws drop, we came across Alienware's booth and their new ALX brand of uber gaming systems. Given Alienware's reputation of producing gaming rigs based upon the fastest hardware available, we had high expectations for the new products. For the first time at E3, a company managed to beat our expectations and leave our jaws on the showroom floor.
All the technology seen at the show was a staple of a new product line for Alienware. The new ALX brand of gaming systems will cater to the cutting-edge enthusiast who needs the fastest hardware money can buy. Looking at the specifications for these new systems, it seems as though Alienware will be able to satisfy even the most discerning gamer.
The first ALX system consumers will see will be based upon the new upcoming Intel platform. In an effort to ensure the ALX brand lives up to its name, Alienware will be overclocking every component within the system direct from the factory. Enthusiasts yearning to push the envelope can now sigh with relief as the envelope will be as far as possible while still being covered under warranty. Given how the boost in speed will result in increased temperatures, the ALX models will also feature a custom watercooling system courtesy of an unnamed company. This new watercooling system will be integrated into a new case design which is sure to illustrate the fact that this is no ordinary Alienware system. That is, if any rig from Alienware can be depicted as 'ordinary'.
This is a current mock up of what Alienware's liquid cooling setup might look like when it is released.
The outside of the ALX cases looks somewhat familiar with the addition of cooling components up top.
Although the first ALX systems certainly seem impressive, it is the Video Array system found on the following model which has the potential to take performance to a whole new level. In short, the patent pending Video Array is a system which utilizes two PCI-Express graphics cards to maximize performance. Although seeming alarmingly similar to the famous SLI technology found on Voodoo cards of old, the new Video Array system takes a totally new approach. Here, each graphics card is responsible for rendering a specific portion of the screen. Typically, the screen is divided into two horizontal halves. The job of rendering each portion is then dictated to the appropriate card by a 'video merger hub'. This hardware component is able to take signals from the default video drivers and can allocate responsibilities to either graphics card. Overall, the separation of workload is hoped to increase performance more than 40% over typical platforms in most applications. This performance advantage is said to increase according to how taxing the application may be. Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 fans rejoice as this new system seems custom tailored to these titles.
The inside of the demo machine, running two NVIDIA 5900 Ultra cards on PCI Express. The red and blue cables connect to the PCI card at the bottom that is used as the "video merger hub."
Notice the "merger" used is analog, to facilitate the massive amounts of data that need to be combined. The two PCI Express cards output into the PCI card, then the PCI card outputs to your monitor.
A quick diagram from Alienware with a high level look at their new technology.
For a quick 1 minute video of the demo that we saw, click here. Its just over 1.3 MB in size.
In case you can't hear the speaker, it shows a system running the dual PCI-E setup, without the "video merger", thus we are seeing two "half image" on two seperate screens. The next parts shows the image being combined, running on Quake III. When he goes behind the computer, he disconnects either of their video cables in order to show only half the screen being rendered at one time.
Many might be wondering why other system vendors aren't following a similar pattern by using a dual-card graphics solution. Seeing as there are no motherboards available or planned by any vendors which feature the necessary lanes to accommodate two graphics cards without sacrificing other ports, any effort to do so would have to be custom made for this system. Alienware has done just that, designing a board around the upcoming Intel "Tumwater" chipset. Using either single or dual processors and supporting a wealth of DDR2 memory, performance should not be an issue. However, one aspect of this new system which is certainly an issue of importance is power dissipation.
Given how the flagship system will feature two power hungry processors and two power hungry graphics cards, Alienware will be forced to upgrade the power supply and cooling solutions as well. Here, a custom power supply will provide a dizzying 800W to 1KW of power to keep the system running. The fore mentioned watercooling system will ensure that temperatures are kept at an acceptable level.
Although we were able to see the Video Array system in action powered with PCI-Express versions of NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900's, the design is still in its early stages. Despite having some considerably high expectations for performance, the glimpses we've seen of the technology makes it seem up to the challenge of moving the bar upwards. Whether the bar will be moved the amount Alienware is shooting for remains to be seen. Regardless, with the system expected in time for the holiday season we will all see first hand how far Alienware is able to push the envelope.
Here is the official press release from Alienware on this technology:
Alienware Announces Video Array™ and X2™: An Exclusive Advancement in PC Graphics Technology
High-Performance PC Manufacturer promises significant performance improvements in gaming and graphics intensive applications.
MIAMI, FL May 12, 2004 - Alienware, the leading manufacturer of high-performance desktop computers, notebooks, and professional systems unveiled today at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Video Array and X2 -- an exclusive, patent pending technology designed to significantly enhance the performance of graphics intensive applications including extreme gaming, professional design and engineering, real-time rendering and animation, and flight training and simulation modules.
Video Array is an accelerated graphics processing subsystem that will allow users to add multiple, off-the-shelf video cards to their Alienware computer systems and have both cards process graphic commands in parallel. Understanding the wide-ranging wants and needs of its customers, Alienware designed its solution so that it is not tied to any one specific video card. This design will allow users to take full advantage of the fastest video card on the market for a significant performance increase.
Alienwares exclusive Video Array combined with X2, an Alienware designed motherboard which is currently based on Intel Corporations next-generation chipset and will include dual PCI-Express high performance graphics card slots, will deliver significant performance gains over current graphic solutions. The new Video Array Technology and X2 motherboard will enable users to run graphics intensive applications flawlessly at maximized settings, render 3D visuals in record time, and much more.
'Innovation has always been one of our guiding principles,' said Nelson Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer of Alienware Corporation. 'This new technology continues Alienwares commitment to innovation and is only one of the many exciting technologies and products from Alienware.'
'Alienware has dedicated significant resources into our research and development team, focused on technology and innovation. We are confident that this new solution will dramatically impact the enthusiast market and further establish Alienware as the definitive high-performance leader,' said Humberto Organvidez, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Alienware Corporation. 'Our goal is to set the standard for all other performance-based PC manufacturers to follow.'
The Alienware Video Array and X2 motherboard will debut in Q3/Q4, exclusively through Alienwares new ALX brand, a family of extreme performance systems catering to the demands of the most hardcore PC enthusiasts. ALX systems will be sold only in the United States, directly through www.alienware.com/alx or 1-800-ALIENWARE.
ABOUT ALIENWARE CORPORATION - Alienware Corporation manufactures high-performance computer desktop and mobile systems and leading-edge professional systems. Alienware offers unique and award-winning products that incorporate state-of-the-art components, innovative engineering and design, and unprecedented customer service. Alienware systems are available direct within the United States and Europe. For more information, please visit www.alienware.com or call 1-800-ALIENWARE (254-3692
Alienware, the alien head logo, ALX, Video Array and X2 are the registered trademarks or trademarks of Alienware Corporation. The Video Array and X2 products are subject to various pending patents.