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MSI Big Bang Fuzion Motherboard and Lucid HYDRA Performance Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: MSI
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The HYDRA Driver and Configuration Modes

The driver remains mostly unchanged in terms of the interface and features even though performance and compatibility and stability have been improved.  The software is incredibly light weight and doesn't feel like other drivers on your computer - it installs very quickly and can be disabled or enabled with a single check box without requiring a flicker of the screen or reboot.  This part of the user experience is very well done by Lucid's software team. 

By bringing up the entire control panel (this is really it) you are give just a handful of options including the ability turn the HYDRA scaling technology on or off, show an icon in the system tray for even faster access to the enable/disable button and the option to show the HYDRA logo while in game.  That logo is basically intended to let the user know that the HYDRA driver is working and is working correctly; it will even indicate which "mode" you are running in depending on your GPU configuration.  (See below.)

Much like we have come to know in the world of NVIDIA's SLI, the HYDRA driver has a very basic profiling system that enables the HYDRA chip based on the game being played.  Here you can see that this list includes most of the major gaming titles like COD4, Bioshock, etc and that all the games are currently enabled.  However, should you wish to disable HYDRA for a particular game you can simply uncheck it here without having to worry about remembering to disable the HYDRA driver completely before starting it up. 

This is a shot of the quick tray icon that allows you to enable/disable the feature on the fly.  The tray icon will be colored red when the HYDRA technology is configured to work and will be monochrome (as seen here) when its disabled. 


HYDRA Modes

The Lucid HYDRA technology is divided up into a set of three different "modes" that the company claims it will operate in.  They are "N-Mode", "A-Mode" and "X-Mode".  N-Mode refers the ability for HYDRA to scale a graphics card configuration made up of only NVIDIA GPUs while the A-Mode refers to a system that is using only AMD-based graphics cards.  The X-Mode, the one that we feel is most interesting, is the ability to scale games using one NVIDIA GPU and one AMD GPU. 

As of the official release of the MSI Big Bang Fuzion motherboard the HYDRA driver supports all of the modes though there are different games support for each.  Lucid actually started with this technological innovation on NVIDIA cards only and intended to only release it with the ability to scale multiple NVIDIA cards on any HYDRA-enabled system.  However, as the AMD GPU product line became more impressive, and as more press found out about the technology, they decided to add support for AMD/ATI's GPUs and eventually started working on cross-vendor support as well.  There are obviously some intricacies that differ between NVIDIA and AMD graphics card scaling, hence the different game support; and X-Mode is obviously even more complex for their software team.



A configuration of X-Mode on HYDRA using a Radeon HD 4800-series card and NVIDIA GTX 260+

For example, as of this writing there were 42 games on the qualification list for "All Modes" meaning that they would see performance scaling of some sort on A-Mode, N-Mode and X-Mode.  The list includes games like COD4, Fallout 3, HAWX and Wolfenstein.  There is an additional list of 22 games that work in "N-Mode and A-Mode" meaning that they just don't work in X-Mode; it includes games like CoD: World at War, UT3, Mass Effect and the DX10 version of Bioshock.  Finally, there are a handful of games that will only be qualified for now in either N-Mode or A-Mode including Lost Planet (DX9) and Stalker: Clear Sky.

Obviously this means that for the current HYDRA users, it is truly a crapshoot to guess if a new game will be supported by the driver or not.  We'll cover more of our opinions how this topic in our conclusion page but for now you do need to know that there are some differences in game support based on the mode and configuration your PC will be using. 

Testing Configuration

Obviously we are going to be using the new MSI Big Bang Fuzion motherboard for our HYDRA performance testing today - it is the only motherboard that currently offers support for it.  The rest of the system closely matches our standard gaming test configuration as follows:

  • Testing
    Configuration
  • MSI Big Bang Fuzion P55 + HYDRA 200 Motherboard

  • Intel Core i7-870 Lynnfield CPU

  • 2 x 2GB Corsair DDR3-1333 MHz
  • Intel X25-M G2 160GB SSD

Our GPU selections were made in order to allow us to test each of the HYDRA "modes" independently.  We used this setup:

  • N-Mode: GeForce GTX 285 + GeForce GTX 260+
  • A-Mode: Radeon HD 5870 + Radeon HD 4890
  • X-Mode: Radeon HD 5870 + GeForce GTX 285

Our performance testing is broken up into a few pages by the different modes and we'll evaluation how well the system was able to improve performance in each scenario. 

For our games selection, we decided to throw the same benchmarks at MSI's Big Bang Fuzion and HYDRA as we would any other graphics card test.  That includes Batman: Arkham Asylum, Far Cry 2, HAWX, Resident Evil 5, World in Conflict and the staple that is 3DMark Vantage.  You will see that in some cases one game might not have actually been able to run in or more modes - we'll comment on that in those sub-sections.

One interesting note: RE5 ran on NONE of our configurations and any time HYDRA was enabled we saw pretty noticeable performance drops and some really bad visual anomalies on the characters. 

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