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

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: AMD

Further Foundations

Memory is going to be very important here.  When utilizing three monitors with the total resolution approaching 7 megapixels, both system memory and GPU memory can act as a big bottleneck.  1GB cards are simply going to limit overall performance, especially in the very latest games which can easily consume that amount of memory.  On the NVIDIA side, 1.5 GB should be the minimum when running three monitors.  With AMD we have the ability to buy 2 GB cards with the latest HD 6950 and 6970 cards.  Or in the case of the HD 6990, there are two GPUs with 2GB a piece. 

For my computer memory I chose the very affordable, yet still fast GSkill Ripjaws DDR-3 1600 2 x 4GB kit.  These are currently being offered for around $75, which is a bargain.  Most quad core CPUs really only require between 8 GB/sec to 12 GB/sec of bandwidth, due to their design and reliance on large on-chip caches.  So overclocking memory is of little use in most applications, unless a user is willing to do things like overclock the Northbridge/L3 portion of the AMD processors.  At stock speeds, DDR-3 1333 and DDR-3 1600 speeds are more than adequate.  This is not true for the latest Llano based processors from AMD though, but that is not part of the discussion today.

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I'm not sure what kind of deal GSkill made with the devil, but they have some of the best performing memory around at rock bottom prices.  Their RMA service is actually quite good as well.  Because face it... eventually most memory goes bad.

For video cards I chose to use one of my previous review products.  The MSI HD6950 Twin Frozr II OC was an award winner back in February of this year.  The card was stable, kept nice and cool, and had good overclocking headroom.  Because this was a non-reference design, there was not an easy way to flash the BIOS to unlock the disabled SIMD units.  With some luck and a few emails, I was able to come up with a working modified BIOS for this card which would in fact unlock those extra SIMDs.  I chose to keep the clockspeeds standard (in this case 810 MHz core and 1358 MHz for the GDDR-5 memory), as each board only has 2 x 6 pin PCI-E power connectors.  I might have been comfortable clocking them up if there were a 6 and 8 pin connection.  I also must contend with my current 750 watt power supply.

MSI was kind enough to send a second board for Crossfire scaling and Eyefinity testing this past month.  Essentially two unlocked HD 6950s both with 2GB of memory should be more than powerful enough to handle the resolutions I will be throwing at them.  These boards retail for around $265 after rebates.  I certainly would not want to use anything less than these if Eyefinity resolutions are the goal.  The 6000 series broke with previous tradition at AMD in that they offer only one dual link DVI output, while the other is single link only.  We also have on these models two mini-DisplayPort connections and a mini-HDMI port.

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The MSI HD 6950 Twin Frozr II OC is around 7 months old now, which is something like 11 dog years in the video card business.  It is still cutting edge, considering we will not see a refresh from AMD and NVIDIA until at least December of this year.

The final requirement for my setup was to get an active mini-DisplayPort to DVI connector.  When Eyefinity was first introduced, a user had to spend around $100 for an active DP to dual link DVI adapter.  AMD mitigated that to a point with their “Eyefinity Edition” cards, but those cards were never big sellers and their performance often did not reflect the price premium they had.  The current HD 6000 parts do have a bit of a disadvantage here, as the single dual link DVI port essentially insures that one will have to buy two of the much more expensive DP to Dual Link DVI active adapter to power three 2560x1600 displays.  Users who choose to stay with 1920x1200 and below monitors will have an easier time of it.  The two DVI ports can power those monitors, and a $29 active DP to single link DVI adapter can be used for the third.  In this case I bought the Sapphire branded mini-DP to DVI adapter.

Monitor Choices

This really is the second major category for building an Eyefinity system, and certainly the component which will likely last longer than the rest of the machine.  The good news is that a user can get three 1080P LCDs for under $150 a piece.  The bad news is that color quality for those screens will likely be found wanting.

Cheap TN based widescreens are at rock bottom prices.  Unlike in past years, monitors are not going to be holding a user back.  Ten years ago having a second monitor was a luxury, and there were not all that many video cards that supported more than one output.  Purchasing a Matrox based card was the way to go, and obtaining two 19” CRT monitors would set a user back $300 or more for each unit.  Current higher end TN widescreens go between $180 and $250. Considering the prices, it makes little overall sense to get a 22” or 20” panel, as their prices are not all that far below introductory 23” and 24” models.  The only other reason to go with a smaller panel is due to the budget a user can spend on video cards.  If price is a great concern there, then going with lower end HD 6870s would be better while pushing the lower resolution of 5040 x 1050.

If color accuracy or viewing angles are not an issue, then choosing a fast TN widescreen for around $180 would likely be the best bet.  These panels typically come in around 23” to 24”, with 25” and 27” models being priced progressively higher.  LED backlights will also be more expensive, and there are pros and cons to those.  The pros would be the lesser amount of heat being released as compared to cold cathode fluorescents and lower power usage.  The primary cons are higher prices and reduced color gamut.  So that would be two strikes against TN panels if they included LED lighting when it comes to color representation.  The common perception among most users is that a TN panel will give better overall gaming performance due to the faster pixel response time.  There is much debate about that, but problems such as ghosting with S-IPS and PVA based panels are no longer an issue.  A larger problem would be input lag caused by slower, or lower quality, panel control circuitry.  There are those that swear by TN, and then there are those like me who think that factors outside of panel type have a larger impact on playability.  If the panel has a really horrific scalar built into it, then input lag will be a factor no matter what type of technology that panel uses.

July 14, 2011 | 01:09 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Interesting write-up Josh :)

July 14, 2011 | 04:25 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

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

July 14, 2011 | 08:41 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 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 | 11:29 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 | 05:01 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 | 07:54 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 | 10:34 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 | 10:46 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.


July 14, 2011 | 11:20 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 | 05:08 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 | 02:10 PM - Posted by adster

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

July 16, 2011 | 09:12 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

^ This.

July 18, 2011 | 09:20 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Professionalism. I has it.

July 14, 2011 | 04:42 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 | 06:38 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 | 01:52 PM - 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 | 08:21 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. very high settings 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.

July 14, 2011 | 09:06 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 | 04:52 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 | 10:27 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 15, 2011 | 02:21 AM - Posted by Ominou5 (not verified)

A little dust never hurt anyone.

July 15, 2011 | 04:25 AM - Posted by neliz (not verified)

but dust can hurt *anything*

July 15, 2011 | 06:54 AM - Posted by Jules (not verified)

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

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 | 05:10 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)

Samsung kit.

July 15, 2011 | 05:11 PM - Posted by Footman (not verified)


July 15, 2011 | 06:45 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 | 01:54 PM - 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 | 07:14 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 | 01:53 PM - 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 | 07:19 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 -

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:

July 17, 2011 | 08:19 PM - Posted by Steve (not verified)

I reckon the best use of a triple monitor setup is racing. Even in the air you could use a bit more vertical, but in racing, all you need is the horizontal wide-viewing angles. Portrait mode may work, but then the bezels are too close to the center, IMHO.

I've tried both ATI/nV solutions, and ATI was a bit problematic for me (ongoing problems through multiple driver versions), while nV has a goofy setup. But nV still seems to work better & more reliable.

It's a shame how many games suffer from consolitis, though, and setting the FoV is often impossible - hell, sometimes even just setting the wide-screen resolution is impossible :(

And of course the highly distorted side-screens can be a turnoff, when the game isn't about perspective just more visible stuff, e.g. RTS. Everyone bends their side monitors inwards, you should not have that sort of distortion on the side screen, it's not one big flat surface. Even if it was the distortion is way overdone and unrealistic, often.

P.S. install some dust filters, mate, you're asking for trouble there. Even a thin cloth over the air intakes helps heaps. Better yet, get a positive pressure case with filtered air intakes. Your computer will love you for it.

July 18, 2011 | 06:36 PM - Posted by Steven (not verified)

Your desk is messy! :D

July 19, 2011 | 10:15 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

It is supposed to build character, or so I hear.

August 8, 2011 | 02:13 AM - Posted by Brandt (not verified)

Isn't the CPU cooler supposed to be rotated 90 degrees? I assume it's mounted as it is for clearance, but seems like the airflow would be 100x better if it were rotated.

August 23, 2011 | 11:40 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

The design of the heatsink does not allow it to be rotated by 90 degrees (iirc).  Either way though, it should be fine in terms of airflow in that case.

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