Markham (ON) - ATI today quietly launched its multi-graphics-processor platform "Crossfire", by lifting the embargo date for reviews. The counterparts for Nvidia’s SLI brings a new option for gamers and will be able to challenge SLI in certain applications, but will have to catch up in terms of market penetration.
Our eagle-eyed eyes to identify news items in the IT industry almost would have almost missed one of the year’s more significant messages in the graphics chip industry. If it wasn’t for Nvidia’s PR department, which told us in an email that ATI officially lifted the embargo on reviews of its Crossfire technology and advised us about certain items we should be looking for in the technology, this one would have passed us completely. ATI itself did not make a big deal out the news, mentioning that the technology had been announced sometime this summer and today would not be a special Crossfire announcement day.
Luckily, our graphics chip expert Darren Polkowski, posted a thorough review of the technology comparing a Crossfire system consisting of still-current X850 XT cards with an Nvidia-based 7800 GTX SLI system. The results of Polkowski’s review show that ATI has a competitor that can challenge SLI in features and performance. In several key games, the Crossfire system beats SLI - with 7800 GTX SLI advantages appearing especially in higher-resolution scenarios (read the complete review here).
One of the advantages of Crossfire is its ability to offer a greater mix-and-match flexibility than current SLI systems. Nvidia’s SLI at this time requires users to use two identical cards from the same vendor for SLI functionality, but is expected to offer a flexibility to mix cards from different vendors and different frame buffer sizes in the near future through a driver update.
For now, The Crossfire lineup looks as follows :
While Crossfire shows great performance potential, it has some catching up to do in terms of market development and exact positioning. While we get different answers from ATI about Crossfire’s target market - some sources claim it is not a performance-oriented system, others say it is only performance oriented - Nvidia is past that point and is quickly moving its SLI technology into the mainstream market - into boards that can be purchase for less than $100. Nvidia now markets its entry-level SLI solutions as an "opportunity for users to upgrade," even if it is questionable whether buyers of a $800 computer system will ever buy a second graphics card or just a new computer system down the road. To us, SLI is not just a graphics chip strategy anymore, but has entered the chipset game, where Nvidia is able to charge a premium for its products, even if it is just a few bucks in the low-end segment.
We expect Nvidia to fiercely battle ATI’s Crossfire, trying to limit its market reach. A first indication may be Nvidia’s aggressive PR email, which advised us to disregard possible "Phantom Editions" launched by ATI, be cautious of "low-ball pricing" and be careful of other claims ATI may make. However, if two companies battle each other - even on a PR level that sadly becomes more common these days - it also can be an indication for a possible accelerated innovation speed. In the end, consumers will decide which one is the better technology. In the meantime, we are looking forward to ATI’s Crossfire capability in X1800-chip configurations and Nvidia’s upcoming enhancements to SLI speed and functionality.