Issues and Conclusions

Multiple Issues

Just as with the early stages of NVIDIA’s SLI technology, the ATI CrossFire technology is going to be plagued with some growing pains.  I felt more than a few myself during this extended weekend/testing period in particular. 

To address the issue of the 1600×1200 @ 60 Hz issue again: yes it is an important caveat to potential CrossFire buyers.  While I don’t think it is the end of the world either, the fact is that neither NVIDIA’s SLI nor ATI’s upcoming R520 CrossFire will have this limitation.  Just keep that in mind.

The Catalyst driver for CrossFire is still fairly new and I was already told that several bugs have been worked out from the time my driver was released to me to the one that will be available on the ATI website this week.  I frequently had to uninstall and reinstall the driver software completely in order to get CrossFire to re-enable on my system.  I could be running CrossFire tests on a game, reboot the system, still have the CrossFire check box checked, start up the same game and see the performance levels much lower than they were just previously.  This made testing the platform particularly painful as I always had to double/triple/lots of times check to see if the performance I was seeing was actually being rendered on two cards and not just one. 

The Far Cry ‘ghosting’ issue I addressed on the Far Cry benchmark page is also worrisome; both because if ATI didn’t see fit to tell us about it, that means they have a problem and because it might affect other software that I didn’t test.  The issue was definitely noticeable and made the game play pretty much too irritating to enjoy, even at the higher frame rate being produced. 

Performance and Scaling

The ATI CrossFire platform with the X850 XT setup overall performed quite well.  In Doom 3, Far Cry and Half Life 2 we saw very noticeable gains in performance that would allow users to up their IQ if they wished or just enjoy the smoother game play.  In Battlefield 2, as long as we kept AA turned off, we saw a very nice gain in performance on the CrossFire platform as well.  However, EverQuest 2 saw basically no gains, as seems to be common among dual GPU platforms. 

The other issue of performance is how the CrossFire platform (and 6800 Ultra SLI for that matter) looked against the 7800 GTX single card we threw into the mix.  In most cases, the 7800 GTX was overshot by the ATI X850 XT CrossFire cards, though not by very much.  Being as we are looking at similar prices for either configuration, you should really think hard about where you plan on going with your system before deciding to go either way. 

Price

Thankfully, ATI has dramatically changed the pricing of their X850 and X800 series of CrossFire cards since we last heard about them in May.

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Pricing info from ATI

As you see now, ATI clearly is putting the X850 XT against the 6800 Ultra and is leaving the 7800 cards for the upcoming R520 to compete with.  If ATI can keep the prices on these cards at or below this level, then they might have a chance of selling a few of them.  But, considering that the NVIDIA 7800 GT card is selling for just over $350 today, users starting from scratch will definitely be looking elsewhere.

And perhaps ATI already knows this, launching CrossFire with the X850 product knowing that the R520 is just days behind it will no doubt put a stopper in nearly all buyers of this product in the mean time. 

Availability

With NVIDIA setting the bar high with their 7800 GTX and immediate availability, ATI would be committing suicide not doing the same from now on.  Though I haven’t checked the e-tailers yet today, I was assured that major sellers like Newegg.com would have them available for sale today or later in the week. 

Platform

When you are comparing CrossFire to SLI, you are not only comparing the video cards but also an entire platform.  Because SLI only works on NVIDIA SLI motherboards and CrossFire only works on ATI CrossFire motherboards (for the time being at least) you really have to figure in the performance and features of the chipset and motherboard you are buying if you are looking to build a multi-GPU setup.  That being said, you can probably guess that I don’t think much of the Radeon XPress 200 CrossFire Edition chipset as it stands now; the nForce4 chipset just has a lot more to offer and didn’t cut any of the corners that ATI has done. 

But I know as well as most that gamers probably don’t care if their USB runs slower than someone else’s, they just want the fastest gaming platform they can get.  So if the performance of the CrossFire X850 XT is to their liking, overlooking the faults of the chipset can be an easy thing to do.  But with the R520 looming so close, really it will fall to THAT graphics card the responsibility of selling the CrossFire motherboards.

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R520 and Waiting

As I have mentioned several times here, ATI’s next generation GPU is almost here.  They haven’t bothered being quiet about either, publicly announcing that they are in mass production at TSMC.  With that information in your left hand, and the information from this review in the right, what are you to do with it?  Should you go ahead and buy a CrossFire card and motherboard to go with your X800?  Or should you wait it out and see what ATI is going to offer to compete with the 7800 series of cards?  Really, do you have to ask?

Final Thoughts

The X850 XT CrossFire Edition graphics card brings about the completion of the full circle of multi GPU products from both vendors that we have been expecting for some time now.  And it turns out that the X850 XT CrossFire setup actually performs very well compared to the same generation 6800 series from NVIDIA.  Keeping in mind the price difference between these cards and the next-generation parts from both ATI and NVIDIA, we may have just found your next graphics card upgrade. 

ATI’s CrossFire technology is finally here!  Now we just can’t wait to see what it can do on R520.

Be sure to use our price checking engine to find the best prices on the ATI X850 XT CrossFire Edition and anything else you may want to buy!

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