Analysis, Stability, Future plans and Closing Thoughts
Stability and Software Concerns

Now that we have looked at performance we have to note our experience during the whole testing process.  In general, the HYDRA Engine software and tool was a breeze to work with and enabling/disabling the software worked seamlessly and without a hitch.  I could switch modes without a need to reboot and if you wanted to disable HYDRA and enable CrossFire instead in the ATI control panel, you could do that as well.  Overall I think the software is fairly mature and should be ready to find its way into the hands of enthusiasts.

There were a couple of hiccups to note though; in our multi-vendor testing some of the DX10 titles had some significant coloring issues that didn’t show up for other media that had used the same demonstration machine.  Some simple reinstalling of ATI/NVIDIA drivers seemed to fix the issue but it did revert one time.  Obviously this is something Lucid needs to work out before they unveil the official multi-vendor driver this winter, but for an early beta it was workable.

I was also a bit let down to see the software lists that existed in terms of what software Lucid was comfortable with us benchmarking.  Batman, for example, wasn’t on the list.  That being said, the team told me over and over that this was only intended to be an “early look” at the HYDRA technology and performance and that they wanted to save some goodies for the final release of reviews this fall/winter.  I found that, as of my meeting with them, over 55 games had been qualified by their team to work very well with HYDRA technology.  That may not seem like a lot of games, compared to the hundreds and hundreds for SLI and CrossFire, but for a small team in a short period that number is acceptable.


Based on the performance results you saw above I have to say that our initial impressions of the HYDRA technology are very positive.  And yes, before I get the countless emails, I realize we only tested a handful of games on a handful of graphics cards and Lucid and its partners still have a lot to prove to make this technology truly consumer ready.  But for just an afternoon, my general impressions of the type of scaling Lucid’s HYDRA was providing impressed and should be able to give both SLI and CrossFire a run for their money.

Lucid HYDRA 200 Multi-GPU Technology Performance Preview - Graphics Cards 21
MSI’s upcoming “Big Bang” motherboard

Identical GPU scaling performance of 80% doesn’t quite hit the term “linear” that was thrown around during Lucid’s development but in my experience that is better than SLI and CrossFire native configurations in every case we have tested.  And since we don’t have any other options to compare it to, the different-GPU scaling of around 50% of the “slower” card also seems pretty reasonable based on the additional overhead.  The days of throwing away your “old” graphics card, even of a different graphics vendor, might soon be over.

Lucid did point out that in terms of same-GPU HYDRA versus SLI/CrossFire comparisons, there will be some cases where HYDRA is faster and other cases where the NVIDIA or ATI native solution is faster by about 10-20% in either direction.  But obviously neither NVIDIA nor ATI are doing different-GPU scaling at all, so Lucid will definitely see the advantage there.  Also, Lucid pointed out some newer games that did not yet have any SLI or CrossFire scaling with the latest WHQL drivers from NVIDIA and ATI – we have seen this over the years where it takes time for the GPU vendors to release updated drivers and profiles to get GPU scaling working.  In those cases, because Lucid’s software doesn’t require profiles in that sense, the HYDRA solution provided scaling when native options could not.  If Lucid’s software team lives up to its claims it could mean day-of-release scaling for any PC title on HYDRA-enabled systems. 

Other Notes – Random information I couldn’t figure out where to place

As of this writing, dual GPU graphics cards like the GeForce GTX 295 are not going to work with Lucid’s HYDRA technology in the way you want it to.  Essentially, because the two GPUs behind the PCI Express bridge chips on the graphics boards (both NVIDIA and ATI) are “hidden” to the system, the HYDRA driver will only be able access one of them.  This is a bit of a letdown for us as the idea of having a single GTX 295 and then throwing in an HD 5870 sounded very appealing, it doesn’t appear Lucid will be able to get that working. 

What my theory is, and I hope to test soon, is that you might be able to enable SLI on the GTX 295 and then enable HYDRA on the “two” graphics cards in the computer then.  (The SLI’d GTX 295 being ONE card and the HD 5870 being the second.)  Sounds like a recipe for awesome or disaster. 

Lucid HYDRA 200 Multi-GPU Technology Performance Preview - Graphics Cards 22
On the “Big Bang” motherboard the Lucid HYDRA 200 and P55 chipset sit side by side.

Some users will also want to know why NVIDIA or ATI did not take this route on their own years ago with scaling technology.  Both companies have been fixed in their reasoning that you could not load balance GPUs of different performance (with only a few very minor exceptions) in any way that was acceptable to them.  Obviously the amount of benefit you get from the “slower” GPU would be less than when paired with identical GPUs (we saw the 80% of GTX 260s fall to 50% or so with different-GPU cards) but surely even those big boys can see the benefits of “something is better than nothing” right?  It wouldn’t surprise me if either of the major GPU vendors suddenly found themselves opening up the options for more GPU combinations in the near future.  One thing you still will never find from that source though is the ability to use cross-vendor combinations – Lucid will have the advantage there forever.

Finally, Lucid is pursuing other avenues for their HYDRA technology than just gaming.  Think corporate and high performance computing usage models and very high profit margins.  If you are in to that kind of thing keep your eyes peeled on the upcoming supercomputing conventions…

Future Plans

The immediate future for Lucid will be to get an actual product from one of its partners out the door and to get better drivers and game support for those early adopting consumers.  To do otherwise would be corporate suicide and would alienate any good will they have built with their unique and impressive technology.  We have to take them at their word that they will accomplish this for now but it is something we can directly measure as 2010 progresses. 

The CEO did talk to us about some other very interesting uses of the HYDRA technology for the consumer spaces besides standard game scaling.  One demo we worked with showed a dual-monitor configuration on the HD 4890 / GTX 260+ setup (one monitor for each GPU) with HD video playback going on the GTX 260 driven display.  While that was running, a benchmark iteration of Call of Juarez could be run that would still show performance gains (though slightly lower than with out the HD video playback) over the results from ONLY the HD 4890.  Essentially the HYDRA engine is able to tap into the GPU’s power even if it is being utilized by another application; this could mean great things for Folding@Home users or gamers that want to use some GPU-encoding applications while gaming at the same time. 

Lucid HYDRA 200 Multi-GPU Technology Performance Preview - Graphics Cards 23
Are you a no-good-dirty cheater?

Another feature the team has discussed but that is in the very distant future are unique implementations of secondary rendering.  Imagine two monitors hooked up to your computer with the primary one showing the normal screen for your Modern Warfare 2 game while a second display shows you the reverse angle looking behind you.  Sure, it’s probably going to be called cheating by most but the technology sounds impressive.  Simply put, because the HYDRA software engine has to interpret DirectX data to work its scaling magic already, it has access to the entire spectrum of 3D data in the game at any given time and could, in theory, render other angles of the game that the developer did not intend.  This could be used for rear view cameras in racing games, showing HUD-only information on a secondary panel or even zooming in on your gun sights.  The potential is impressive though the moral implications are as well.  And my guess is that applications like PunkBuster would interpret these types of actions as illegal anyway.  Maybe a question for us in late 2010…

Closing Thoughts

Our time with Lucid has grown longer and longer with each meeting and we were glad to FINALLY be able to go hands on with the hardware and be able to report on it.  It was tough getting a glimpse of the scaling power of the solution at IDF this past fall and not tell all of our readers about it!  From the beginning we knew that what Lucid was doing had the potential to be revolutionary to both the consumer and the graphics industry as a whole and as we get closer and closer (release it already!) to retail availability it seems that I am more confident that this will indeed be the case. 

There are hurdles though – the most dire of which is likely the technology itself.  Can the Lucid software and QA team, obviously orders of magnitude smaller than those at NVIDIA or AMD, keep up with the new PC gaming titles and graphics hardware as it is released?  Lucid likes to say their driver is completely software and hardware agnostic, but we know that is simply not the case otherwise we could have tested ANY game and ANY graphics cards in our time with them this week.  There are going to be bugs and glitches and missing textures and performance issues to deal with for the life of the technology and Lucid has to prove to the community, and to partners like MSI, that they are willing and able to keep their end of the bargain. 

It would also appear that another hurdle is other entities in the world of technology now as well.  MSI has delayed the Big Bang motherboard, the first product offering to include the Lucid HYDRA chip on it, and rumors persist that NVIDIA was at hand in the reasoning for it.  NVIDIA would likely be pressured then to quit the SLI licensing program completely if HYDRA is a success as any motherboard vendor could just include the Lucid technology and allow gamers to run dual-GPUs that way instead, but with MUCH improved flexibility.  Obviously the HYDRA option is going to be more expensive and complicated to integrate but how much so has yet to be seen.

After my day with the team all I can say is that I am going to start preparing our labs for some in-depth analysis of the Lucid HYDRA multi-GPU scaling technology very soon.  There are going to be limitless combinations of potential testing scenarios, and though we can’t possibly hit them all, we are going to hit as many as possible so that we can get a final verdict on whether or not the solution is ready for consumers.  Thus far I think Lucid is on the right path and the early look we have shown you today proved that the technology is real, working and potentially industry rattling.

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