ATI joins dual GPU game with CrossFire

ATI announced new CrossFire technology to combine two graphics cards in one PC, an answer to Nvidia's SLI.

ATI Technologies on Wednesday demonstrated its upcoming Crossfire technology for allowing two GPUs (graphics processing units) to be used in one PC, claiming it offers better performance than dual GPU technology developed by rival Nvidia. The demonstration came at Computex in Taipei.

Crossfire is aimed at boosting visual effects in personal computers by allowing two graphics cards to be wired together and run in the same PC for better graphics performance, particularly for gamers.

"It takes an image from the first GPU and combines it with the image from the second GPU to provide one image," said Rich Heye, vice president and general manager of the desktop business unit at ATI. By using two GPUs, each chip works at perfecting a portion of the image instead of the entire image, allowing a better picture.

ATI's new dual GPU technology comes about six months after Nvidia launched its SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology, which does the same job as Crossfire. And Nvidia could have a more advanced version of SLI available as early as July, according to Taiwanese motherboard and graphics card makers.

"It's actually not just SLI, it's a complete upgrade" to Nvidia's Geforce 6800 graphics card, said Keita Iida, director of marketing for Japan and Korea at Nvidia.

ATI's Crossfire Edition cards will be available soon for the company's Radeon X850 and Radeon X800 series graphics cards, and can be paired with any standard card of the same processing speed, ATI said. They run with ATI's Radeon Xpress 200 Crossfire Edition chip sets, which work with both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors.

Crossfire-ready motherboards and Crossfire Edition graphics cards would begin shipping in July, at a cost of US$549 for X850 cards carrying 256M-bits of DRAM (dynamic RAM), and US$299 for X800 cards with the same DRAM, ATI said. The X800 cards also come with less DRAM, 128M-bits, for US$239.

The rollout of Crossfire gear will depend a lot on ATI's own execution, Taiwanese motherboard and graphics card makers said.

"We just received Crossfire now," said an executive at one Taiwanese motherboard company, explaining it will take a few weeks to ramp up production of motherboards for the technology.

The graphics cards are an even more complex matter. The Crossfire Edition cards will be made solely by ATI, while the Taiwanese companies will only be allowed to make standard graphics cards based on the Radeon X800 and Radeon X850 graphics units, at least initially. The Crossfire Edition cards act as a master inside PCs running the dual system, while the standard cards are secondary.

In most cases, graphics card makers are invited to create their own versions of new products, to ensure a plentiful market supply.