Still trying to learn about graphics and gaming; came across this from PC World. January 24th, 2006 GeekTech: ATI's CrossFire, Take 2 Sr. Editor Tom Mainelli Graphics giant ATI hasn't done a whole lot right lately. From product delays, to product launches on paper only, to just plain disappointing performance from some of its newer products, the company has not enjoyed much critical success of late. But I have to give the ATI folks credit--they keep trying. Case in point: the company's CrossFire technology. Back in October, ATI launched its long-delayed dual-graphics card product, a response to NVidia's well-established dual-card SLI technology: http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,118782,tk,urx,00.asp CrossFire was clearly a "me too" product, and the first iteration felt more like a proof of concept than a real-life product; I recommended that buyers steer clear: http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,122980,tk,urx,00.asp Now the company has finally rolled out its next generation of CrossFire boards. They're clearly a step in the right direction, addressing some flaws and upping performance. ATI is trying to get it right. But I still wouldn't buy one. Better Performance, Still Kludgy CrossFire requires a special chip set and motherboard to work; ATI recommends dual-slot motherboards based on its own Radeon XPress 200 chip set, which are finally beginning to appear in retail. Unlike SLI, which lets you pair most matching mid- to high-range cards, CrossFire requires one special-edition graphics board that includes extra hardware (the master) and one standard card (the slave). You connect the two using an awkward external cable. We performed our initial CrossFire tests using a Radeon X850 CrossFire Edition and a Radeon X850 XT board. The results were disappointing. For starters, the dual-card configuration was hamstrung by a resolution limitation of 1600 by 1200 at a refresh rate of 60 Hz (the new CrossFire cards face no such limitation). Worse, even paired up, the aging X850 chips had a hard time keeping pace with a single card running NVidia's 7800 GTX with 256MB of RAM; I shudder to think how badly NVidia's newer, faster 7800 GTX cards with 512MB of memory would thrash the dual X850 setup. This time around, we started by subjecting the same X850 boards to our latest graphics tests. Then we tested the next-generation Radeon X1800 XT CrossFire Edition with 512MB of RAM paired with a standard X1800 XT 512MB board. Finally, for comparison purposes, we tested the single X1800 XT board. Because CrossFire requires a compatible chip set, we can't test it in our standard graphics test bed machines (the ones we used for our recent graphics-board extravaganza). As a result, we can't really compare those results to those of our CrossFire test machine, so we have a rather limited data set. That said, we do know one thing: The new CrossFire is better than the old CrossFire. Test Results In our tests using Battlefield 2, Half Life 2, and Quake 4, the dual X1800 XT setup was a consistent winner over the dual X850 setup. At a lower resolution (1024 by 768), and with antialiasing turned off, the differences were laughably small on many of the tests. That's due in part to the fact that the CPU becomes more of a bottleneck than the graphics chip at those settings. However, at 1600 by 1200 with antialiasing turned on--a setting you'd expect from anyone spending the dough for two high-end graphics cards--the performance jump was more noticeable. For example, in Battlefield 2 at those settings, the dual-card X850 setup notched 54 frames per second, the single X1800 XT hit 70 fps, and the dual-card X1800XT reached 80 fps. In our Half Life 2 test at 1600 by 1200 with antialiasing on, the dual X850 setup actually outpaced the single X1800 XT card with scores of 105 fps to 88 fps respectively. The dual-card X1800XT hit 113 fps. Finally, in our Quake 4 tests at those same settings, the dual-card X850 setup managed 57 fps, the single X1800XT hit 54 fps, and the dual-card X1800XT reached 96 fps. Clearly, the latest generation of ATI cards are a step forward, and as a result pairing two such cards together nets better results than putting together two older-generation cards. SLI Remains Superior So why can't I recommend the new and improved CrossFire? For starters, the whole external cable connector thing still really bugs me, as it's nowhere near as elegant as SLI's implementation. And I don't like the fact that you have to pay more for the CrossFire Master Edition card than for the standard version. Finally, unless you're a die-hard ATI fan with lots of money, the results just don't warrant the cost. Of course, you can probably make the same argument about high-end NVidia cards and SLI: http://www.pcworld.com/reviews/article/0,aid,123791,pg,5,tk,urx,00.asp This latest CrossFire discussion may be moot. At this writing I'm able to find the standard $500 X1800 XT boards online, but I have yet to find the CrossFire version. If the cards don't show up soon, they may become as irrelevant as those first X850 CrossFire cards: Rumor has it ATI is already close to launching the 1800XT's replacement. Perhaps ATI's third attempt at CrossFire will be the charm.