Ever since 3dfx first uttered the words S-L-I in 1998, gamers everywhere have been entranced by the idea of combining multiple cards for additional performance. Unlike a lot of technologies in the graphics market, the SLI concept can appeal to both the hardcore hardware enthusiast as well as the gamer on a budget.
For the high-end crowd the concept is simple: you get the performance of tomorrow’s high-end cards today. By dropping in two cards at the same time you can not only enjoy new levels of performance at the screen resolutions you’ve used previously, SLI also opened up new screen resolutions. In the case of Voodoo2 for instance, 1024x768 became available.
Meanwhile, gamers on a budget upgraded incrementally, in many cases purchasing the first card at full MSRP and then taking advantage of price cuts to pick up the second card 6-12 months later at a much lower price.
As a result, 3dfx’s Voodoo2 and their SLI “Power of Two” campaign was an enormous success, it has been estimated that 30% of Voodoo2 card owners were SLI users. This is an enormously high percentage for a product that was derided by many as a niche product with no future.
Knowing this, NVIDIA was quick to cash in on SLI’s previous success when they were ready to launch their multi-GPU technology last year, even though the rendering technique used was completely different. Since then NVIDIA’s SLI solution has gone on to enjoy tremendous success with rapidly falling prices on motherboards and video cards spurring demand for products based on the technology. The one key downside to NVIDIA SLI however has been application support. NVIDIA’s driver team has been busy literally optimizing individual games for SLI. In our original SLI Performance Preview from November, we noted three games that didn’t take advantage of SLI: Lock On: Modern Air Combat, Unreal Tournament 2004, and the original Splinter Cell (as well as its follow-up Pandora Tomorrow). Since then, NVIDIA has only reworked their SLI driver to take advantage of one of these three games, LOMAC.
Now ATI is poised to release their equivalent to NVIDIA’s SLI technology, only they boast one key feature – their solution works with all games! ATI’s dubbed their multi-VPU product Crossfire.