ATI/Alienware’s dual graphics products
The RAGE FURY MAXX
Metabyte wasn’t the only company to dabble with multi-card technology. ATI came up with their own approach, only they combined it into one card with the RAGE FURY MAXX. This solution solved the AGP/PCI bandwidth issue by integrating two RAGE 128 PRO graphics cores onto one card, but they still needed to come up with a way to divide the work among the two chips.
What ATI came up with is Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR). Rather than splitting the work up every frame like in SLI, with AFR, each RAGE FURY 128 PRO graphics core handles alternate frames. Each chip renders every other frame instead of portions of the same frame.
ATI’s approach was well implemented, initially there were concerns of lag in certain fast-paced shooter games like Quake 3, but in practice the technology worked as advertised for the most part (there were visible artifacts in a few applications). RAGE FURY MAXX’s biggest problem wasn’t related to AFR, rather it was the anemic performance of the underlying RAGE 128 PRO graphics the card was based on. Complicating matters, RAGE FURY MAXX was behind the curve technology-wise as well, lacking hardware transformation and lighting (T&L) support. This contributed to the card’s disappointing performance. Fortunately, the one positive ATI took from RAGE FURY MAXX was that the AFR technology it was based on could be applied to future products, in fact many expected ATI to follow up the initial RAGE FURY MAXX with an AFR-based product with hardware T&L support.
Ultimately this never happened though, the additional costs of adding a second graphics core and its corresponding memory were just too great to make a follow-up product feasible. (While the RAGE FURY MAXX was technically a 64MB board, the memory was split evenly among both chips for an effective 32MB.) Even Sapphire has attempted to do this, most recently with a dual R350 board they showed us at Computex last Fall, driver support ultimately killed that project.
In short, no product ever came close to matching 3dfx’s achievement with Voodoo2 SLI.
PCI Express transition/Alienware
For PCI Express, Intel sought to overcome the chief limitations of both PCI and AGP. PCI Express’ improved bandwidth and hot-swap capability are well documented features, but the new bus is also capable of supporting more than one graphics card.
Alienware was the first company to take advantage of this feature with their video array technology, which was first announced at E3 a few months ago. Like Metabyte’s PGC, video array splits the scene into two pieces; one graphics card takes the upper portion of the environment, while the second card renders the lower section of the scene. Alienware’s video merger hub (which is a third card), is responsible for managing the workload between the two cards, no custom driver is required for operation.
Alienware has been somewhat vague on pricing and configuration data, only to say that X2 will be offered solely in their new line of ALX gaming systems and won’t ship until Q3 or Q4 of this year. Alienware gaming rigs tend to be priced higher than many consumers can afford, with top-of-the-line systems often selling for over $3,000, so don’t expect X2 to come cheap.
But fortunately, Alienware isn’t the only firm that plans to take advantage of PCI Express’ dual graphics capability. NVIDIA is also poised to bring a dual PCI Express solution of their own, and it has a familiar name: SLI!