ATI has been coming on very strong these past few months, bolstering their GPU line-up with a slew of new products, ranging from the entry level Radeon X1300 all the way on up to the flagship Radeon X1900 XTX. The company's well documented execution problems from 2005 are behind them, and they seem to be firing on all cylinders as we near the end of the first quarter of 2006. Their "standard" graphics cards are in good supply, CrossFire enabled motherboards are readily available and coming down in price, and their various CrossFire Master cards are in-stock at quite a few retailers. The company's GPU and chipset divisions have really turned things around, and aren't scrambling to catch up to arch rival NVIDIA any longer, in terms of both product availability and performance.
However, where ATI does seem to be behind NVIDIA at the moment is in regard to the overall feature set and refinement of their multi-GPU CrossFire platform. With SLI, users need only purchase a pair of GeForce cards and an nForce 4 SLI or SLIX16 chipset based motherboard, plug everything in, install the drivers and go. And up to this point NVIDIA was the sole supplier of motherboard chipsets that offered x16 electrical connections to both PCI Express graphics slots with their nForce 4 SLIX16. The nForce 4 SLI, ATI's Radeon Xpress 200, VIA's K8T900, and Intel's 975X Express offer only x8 electrical connections to the each graphics slot when a pair of video cards are installed.
With ATI's CrossFire there are a few more things to consider. Users have to purchase a standard edition graphics card along with a CrossFire Master card, and a Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition or 975X Express chipset based motherboard with dual PEG slots. Then during installation, they'd have to worry about which slot the CrossFire Master card was installed in, connect a hefty dongle, and at best each graphics card would have only an x8 electrical connection.
Some of these limitations will be eliminated today though, with the release of the ATI CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset. The CrossFire Xpress 3200 is the first chipset to offer true, dual PCI Express x16 graphics slots with a direct link to a single Northbridge chip. NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLIX16 offers dual PCI Express x16 graphics slots, but 16 lanes connect to the MCP and the other 16 lanes connect to the SPP in the chipset. In addtion, the CrossFire Xpress 3200 motherboard we tested, the Asus A8R32-MVP Deluxe, isn't as particular about which slot the CrossFire Master card gets installed into. Finally, ATI also claims the CrossFire Xpress 3200 was designed with high performance and overclocking in mind, which should appeal to the hard core enthusiasts amongst you. Whether they succeeded or not is another story, however. We'll let you know what we think about this in the pages ahead.
|CrossFire Xpress 3200||Radeon Xpress 200||nForce 4 SLIX16|
|CPU Support||Socket 939||Socket 939||Socket 939|
|Manufacturing Process||.11 Low-K||.13 Low-K||.15|
|System Bus||2000 / 1600 MT/s||2000 / 1600 MT/s||2000 / 1600 MT/s|
|Northbridge||RD580||RD480||CK804 + C51|
|High speed A-link NB-SB interface||4 Lanes||2 / 4 Lanes||N/A|
|Southbridge||ULi 1575 / SB450||ULi 1575 / SB400 / SB450||CK804|
|System Memory||Dual Channel 4 x DIMM||Dual Channel 4 x DIMM||Dual Channel 4 x DIMM|
|HD Audio Support||Yes||Yes||No|
|PEG Slots||2 x PCI Express x16||2 x PCI Express x16||2 x PCI Express x16|
|Single-Chip PCIe Implementation||Yes||No||No|
We've been referring to the CrossFire Xpress 3200 as a "chipset", but in actuality ATI is only introducing a single chip today. If you refer to the chart above, you'll see that the CrossFire Xpress 3200 Northbridge is still being coupled with the same ULi 1575 (or should we say NVIDIA?) or ATI SB450 Southbridge chips. The CrossFire Xpress 3200 does differ from the Radeon Xpress 200 in a couple of other ways though. The new chip is built using TSMC's .11 micron Low-K manufacturing process and it has double the number of PCI Express lanes dedicated to graphics, 32 lanes vs. 16 lanes. Comparing the CrossFire Xpress 3200 to NVIDIA's nForce 4 SLIX16 reveals a number of similarities, but ATI has an advantage in terms of HD audio support.
There are a number of products related to the CrossFire Xpress 3200 that you should know about to fully grasp the features and positioning of this new chipset offering. The CrossFire Xpress 3200 has a lot in common with the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset, and we've looked at a number of CrossFire and SLI configurations in a few past articles as well.
- Radeon X1900 CrossFire Evaluation
- Radeon X1800 CrossFire Evaluation
- Radeon X1K Family Review
- ATI Radeon Xpress 200 Chipset Preview
- ATI Crossfire Multi-GPU Technology Preview
- NVIDIA nForce 4 SLIX16 Chipset Review
- NVIDIA SLI Technology Preview
At a minimum, if you haven't already done so, we recommend reading our CrossFire Multi-GPU technology preview, the Radeon Xpress 200 preview, the Radeon X1900 CrossFire evaluation, and both NVIDIA SLI related articles. In those five articles, we cover the vast majority of the features offered by the CrossFire Xpress 3200 and there is quite a bit of background information in those articles that laid the foundation for the product ATI is releasing today.