ATi joins the multi GPU race

While nVidia has remained virtually unchallenged in the multi GPU technology arena, ATi has now joined the fray.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  May 4, 2005

In a bid to wow gamers and go head-to-head with rival GPU manufacturer nVidia, Canadian based ATi has announced chipsets that support multi GPU technology. Multi GPU (graphics processing unit) technology, as the name suggests, combines two or more graphics cards to render each screen you see on the monitor. This approach could potentially double frame rates, which will undoubtedly interest gamers and graphics artists. An official name has yet to be announced for ATi’s multi GPU technology, however nVidia calls its comparative technology ‘SLI’ – Scalable Link Interface. In the past, 3DFX –now part of nVidia – offered multi GPU solutions also known as SLI (Scan Line Interleaving), though 3DFX’s approach saw an external cable linking two PCI cards together. ATi and nVidia have however gone with far more robust solutions. The companies have based their technologies on the super-wide PCI Express x16 bus but unlike nVidia’s SLI technology, ATi set-ups will most probably not require the use of a bridge chip between the two graphics cards. This will provide motherboard manufacturers with greater flexibility when designing their motherboards, as they will not have to worry about placing their PCI Express slots a specific distance apart. The two graphics cards essentially divide the total bandwidth provided by the PCI Express x16 bus into two halves (channels), which transforms both PCI Express x16 slots on the motherboard into x8 slots. While ATi and nVidia’s multi GPU technologies both essentially aim to boost performance, they differ in the way they work. ATi’s architecture is set to break a screen up into tiles - like a chess or checkers board - with every other tile being rendered by a different GPU. nVidia’s SLI technology on the other hand can adopt either alternate frame rendering or split frame rendering, the former of which sees a different GPU rendering each frame while the later simply splits a screen in half with each GPU taking care of half a screen each. The two ATi core-logic chipsets that will support multi GPU technology are known as the RD400 and the RD480. While the RD400 is an AMD chipset for Socket 939 Athlon motherboards, the RD480 will power Intel motherboards designed for the LGA775 Pentium processors. As nVidia has had their nForce 4 SLI chipset on the market for some months, motherboards sporting this chipset are in ample supply. DFI’s Lan Party NF4 SLI-DR for instance can be found in stores locally for $255. However, motherboard manufacturers are already feverishly working with ATi’s new chipsets, and motherboards should be available when the firm goes ahead with the official launch.

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