As graphics cards became more powerful, the need for SLI disappeared. Sadly, 3dfx is no longer with us, having been supplanted by ATi and Nvidia. Both companies have been battling each other with their top-end graphics cards for the last two to three years. Each would push clock speeds higher and higher. Each would come out with newer graphics processors. Each would offer more and more memory, as we now have cards with 256 MB of RAM. For a while, it seemed that if you bought a top of the line card, you could play any game without a problem.
This came to a screeching halt when Far Cry was released. Every once in a while, a game is released that humbles your best hardware. Far Cry is that game (read our review of it here ). Just try playing it at 1600x1200 with all the quality settings turned up. So do you lower the quality for faster game play? Or do you lower the speed for better quality video? Alienware doesn't want you to have to make that decision. They want you to have both. Alienware's solution - two cards in one machine
To accomplish this graphical magic, Alienware had to invent its own hardware solutions. The Graphics Array is the name given to the twin card technology. The great thing is that off-the-shelf cards can be used. So when your dual ATi 9800 XTs get a little slow, then just buy two newer cards to replace them. In addition, it shouldn't matter what brand of graphics card you use. Since the lead between ATi and Nvidia changes often, you are free to use the "card of the month".
The two cards output their signal to a processor control board (PCB) that resides in another slot. The PCB board combines the two signals, and then outputs to the monitor(s). The Graphics Array technology will allow for dual monitor support when you are doing your boring work type stuff. With a simple flip of the switch, the signals will combine for your game playing.
Currently, the Graphics Array uses two video cards in tandem, but Alienware promises that this technology will be scalable to four, six and maybe even eight video cards. Indeed, Far Cry running on eight ATi 9800s will be interesting to see.
The motherboard that we saw was a custom designed Iwill. The Graphics Array technology requires PCI Express slots, which are capable of having four times the bandwidth of AGP X8 slots. AGP and regular PCI slots just don't have enough bandwidth for future applications. You can see how PCI Express comes to the rescue in a previous THG article .