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MSI Big Bang Fuzion: Pulling The Covers Off Of Lucid’s Hydra Tech

We have two subjects in play here: MSI’s Big Bang Fuzion motherboard and the Lucid Hydra technology setting it apart from other multi-GPU-capable platforms. Both MSI and Lucid have to be commended for trying something new and injecting a bit of welcome innovation where issues like micro-stuttering and inaccessible rendering profiles have left many enthusiasts sour at ATI and Nvidia’s own development efforts.

Lucid’s Hydra Technology

Let’s take stock of the performance numbers we’ve generated here today.

Of the seven different applications we used to test, there was only really one situation where X-mode showed us better performance than a Radeon HD 5870 on its own—Batman at 2560x1600. Otherwise, the 5870/GTX 285 combination was a flop.

A-mode looked a little healthier. But the biggest winner—3DMark Vantage—isn’t a game at all, so Lucid’s victory over conventional CrossFire is limited to a synthetic. Nevertheless, that’s solid proof Hydra has the potential to operate more efficiently, and, in turn, deliver more speed than what we’re already getting from ATI.

There are also one or two situations where a pair of GeForce GTX 285s in N-mode outperforms conventional SLI. Surprisingly, DiRT2 is one of them. Again, while isolated, this win is significant because we see that similar gains are possible in titles properly optimized for Lucid’s Hydra engine.

Clearly Lucid still has its work cut out for it though. The company bit off a very ambitious project when it set forth to enable mixed-vendor and non-identical multi-GPU configurations. Windows Vista, DirectX 11, and a brand new (very attractive) line of graphics processors from ATI have given Lucid a lot to juggle. Fortunately, the new 1.4 driver means it doesn’t have to qualify individual driver drops from ATI and Nvidia any more.

Lucid does still have to worry about adding hardware support in a timely manner, incorporating the latest graphics APIs (like DirectX 11), and ironing out game compatibility. These are tall orders for large companies; Lucid’s task is doubly challenging because it probably won’t get much backing from either ATI or Nvidia—the latter of which would rather be selling more SLI licenses than helping Lucid set up an alternative technology. To this end, we have to expect that any early adopters of the Hydra engine will simply have to accept that they’ll get support for the latest hardware, complementary software, and games a step after ATI and Nvidia turn it on themselves.

Would we buy a Big Bang Fuzion board with Lucid’s Hydra today? No; it’s just not ready yet. We’ve seen the numbers showing a Radeon HD 4890 and a GeForce GTX 260 scaling beautifully and I have no doubt these are completely legit results. But when you spend $350 on a motherboard, you’re using graphics cards that cost more than that. If you’re not, you aren’t doing it right (start with Paul’s story on Building A Balanced Gaming PC). I’m talking Radeon HD 5000-series cards and GeForce GTX 280s, at least. Right now, mid-range P55 boards supporting plain ol’ CrossFire and SLI do the job fine, with one exception…

…we’ve seen a legion of gamers dissatisfied with this phenomenon called micro-stuttering that manifests itself at lower frame rates in games that employ AFR and can’t be captured through conventional frame rate measurements. Actually playing on the Hydra-based system in Call of Duty (ATI) and Batman (Nvidia), I simply couldn’t pick up on any of this, even after playing with single- and dual-GPU configurations back-to-back. Should Lucid’s compatibility and performance stories come into sharper focus, this might be the innovation that those sensitive to micro-stuttering wanted to get them back on-board with mutli-GPU gaming. I’d be curious to hear feedback from anyone else that has gamed on a Hydra-equipped platform and is more bothered by this AFR-oriented artifact.

Personally, I’m rooting for Lucid and MSI. While I don’t feel that this product is ready for prime time, multi-GPU rendering is still a fairly young mainstream capability and this is the furthest we’ve seen any company aside from ATI or Nvidia get (post-3dfx demise, of course) to besting the flexibility of CrossFire and SLI. There’s clearly a ton of work to be done, but the hardest part seems like it’s out of the way.

Big Bang Fuzion

MSI has a trio of very similar boards in the sub-$200 P55-GD80, $350 Big Bang Trinergy, and $350 Big Bang Fuzion. Until Lucid’s compatibility and performance issues are smoothed out to the point where Hydra is a near-transparent technology to the folks paying a premium to mix-and-match GPUs, the nForce 200-equipped Trinergy is the better buy since it includes both CrossFire and SLI.

But unless you really feel the need to multiplex a 16-lane PCIe link from your Clarkdale- or Lynnfield-based Core i3/i5/i7 into a pair of x16 links, the P55-GD80 is a smarter buy. With support for both conventional CrossFire and SLI, it’s almost impossible to justify an extra $150 that could go to any number of other subsystems when we’re still talking about P55-based configurations. With six-core CPUs on the horizon, the place to go premium is really X58. Hopefully, MSI extends its enthusiast efforts to that chipset as well.

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