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.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Maziar
    Nice article,its very good for users for upgrading,because for current SLI/CF you need 2 exact cards but with Lucid you can use different cards as well,but it still needs to be more optimized and has a long way ahead of it,it looks very promising though
  • Von_Matrices
    I'm highly doubtful of the Steam hardware survey. I think it is underestimating the number of multi-GPU systems. I for one am running 4850 crossfire and steam has never detected a multi-GPU system when I was asked for the hardware survey. The 90% NVIDIA SLI seems also seems a little too high to me.
  • Bluescreendeath
    The CPU scores for the 3D vantage tests are way off. You need to turn off PhysX when benchmarking the CPU or it will skewer the results...
  • shubham1401
    Nice concept...
    A long way to go though.
  • Bluescreendeath
    So far, the best scaling has been in Crysis. The 5870/GTX285 combo benchmarks looked very promising.
  • cangelini
    BluescreendeathThe CPU scores for the 3D vantage tests are way off. You need to turn off PhysX when benchmarking the CPU or it will skewer the results...

    It's explained in the analysis ;-)
  • kravmaga
    "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"

    Quoted from the last page; I disagree with that statement.
    There are plenty of people in situations where using this board is a better investment performance per dollars. This is all the more relevant as this technology will undoubtedly find its way into cheaper boards and budget oriented setups where it will make all the sense in the world to bench it using mid-end value parts.

    I, for one, would have liked to see what using gtx260s and 5770s would look like in this same setup. As is, this review leaves many questions unanswered.
  • SpadeM
    Well the review does give an answer in the form of: It's better to run a ATI card for rendering and a nvidia card for physics and cuda (if u're into transcoding/accelerating with coreavc etc.) with windows 7 installed.
    Or at least that is the conclusion i'm comfortable with at the moment.
  • HalfHuman
    i also agree with the fact that a person who will buy this board will necessarily go for the highest priced vid boards. maybe some will but not all. there will be more who will try to save the older vid cards.

    i also understand why you paired the 5870 with nvidia's greatest. there is a catch however... lucid guys did not have the chance to play with 5xxx series too much and you may be evaluating something that is not too ripe. i guess the 4xxx series would have been a better chance to see how well the technology works. couple that with games that are not yet certified for lucid, couple that with how much complexity this technology has to overcome... i think this is a magnificent accomplishment o lucid team part.

    i also think that in order for this technology to become viable it will go down in price and will be found in much cheaper boards. for the moment the "experimenting phase" is done on the expensive spectrum. i saw some early comparisons and the scaling was beautiful. i know that the system put together by lucid... but that is fine since that was only a demo to show that it works. judging on how fast this guys are evolving i guess that they will go mainstream this year.
  • cangelini
    Ah, but if it doesn't offer a better investment in performance per dollar, as is the case now, that statement stands up =)
  • Andraxxus
    I hope that the guys at Lucid will have a chance to continue with this
    wonderful technology.Not long ago mixing ATI with Nvidia was unthinkable
    and many people asked if they could CF or SLI mixed boards on forums. So I think that this is something that should have the support of the people
    that buy GPUs so that we can end this proprietary technology farce (see Physx).I'm not saying that the Physx is bad but the restriction are bad.
    Well in the end I just hope that they won't be bought by a rich so called
    "competitor" that will can the product so that it can keep sucking money
    from the buyer just for minor improvements or rebranding.
  • juanc
    I think that this will really pay if the people develop some driver that can "get the most out of each card" by rendering using each cards "best features" like for example, render the 3D Scene with the GeForce and apply the AA with the ATI and the colouring with the ATI. Balancing using what's best on each card.

    Then I'll get 1 middle of the pack ATI and one middle of the pack NV. Run what runs best on each, or combine the best features of each card togheter.
  • Yuka
    Nice review Mr. Chris, sharp as usual.

    I agree with zipzoomflyhigh, but this chip has a lot of pontential. It needs some polishing or help from ATI and nVidia to make it better. If they can make it some how (ATI and nVidia for Hydra), this would boost up their sales for not being "platform bound" and leasing their multi gpu tech to third parties. I can dream a little, right? lol.

    Anyway, very good news and hopefully nVidia nor ATI will bully this tech.

  • socrates047
    Nvidia has 'x', AMD/ATI has 'y', and Intel brings 'z'.
    Hydra produces 'xyz'.
    this is all value to me... i dont know about you guys.
  • thackstonns
    Here is why I like this technology. I can keep my 4870 and upgrade to a multicard system without having to buy 2 more graphics cards. So I could do a 5870 and instead of moving the 4870 to a different computer I can keep it. Here is where I have that problem though. Physics will suck because of nvidia's restrictions, I will have a hell of a system that will run crysis and looks good, but since the rest of the games are console ports I will be wasting money to play crap quality games.
  • noob2222
    Nice read, but I question the actual useable titles with this Hydra. Testing with games that aren't supported doesn't show what the board can do, but only shows what it can't.
    Using 5/6 titles that aren't supported officially makes this board and technology appear to be an epic failure. Would be nice to know what it does when the game is acually supposed to work, or what happens when the drivers allow these games to work in the future.
  • TeraMedia
    The problem I have with the product is that they are essentially replacing the GPU obsolescence schedule with the chipset obsolescence schedule. And their platform choice makes this particularly bad because while AMD makes an effort to keep their sockets backward-compatible, Intel seems to do the opposite. In fact, Intel now seems hell-bent on segmenting the platform space as much as possible while constraining the product lifecycle as much as possible. Want to reuse your C2Q or upgrade to a 6-core (gulftown, is it?) CPU on this mobo? Good luck with that. With socket 1156, Intel has effectively forced you to buy a new mid-range CPU and constrained you to the mid-range market. If past behavior is any predictor of future behavior, I fully expect the next major generation of Intel CPUs (e.g. 3+ yrs out) not to be compatible with 1156. How long do you think Intel will make advancements on 1156-compatible CPUs?

    So, yes, you can mix GPUs from different generations and even from different vendors. But by the time it even makes sense to do that twice, you'll need to upgrade your whole MB to keep a balanced CPU-GPU system. If the X-mode, A-mode and N-mode scaling were more seamless and effective on the latest HW, and the cost were more in-line with other 1156-socket MBs, I could see this MB making some sense. But given that you need to spend an extra $150+ for this Mobo, I'd rather put that $150 towards the second card or an upgraded card with a longer life span before obsolescence.
  • memeroot
    big fan of the concept and $150 isn't to much for something a bit fun....
    however needs to be x58 and what is the over clocking ability of the board?
    also does it have the same audio advantages
  • xer0
    So what happens when Nvidia (which already has with Physx) or ATI decide to to make drivers (or even firmware) that looks for the competitors's (or lower-end, same-manufacturer cards) and says "Sorry we're being douchebags and turning off functionality and performance features."