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AMD's Eyefinity Technology Explained

Leaping Beyond Two Screens

There are different ways to create a multi-monitor surface. Nvidia drew some eyeballs at CES 2010 with the demonstration of its 3D Vision Surround technology, but this approach required two boards, controlled and synchronized with software. Each card could still only output to two displays, as they’ve done for years. There was no increase in hardware-based surface scalability. The implementation still required two cards, an SLI-capable motherboard to run them, and more overall power compared to a single-card solution.

With Eyefinity, one card can drive up to six displays (depending on the model, of course). AMD states that all 5000-series GPUs support Eyefinity. However, it falls to the graphics card manufacturer to decide whether and how Eyefinity will be implemented on a given card. As of this writing, only the 5800 models have Eyefinity enabled in CrossFire mode, and it seems reasonable to expect that bandwidth plays a part in this decision. With the Radeon HD 5970 freshly placing AMD back in the lead for desktop GPU performance, the last thing AMD wants to risk is a bunch of 5400-series buyers trying to span Left 4 Dead 2 across three screens at maximum settings and wondering what why it isn’t playable. Having the display connectivity for multiple displays is one thing, but putting the muscle behind those pipelines is something else, and vendors need to pair their output paths and GPUs appropriately.

Just to be clear, the Radeon HD 4000-series GPUs and all of their predecessors do not support Eyefinity. The GPUs, good as they were, don’t have the horsepower or display output connectivity needed to fuel more than two high-resolution displays.

“For 2D applications, like for productivity work, the bandwidth load is no problem at all,” says Shane Parfitt, product manager in AMD’s GPU division. “Where you get into performance situations is 3D games with 3x the number of pixels in a 3x1 configuration. That’s definitely harder on the GPU. Our GPUs right now are the most powerful on the planet. We test with 30" panels—the 2560x1600 panels with over 6 million pixels each. Sometimes, you might have to turn down the anti-aliasing settings in order for a game to run at at least 30 fps. An average case of 19x12 running across three panels, we find, performs pretty well, especially with the higher-end cards.”

What about harnessing two or more GPUs to buy more multi-display bandwidth?

“We’re just now rolling CrossFire support out,” says Parfitt. “We had a lot of demand from the market for this feature, so we rolled it out in a hotfix driver. But it became an official feature in the February Catalyst release.”

Specifically, in November, the Radeon HD 5970 became the first GPU to support Eyefinity with CrossFire at a time when only 20 or so applications had been validated for CF/Eyefinity compatibility. Only three months later, the feature was enabled across the board. It deserves mention that making this happened required massive testing and troubleshooting effort on AMD’s part, and its driver crew should get bonus kudos for their beyond the call of duty labors.

  • Sykar
    The problem I see with Eyefinity are the black borders between displays...
    Reply
  • dertechie
    Second page mentions a Radeon 5890, I presume you mean either the 5870 or 5970.
    Reply
  • mooch37
    @sykar My thoughts exactly. It has to be an odd number of monitors, otherwise you'll get the crosshair right in the middle. That would bug the crap out of me.
    Reply
  • xaira
    there was talk of a few companies making bezel less monitors
    Reply
  • drowned
    "In assessing single- versus dual-monitor (18" LCDs) usage in everyday work environment applications"

    The key word in your statement is DUAL monitors. I recall another study that tested how much people prefer 3 or 4 monitors over 2, and it was a very small percent (~10%). For a lot of tasks outside of gaming, you don't want your entire vision filled with pixels. You don't want to get dizzy constantly from moving your head back and forth. Of course eyefinity is great if you want to blow a ton of money for a wall of monitors and your career is a stock trader, CERN mission controller, etc, but I'd rather stick with 3 physical and use virtual desktops for 3+.
    Reply
  • Trueno07
    It all made sense to me, until I saw the picture of the kid playing a Racing game on that 6 monitor set up. It looked ridiculous. Why not just play on a big TV that has no lines and only requires 1 output?
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  • Chris_TC
    Trueno07It all made sense to me, until I saw the picture of the kid playing a Racing game on that 6 monitor set up. It looked ridiculous. Why not just play on a big TV that has no lines and only requires 1 output?Absolutely, this one is quite ridiculous. Multiple displays only make sense for games if you sit closely and angle them. But the borders would still annoy the hell out of me.

    This may be a nice gimmick for some, but ultimately we'll be moving to curved screens.
    Reply
  • hackmule
    I used to use two monitors but since I went to three CRT monitors 5+ yrs ago I can't go back to two. This bezel in the middle is aggravating. I use three monitors for work - presentations/writing/graphics and the extra real estate is very valuable there. For play, I have been waiting for the hardware to improve to the point where 3 monitor frame rates are good enough and this eyefinity article has got me thinking that the new ATI cards might be worth a try. I think the next generation will be the game changer when three monitor play frame rates are over 50 for the games we like to play. I would be surprised if there are many who once they get used to three monitors would willingly go back to two.
    Reply
  • falchard
    Big TV lacks the same resolution. Bezeless is hard to manufacture. I don't see the point in using Eye-finity in the method specified with multiple monitors in the front. I would rather setup like the Cave and Stereoscopic display. Borders wouldn't be much of an issue then. 4 x 55" display, 1 front, 1 on each side, and 1 above.
    Reply
  • SmarterChoice
    Eyefinity is amazing with three screens, you don't notice the bezels at all in most games.
    Reply