En Route To The Holodeck
Major changes to the PC graphics experience come few and far in between. Perhaps the last significant update was the move to multi-GPU rendering, a la ATI CrossFire. Of course, despite the well-known performance benefits of employing multiple GPUs, the technology has some obvious drawbacks. More than one motherboard slot is usually required for multi-GPU configurations, which in turn means that you wind up consuming two or more cards worth of power, rather than just one.
On the application front, you're free to span a desktop across multiple screens, running multiple apps across one or more displays concurrently. However, traditionally, spanning an application across more than one screen meant that it had to be non-accelerated. You could have size or you could have speed, but you couldn’t have both.
Times have changed. AMD’s new Eyefinity technology takes us to the next level in mainstream multi-monitor output. Known as “SunSpot” to only a handful within AMD up until its launch day, Eyefinity enables up to six monitors to be controlled from one card, enabling a massive “surface” area exceeding 24 megapixels. If you read AMD’s literature on Eyefinity, it says that “we are inexorably on the road to the ‘holodeck’ (as conceptualized on Star Trek).” Given that the Star Trek holodeck involved haptics (tactile feedback) based on force fields and such, this might be a tad hyperbolic. A better, if less-known, analogy might be the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), a small chamber comprised of three to six screens showing rear-mounted 3D projections. Dozens of universities use CAVE systems for research around the world, so imagining a consumer version of CAVE enabled by AMD’s technology isn’t at all far-fetched. If you’ve read Fahrenheit 451 and recall the three-walled, immersive home entertainment systems Bradbury imagined, that’s where Eyefinity (with a little help from ultra-high-speed broadband) is headed.
If your primary PC is a single-screen notebook, the thought of having six monitors may seem overwhelming and excessive. So let’s be clear at the outset: Eyefinity is a means, not an end. If CrossFire was ATI/AMD’s method for helping consumers go multi-GPU, then Eyefinity is the next evolution of that. The object is not to pile on as many screens as possible. Rather, the object is to make computing “surfaces,” the real estate on which you visualize a computer-generated environment, as scalable as possible.
Today, DisplayPort is a key piece in making that scalability happen, as is a redesign in how multi-monitor computing happens on the video card. Let’s dig in and see what Eyefinity really is and does.