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Part 2: AMD's Eyefinity Technology Explained

It Starts With the Card

In our prior Eyefinity article , we took you inside of AMD’s new multi-screen technology, implemented throughout the ATI Radeon HD 5000-series GPU line. We examined the output pipelines within Eyefinity-enabled cards, touched on the use of passive and active dongles, introduced DisplayPort connectivity, and saw the many ways in which Eyefinity display groups can be configured with AMD’s Catalyst driver software.

That’s all a necessary first step, but Eyefinity technology doesn’t work in a vacuum. We cringe at using the marketing buzzword “ecosystem,” but that’s really what something like Eyefinity requires—an ecosystem of hardware manufacturers and software developers taking the Eyefinity idea and fleshing it out with things you can actually use and interact with. Of course, that begins with the graphics card, including everyone from Asus to XFX. AMD has gone out of its way to promote triple- and six-display Eyefinity configurations, but there’s more to consider than monitor counts.

At the top-end (as of this writing), there’s AMD’s own ATI Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity 6 card, featuring six Mini DisplayPort connectors sitting pretty in a row down the length of the two-slot card’s edge. At the mainstream, you’ll find cards like Asus’s EAH5750, another two-slotter, but this time with only one full-size DisplayPort connector sandwiched between an HDMI port and two DVI ports. The trick is to watch the specs, because cards like these will only output to three ports despite having four physical connectors.

In fact, buying a mid-range card doesn’t guarantee Eyefinity support. Recall that Eyefinity requires the use of at least one DisplayPort connection. It makes sense that cards in the 5400-series might omit DisplayPort, both for price point and target demographic reasons (low-end card buyers typically aren’t setting up three or more screens). The same also seems to be true in the 5500-series. Most cards here still don’t support Eyefinity—yet—despite the presence of other performance features, including premium cooling.

Nevertheless, there are now dozens of Eyefinity-enabled cards on the market. For the rich and infamous, there are the dual-GPU HD 5970 juggernauts, such as the $749 HD597F2GDGC from HIS. At the opposite extreme, a few, like PowerColor’s AX5450, slide in under $50. We’d never recommend this card for gaming, but if your needs are focused on using Eyefinity for productivity, it doesn’t take much to get up and going.

That begs the obvious next question: Once you decide on a card, what exactly does it take to get up and going with an Eyefinity rig? That’s what we’re going to explore in the following pages.