Both major graphics chip vendors are taking the covers off of new technologies that let you use multiple graphics chips.
Advanced Micro Devices showed CNET Reviews its ATI Hybrid Crossfire design the other day, and various previews of Nvidia's new 3-way SLI popped up around the Web as well. The two takes on multichip graphics processing couldn't be more different from each other, and each reflects where their respective vendor seems to be throwing much of its energy lately.
Being populists, we're most excited by Hybrid Crossfire design. When supporting motherboards and systems come out next year, budget AMD graphics card will be able to share processing tasks with the graphics chips built into forthcoming AMD-based motherboards.
Based on the demo AMD showed us, the two low-end chips working together make even new 3D games playable, which is more than can be said for either an integrated 3D chip or most budget 3D cards by themselves. We saw a Hybrid Crossfire rig give games like Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, and Call of Duty 4 roughly 10 frames per second over their scores, with just a budget Radeon card by itself. Nvidia is rumored to be working on its own version of such a solution, but we have yet to hear anything official about it.
On the other end of the price spectrum, we have Nvidia's 3-Way SLI. This is actually a step down from the outlandish quad-SLI technology that Nvidia introduced in 2006, but that was also a generation ago in chip technology, which meant no support for DirectX 10 graphics. 3-Way SLI only works with Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GTX and 8800 Ultra graphics cards, so 3-way SLI is really only for those who already have very high-end systems. Forgetting even the monitor or the rest of the computer, that's $1,500 in graphics cards alone.
If that price doesn't make you blink, the good news is that early benchmarks show 3-Way SLI delivering amazing 3D performance, at least for the most part. HotHardware reports that 3-Way SLI support in Crysis is broken (supposedly, a developer patch is on the way), but otherwise, 3-way SLI tests in DirectX 10 games such as Bioshock, and Company Heroes have shown significant performance gains over traditional two-card setups.
What's also exciting is that there's no wait for 3-way. You'll need a special 3-way connector (and we have no details on where or when those will be available), but 3-way SLI will work on any Nvidia 680i SLI motherboard that has three PCI Express x16 slots.