Forget running four monitors off a single graphics card – AMD has just launched a six monitor capable beast based on its ATI Eyefinity multi monitor graphics technology. Before you start thinking ‘why on earth would I want six monitors on my desktop, where would I put my coffee?’ – with a six monitor setup using an ATI FirePro V9800, AMD is really focused on a brand new market, that of low-cost powerwalls for design/review, digital mockup and client presentations.
While a fully fledged system will set you back the best part of $7,000 ($2,499 for the ATI FirePro V9800, $2,500 for a high-spec workstation and a couple of grand for six HD monitors), the alternative would cost a whole lot more. For one, you’d need three graphics cards and in most cases more than one workstation.
In addition to cost, AMD believes there are technical benefits of using a single card solution instead of multiple graphics cards. “Most applications don’t know how to split their content between multiple GPUs, says Rob Jamieson, product marketing manager EMEA, ATI FirePro at AMD. “[When using multiple graphics cards] if you are looking at the left hand screen and you rotate the object, how does it swap that data to the right hand screen? Does it transfer all that data from one GPU’s memory to the other GPU’s. With Eyefinity that is still the same memory block, it’s still the same GPU so it understands the data. That means you get good performance across the six monitors. It also means most software, out of the box, can understand it and use it.”
Of course the practice of using a single graphics card to drive multiple monitors also has its critics. AMD rival Nvidia, who can currently only support two monitors with one of its Quadro graphics cards, says that there is not enough 3D performance in a single card to drive high-res powerwalls effectively.
This is a claim refuted by AMD, who explained that the card is already in use at a number of customer sites and there has been positive feedback. Dassault Systèmes, for example, has been testing Catia V5 and V6 with an ATI FirePro V9800 and has reported that performance is still very good after switching from one to six HD resolution screens.
When asked to put this into figures AMD said that it expected a typical reduction in performance of 10-15% when going from one to four screens and an additional 10% when going to six screens. However, it explained that this depended on the type of application.
Of course, the ATI FirePro V9800 is a high-performance graphics card in its own right and can also be used to drive one, two, three or four monitors on a desktop.
From looking at the specifications of the card on paper it looks very similar to the ATI FirePro V8800, with the same number of Stream processors (1,600), the same memory bandwidth (147.2GB/sec), and same type of memory (GDDR5). However the V9800 boasts 4GB of memory compared to the V8800’s 2GB and its floating point compute performance is 2.72 compared to the V8800’s 2.64.