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ATI's HydraVision

Manufacturer ATI
Model HydraVision
Unleashing the hydra
The Radeon 9700 Pro made a huge splash when it was released this summer, but there's more to ATI than just 3D graphics performance. HydraVision is ATI's flavor of multimonitor graphics. ATI has been developing HydraVision for years now. While ATI's 3D graphics drivers have been problematic in the past, their software, particularly MultiMedia Center, has been excellent.


ATI's Radeon 9000 Pro: Multimonitor for the masses

To test HydraVision, we're using ATI's Radeon 9000 Pro. It's not as flashy or expensive as the other graphics cards we're using to evaluate multimonitor support, but it'll do. For a more complete look at the Radeon 9000 Pro, see our comprehensive review.

Like the 9700 Pro, the Radeon 9000 Pro has two 400MHz RAMDACs integrated right on the chip to power analog displays. The Radeon 9000 Pro chip also incorporates the TMDS transmitter necessary for a DVI output and a video encoding unit. Integrating all the necessary display logic on-chip is a neat way to do things, and it makes for a pretty sparse board layout.


Can I get a dual-DVI? Anyone?

Since LCD monitors are becoming more popular, I'd like to see dual DVI outputs on more graphics cards. Of course, the Radeon 9000 Pro isn't exactly a high-end part, so I'm not sure I can fault ATI for not going with a dual DVI setup here. However, I have yet to see any of ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro cards equipped with dual DVI outputs, and I want dual DVI outputs if I'm going to be dropping that much money on a graphics card.


As we saw in our comparison chart, although independent refresh rates, resolutions, and color depths are supported by HydraVision in Windows XP, they don't work in Windows 2000. These limitations also extend back to Windows NT 4.0, but curiously, not to Windows 9x. For businesses on the NT platform that haven't migrated to Windows XP, this limitation may be especially crippling. (Incidentally, ATI's official stance on independent resolutions and refresh rates in Windows 2000 is that it doesn't work, but I've heard reports of people getting it working with the 2.2 CATALYST drivers on the Radeon 9700 Pro.)

Also worth noting:t HydraVision doesn't seem to support stretched desktops in Windows XP. You can still extend your desktop to a second monitor, but your Windows taskbar won't follow.


From within ATI's CATALYST driver, you can only get at some simple display calibration tools. Full HydraVision functionality requires a separate download from ATI's web site, which is a little annoying. ATI seems to prefer splitting up its driver components into separate downloads, and you've got to reboot after installing each component. Ugh.

What's particularly interesting about ATI's multimonitor support, at least with the Radeon 9000 Pro, is that it runs in clone mode while booting. It does the same in Windows until you install the HydraVision software. The fact the secondary display is activated during the boot sequence may be particularly useful in special cases where you want screens displaying the same thing in multiple locations.


Once you've downloaded and installed the latest HydraVision release, ATI gives you a few tools to play around with—"few" being the operative word here. There's support for multiple desktops (up to nine), a "move to monitor" feature, an Internet Explorer extension that lets you open a hyperlink to a specific monitor, and some transparency and fading effects. All in all, nothing particularly earth-shattering, though the ability to scroll through multiple desktops with the mouse wheel is a nice touch. HydraVision also supports application position memory and the ability to intelligently position dialog boxes, but these features are shared by Dual/TripleHead and nView so they're not unique to HydraVision.