Lucid's Hydra: coming soon to a motherboard near you

Over a year has passed since we first saw Lucid's Hydra 100 chip in action and got an idea of its inner workings. Now, the load-balancing technology is finally heading into its first consumer product. Lucid has announced that, in late October, MSI will release a motherboard featuring a Hydra 200 system-on-a-chip, three PCI Express graphics slots, and some very exciting multi-GPU capabilities.

Coupled with a Windows driver, the Hydra 200 is meant to deliver near-linear performance scaling with any combination of graphics processors. Wanna couple your new GeForce GTX 260 with an old 8800 GT? The Hydra 200 will let you do it—and not only that, but you won't have to dig around for a physical connector to bridge the two cards, and Lucid claims superior game compatibility over Nvidia's and AMD's own multi-GPU schemes.

Initially, Lucid's driver will only support multiple GPUs from a single vendor. However, the firm plans to introduce multi-vendor capability in a driver update early in the first quarter of 2010. (A beta version of that driver will roll out before then.) At that point, folks running Windows 7 will be able to pair up Radeons and GeForces to their heart's content.

Lucid actually has three Hydra 200 variants in production right now, all based on 65-nm process technology and with tight thermal envelopes:

Hydra 200 model Downstream ports Upstream port Supported GPUs TDP
LT22114 2 x8 1 x8 2 4.5W
LT22012 2 x16 1 x16 2 6W
LT24102 2 x16, 1 x16 + 2 x8, or 4 x8 1 x16 2, 3, or 4 6W

The three chips all include similar PCIe 2.0 switching and RISC processing logic, as well. These are descendants of the bigger, 130-nm Hydra 100, which has ended up in Elsa's Vridge X100 professional graphics expansion system.

MSI's Big Bang mobo will probably cost a pretty penny, too—Lucid calls it a "high-end gaming motherboard," and leaked photos we saw recently seem to confirm that description. Nevertheless, Lucid eventually hopes to see its chips in all motherboards that have more than one PCIe graphics slot. The Israeli start-up also told us it's working with "all top vendors" (likely meaning Asus, Gigabyte, and possibly others) on Hydra-powered boards. Those offerings are all in different design stages right now, but we should see at least one more before the end of the year.

As the company points out, Intel's new Core i5 and i7-800 processors have 16 lanes of second-generation PCIe built in. Motherboard makers already need something to bifurcate those lanes into multiple graphics slots for multi-GPU support, Lucid adds, and Hydra 200 chips are up to that task and more. No need for SLI certification to run multiple GeForces, either.

You shouldn't look for Hydra 200s only in Intel machines, mind you. Lucid stresses that its product works with any CPU, chipset, or GPU, so we're bound to see some Hydra-toting AMD motherboards in the future. This technology may come in especially handy on the AMD side, since unlike many P55 and X58 mobos, no AMD boards we're aware of support both CrossFire and SLI.

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