To Eyefinity and beyond
You may have already read about AMD's Eyefinity capability that it's pushing with the Radeon HD 5000 series. Most members of the Evergreen family (with the exception of the smallest chip) will be able to support up to three different displays simultaneously, as the 5870 can with its four outputs. One may connect either two DVI displays and one DisplayPort or one DVI, one HDMI 1.3a, and one DisplayPort. Optimally, that means a single 5870 could drive three four-megapixel displays at once. AMD has demonstrated and plans to release the Eyefinity6 edition of the Radeon HD 5870, which breaks new ground in the use of superscript in product naming. The Eyefinity6 backs up that bravado with an array of six compact DisplayPort connections that will allow it to feed up to six four-megapixel displays at once with a single GPU.
The other key to Eyefinity is a bit of driver magic that makes multiple monitors attached to a card appear to the OS as a single, large display surface. AMD's drivers support a multitude of different possible configurations with varying monitor sizes and portrait/landscape orientations, some of which involve multiple display groups and thus multiple virtual display surfaces. Because all of the monitors in a display group appear as one to the operating system and applications, many games can simply run across multiple displays without any additional tweaking. Here's a look at six narrow-bezel Samsung monitors running DiRT 2 on a single GPU:
And here's a more extreme configuration AMD had cooked up at the press event for the Radeon HD 5870, with 24 total displays connected.
You might see that picture and think Eyefinity already works with CrossFire multi-GPU configurations, but that's not the case yet. AMD says it is working on that, though.
I'm not entirely sure yet what to think of Eyefinity. On the one hand, I'm a bona-fide multi-monitor enthusiast myself, sporting six megapixels on my desktop as I write these words. I expect AMD to make big inroads into financial trading firms and other places where multi-display configurations are common. I'm pleased to see AMD paying renewed attention to multi-monitor capabilities, and just the sheer thought of having over 24 megapixels of display fidelity pushes my PC enthusiast buttons. On the other hand, I tend to think that, for most of us, large-screen gaming might be better conducted on a big HDTV or via a projector, where you're pushing fewer pixels (and less in need of GPU horsepower) across a larger display, uninterrupted by bezels.
But we'll see. I intend to address Eyefinity and gaming in more depth in a future article. Perhaps I'll find a use for all of those pixels.