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Eyefinity to the sixth: Coming soon
There's one more member of the Radeon HD 5800 family slated for release soon: the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity6 edition, the specialized card code-named "Trillian" that will feature six display outputs. This isn't just a display wall setup intended for department stores, either. True to its name, the Eyefinity6 will allow for multi-monitor gaming across six displays, amazingly enough.

An early Trillian card. Can you say "connector density?"

This card will differ from the regular 5870 in several respects, the most obvious being the ominous array of six Mini DisplayPort connectors poking out of the expansion slot cover. Unlike the regular 5870, the Eyefinity6 card will require an eight-pin auxiliary power input in addition to a six-pin one, because it will draw more power when driving six monitors simultaneously. Another adjustment is the addition of a second gigabyte of memory on the board. Since six 30" displays total approximately 24 million pixels, the additional on-board RAM will likely be needed, he said in a breathtaking understatement.

Even a six-megapixel config benefits from 2GB of RAM, according to AMD.

The key to attaching more than two displays to today's Radeons is DisplayPort, so that will be the Trillian card's preferred connection type. In order to accommodate up to two older monitors, though, the card will ship with a grand total of five adapters: two passive Mini-DP-to-DVI adapters, one passive Mini-DP-to-HDMI adapter, and two Mini DisplayPort-to-DisplayPort plug converter. That should cover most eventualities, although I could see a lot of folks needing more Mini-DP-to-DP adapters.

A drool bucket, unfortunately, is not included, so you'll have to make your own arrangements there.

Dead Space at over 24 million pixels

We don't have exact pricing yet, but AMD expects the 5870 Eyefinity6 edition to ring up at somewhere between $400 and $500.

We had initially expected Trillian cards to be available way back in late September, not long after the 5870's launch. A couple of things conspired against Trillian's timely introduction, including supply problems with Cypress GPUs and, especially, an OS compatibility snag. Although AMD was able to present six displays to Windows Vista as a single, large surface ready for use in 3D accelerated games, making that happen in Windows 7 involved an additional technical hurdle. Win7 would allow for up to four 3D-accelerated displays, but not six. Implementing the software changes to work around this OS limitation took some time, and AMD elected to hold off on introducing the Eyefinity6 product until that problem was solved.

Happily, Trillian setups should now benefit from some of the major feature improvements in AMD's newer Catalyst drivers, including the ability to define display groups, easier switching between different multi-monitor configs, and —thank goodness!—bezel compensation for Eyefinity displays.

One of those improvements is the ability to combine CrossFire multi-GPU setups with multi-monitor Eyefinity display surfaces. The appeal here is obvious, since pushing 24 megapixels with a single 5870 GPU is possible and sometimes quite workable, but not for every game. Generating that many pixels at the right quality levels would tax any single graphics chip. Making CrossFire work on this scale presents some challenges, however, as AMD readily admits. The core issue is the fact that the dedicated CrossFire interconnect used for passing completed frames between cards has "only" enough bandwidth to sustain a 2560x1600 display resolution. Even three 1080p displays will exceed its capacity. The alternative is to transfer frame buffer data via PCI Express, which is what AMD does when necessary. Using PCIe works, but it can limit performance scaling somewhat—don't expect to see the near-linear scaling one might get out of a dual-card setup in the right game with a single display. That's not to say mixing CrossFire with Eyefinity won't be worth doing. Based on AMD's performance estimates, frame rates could improve between about 25% and 75% when adding a second GPU with a 12-megapixel, six-monitor array.

In fact, this is something we'd like to test soon. You know, for science.

One might be tempted to pair up a regular Radeon HD 5870 with an Eyefinity6 version for maximum performance, but remember that each card in a CrossFire group takes on the attributes of the lowest-spec card in the bunch. In this case, pairing a Radeon HD 5870 1GB with a 2GB Eyefinity6 card would reduce the effective memory size of each card to 1GB—one step forward, two steps back, most likely. Just something to keep in mind if you're looking to build such a setup.

Another possibility that would seem to make a certain amount of sense would be a dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 board with six display outputs and, say, 4GB of memory onboard (2GB per GPU). AMD wasn't ready to announce such a beast when we inquired about this possibility, but we were told to "watch this space." The firm says it won't prevent add-in board makers from concocting such a monster, so we could well see something along those rather intimidating lines on the market before long.