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Pricing out some possibilities
I've started my discussion of Eyefinity by talking about displays because that's fundamentally what it's about. The combination of displays you prefer, and can afford to purchase, will determine whether this technology has any use to you. A big part of AMD's pitch for Eyefinity is about the underlying economics. The key observation here is that one can purchase three or more mid-sized monitors for the price of a single large one. So you may be able to say to mom and dad, the wife, or whoever else is going to object: "Hey, I'm only being sensible here by not buying one massive monitor. I'm actually saving money!". Who among us can't appreciate such a practical-sounding justification for blowing a big, fat wad of cash on computer stuff?

The question is: how much of that justification is hooey? To find out, I priced out some of the key options for multi-megapixel madness based on various Dell monitors, mainly because those are the ones we're using here, along with the fact that Dell has been a bit ahead of the curve in incorporating DisplayPort inputs, which are vital for Eyefinity. Of course, I'm just scratching the surface, since a plethora of additional display choices are possible from a zillion different vendors. Have a look at our example options, along with some estimated prices, sans shipping costs.

Config Estimated price Megapixels
46" LCD HDTV $650 2.1
52" LCD HDTV $1100 2.1
Dell 3007WFP $1000 4.1
Three Dell P2210H $630 6.2
Three Dell U2410 $1600 6.9
Six Dell P2210H (w/stands) $1691 12.4

The table above may contain a small amount of information, but I'll betcha I can talk about it for a long, long time. (Regular TR readers will know not to doubt me here.)

Let's start by talking about my favorite single display and the incumbent monitor for our GPU test rigs here in Damage Labs, the Dell 3007WFP. This is one of a handful of 30" monitors on the market that I think simply cannot be ignored in the conversation about Eyefinity, and it is presumably one of the targets of the three-is-cheaper-than-one argument. With four uninterrupted megapixels on a 16:10 IPS panel, the 3007WFP is one heckuva sweet monitor for high-res gaming, and one of these presents none of the compatibility problems that Eyefinity does. I will admit that my initial impressions of Eyefinity were lukewarm at best, in part because I think monitors like this one are an obvious and wondrous step up for any power user.

I've priced the 3007WFP at roughly a grand, but prices seem to vary widely online. You may have to pay more, and you may also be able to get one for well under a thousand bucks if you can pick up a refurb deal from the Dell outlet or something along those lines. You can pay even more for a 30" panel, if you like, by ordering up Dell's 3008WFP, which purportedly has even better color reproduction, but it will set you back around $1600. Bracing.

I'm bracketing the 30" display as one of our main choices, but I should note that the truly wealthy among us could opt to assemble an array of up to six 3008WFPs, amassing a credit card bill that's like a kick to the solar plexus. The sight of a game running on several of these together would no doubt have a similarly percussive impact on the user.

Against our 30" standard, three P2210Hs would indeed give you more pixels for less money, about 50% more for about two-thirds the price of a 3007WFP. We are talking about lower-quality pixels here, coming from a TN panel, but the math is unassailable. If you want higher-quality pixels, then a trio U2410s will set you back quite a bit more than a 3007WFP, but they cost almost exactly the same amount as the 3008WFP—and either way, you're looking at half again as many pixels as a 30" panel. Eyefinity's value justification looks pretty solid in that light.

The thing is, the contest between a single 30" monitor and several smaller ones isn't just about pixels; it's also about undivided screen real estate. There's a pretty straightforward trade-off you're making when you go with the three smaller displays.

Some other exotic possibilites are precluded by the fact that a single Eyefinity surface must form a rectangle. If you were hoping to play Counter-Strike on a giant T-shape, you're outta luck.

You will note that I've omitted some intriguing possibilities above, including a potential favorite of mine: a single 30" display flanked by two 20" 4:3 monitors in portrait mode. I have two-thirds of such a config sitting on my desktop right now, and it's most excellent: both monitors, the 30" and the 20", are 1600 pixels high with essentially the same dot pitch. Adding another 20-incher to the other side would seem like a natural win.

Trouble is, Eyefinity setups cannot presently combine displays in portrait mode with others in landscape. Doh! When we asked about this issue, AMD's Dave Baumann told us that mixing portrait and landscape displays might be possible with some driver development work, but he said it has fallen on AMD's priority list since 4:3 displays are becoming increasingly uncommon.

Some other exotic possibilites are precluded by the fact that a single Eyefinity surface must form a rectangle. If you were hoping to play Counter-Strike on a giant T-shape, you're outta luck. In some marginal cases, you can work around this one, for instance by mixing 1920x1080 monitors with 1920x1200 ones and just not using the additional vertical pixels on the 1920x1200 panel. Still, the configurations we have chosen represent safer, more conventional layouts.

I've included a couple of high-definition TVs in our list of choices because of another possible trade-off that one might wish to make. If you don't care much about higher resolutions but want lots of contiguous display area, there's always the option of slapping an HTDV down on your desktop. Some folks here at TR have been big proponents of this one. I have joked about it—"That's great if you want pixels the size of dinner plates"—because I use my PC for both productivity and gaming, but it really is a nice possibility for a gaming rig.

In fact, I think the HDTV option is a direct rival to the six-display setup, since you're not going to be able to sit close enough to see each one of the 12.4 megapixels across all six displays if you want to see the whole picture. The two megapixels on a 1080p display may be all you need if you're back far enough to take in a broad vista. HDTV prices vary way too much for us to give anything other than approximate pricing, but our example of a 46" HDTV at $650 demonstrates that one big display can be a pretty solid value from a certain perspective. That's why, you know, millions of Xboxes and PlayStations are connected to HDTVs.

And finally we come to our rig with six monitors. The total price for this setup may be more than you're expecting; that's because I've included the cost of the stands used in our build. Both are from Visidec. The dual-display stand will set you back $156, while the quad goes for $275. Add them both to the price of the monitors, and you're just shy of $1700 in all. That's the most expensive option in our table, but it's not much pricier than a single Dell 3008WFP, remarkably enough. Both for pixel count and for sheer size, this six-headed monster is unmatched by the other choices under consideration.

Then again, we've really only priced the screens. One effect of having lots of pixels is that you need lots of GPU power in order to process them. You can almost see the wheels turning in the heads of the marketing execs at AMD, can't you? For most games, a two-megapixel display will be served well by a mid-range graphics card, like a Radeon HD 5770 for around $160. Bump up to four megapixels, and you'll want to step up to the Radeon HD 5850, at the very least. At six or more megapixels, the Radeon HD 5870 is probably the wisest choice. In order to go beyond that, well, you'll need something more extreme. Something like the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity6 edition.