- Please tell us a little about yourself and your position within ATI.
Hi, my name is John Bruno and I am an ASIC Design Manager for ATI's chipset division.
- Quite some time have passed since the announcement of Crossfire mainboards (and graphics cards). Will there be any Crossfire edition mainboards on the market sometime soon and in that case, from what manufacturers?
Yes there are quite a few Crossfire motherboards that are planned from our partners. Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, DFI, Sapphire, ECS and others are planning to have Crossfire motherboards.
- Nvidia recently released the nForce4 SLI x16, featuring up to 40 PCIe lanes. How many PCIe lanes will the Radeon Xpress X200 Crossfire Edition offer?
The Radeon Xpress 200 features 22 lanes of PCIe. However, this is not an apples to apples comparison to SLI x16. The Radeon Xpress 200 serves the dual "X8" market and not the dual "X16" market. I feel that the SLI x16 solution is a "kludge" rather than a carefully thought out design. Their chip link between the "northbridge" and "southbridge" limits the bandwidth of the "lower" X16 port. This results in a solution that is not truly dual "X16". This is especially true when other I/O devices connected to the southbridge are fighting for bandwidth from the same northbridge to southbridge link. In addition to that, any peer to peer traffic between the cards will be burdened by having to traverse the northbridge to southbridge link. This implementation of dual "X16" is seriously flawed in my opinion.
Our policy is to not discuss unannounced products, but rest assured that ATI will have a much better solution for the dual "X16" market.
- Will Crossfire enabled mainboards be able to support SLI setups?
There are a few different ways to implement a Crossfire motherboard. The subtlety is in the way the lanes are switched between the two graphics slots. Since ATI's graphics cards were carefully designed for Crossfire, they don't require the "paddle" board or electronic switching that SLI solutions were forced to use. So if the motherboard vendor decides to remove the paddle board or electronic switching (which is an optional optimization for Crossfire mainboards) then 2 Nvidia cards will not be able to boot up because of a limitation in their graphics cards. Other than this potential hurdle, there's the obvious issue of software support.
- Why should the computer enthusiasts choose Radeon Xpress 200, and not one of the competitors from Nvidia and Intel?
The Radeon Xpress 200 is an obvious choice for enthusiasts for many reasons. The first and most important reason for any enthusiast is overclockability and performance. The Xpress 200 is highly overclockable, but it's not all about the clocks, it's about total performance. While some chipsets may clock very well, their total performance doesn't necessarily scale. It seems like the highest final MHz number seems to be a marketing goal for others, but we have not gone down that route. We focused on total performance as opposed to achieving the highest clocks. But don't get me wrong, we still run FSB and memory 1:1 with the best of them, it's just that there are no "tricks" inside. There are no additonal latencies or internal divisions happening when overclocked.
Secondly, we are testing our products like the enthusiasts will eventually run them, under water cooling, phase cooling and yes we even dabble with some liquid nitrogen (many thanks to Sami Makkinen for showing us how to handle this stuff). We have actually exposed quite a few issues when we first started doing these types of things and have fully addressed them in the Grouper and Halibut reference designs.
Next, we are fully supporting enthusiasts by authoring special sbios support and utilities which will be an overclocker's dream. Every relevant setting will be available in the sbios as well as a Windows based utility.
Last but not least, we have a superior level of qualification than most of the other vendors. Since ATI entered the chipset market, we have been catering mostly to large OEMs who have very strict quality requirements. These requirements are much more strict than any typical motherboard that is allowed to be sold in the channel markets. The Radeon Xpress 200 has been shipping in volume to large OEMs for quite some time now, that is a good indication of the product's quality.
- The Radeon Xpress 200 chipset consist of a northbridge and the SB450 southbridge. Does the SB450 support the latest SATA features, like 3 Gbit/sec bandwidth? Any particular plans for an updated southbridge?
The SB450 doesn't support the SATA2IO (3 Gb/s) interface. However this is not a big concern for us for a couple of reasons. Firstly, true SATA2IO drives are scarce.
Secondly, the 3 GB/s interface does nothing for performance with any of the current drive technologies that are available. We can run the current generation of SATA2 drives at more than competitive speeds as seen in the latest Anandtech review of the Sapphire PURE board for example.
Lastly, all high end motherboards will have more than 4 ports of SATA which means that an onboard device is pretty much always used. If the mainboard vendor would like to officially support SATA2IO, then they can follow what was done on the Grouper and Halibut reference designs and use a Silicon Image SI3132 SATA2 controller or an equivalent solution.
- As of now, ATI offers Nvidia no competition in the more professional workstation chipset area. What are your thoughts about an ATI chipset supporting dual Opteron setups? Would ATI consider this?
ATI is carefully examining the merits of entering the workstation market. That's all I can say on this.
- The Radeon Xpress 200G is based upon a weaker version of the X300 graphics core, right (e.g. missing hardware vertex shaders)? Will it be able to compete performance wise with the upcoming Nvidia C51?
It's difficult to say definitively since there are no publicly available systems using C51. However, we are confident that our performance will be competitive.
- Do you have a timeline for when chipsets with integrated next generation graphics core will be launched (e.g. based upon RV515)?
As mentioned, we cannot discuss unannounced products. Sorry!
- Which is the more interesting platform from ATIs point of view when it comes to mainboard chipsets: AMD or Intel? And why?
Actually they're both very interesting and in some ways very different. In my opinion the AMD and Intel markets are fragmented differently and have different dynamics that require separate lines of thinking.
The AMD market is currently either very high end, (enthusiast and gamer based) or very low end (addressing the very cost sensitive markets).
The Intel market is by far the largest in terms of volume and more mainstream oriented. There is one similarity in both markets though, and that's the level of competition. It's fierce in both domains and that's what makes it interesting.
The most interesting part in my opinion is coming up with a winning strategy. Like any major engineering project, it's all about trade offs and balance. The considerations are numerous and complex but the eventual winner will be the one who makes the correct trade offs.
- Any especially interesting products or features we should look out for from ATI based mainboards this autumn/winter?
- At last, thanks for your time. Any final thoughts you would like to share with the readers of Hardware.no?
I'd like to thank the editors at Hardware.no for the opportunity
to hook up and have this discussion. Thank you!