History of ATI/AMD dual-GPU cards

AMD dual GPU feature

Previously we looked at the history of the company that pioneered dual-GPU on a single card graphics cards, Nvidia.

ATI (now part of AMD) also ventured into the dual-GPU on a single card world a few years later, and have been around ever since. Here’s a list of their offerings:

ATI Rage Fury MAXX

At the end of 1990’s, ATI tried their hand at creating a dual-GPU card to compete with 3dfx’s dual-GPU Voodoo 5 offering. Appearing in late 1999, the ATI Rage Fury MAXX held two Rage 128 pro GPUs along with dedicated SDR memory for each.

It made use of Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) to offer nearly double graphics performance of the single GPU Rage 128 Pro on which it was based. Despite this, it still lost out in performance to Nvidia’s Geforce 256 cards that used DDR memory.

ATI Rage Fury Maxx

ATI Rage Fury Maxx

Radeon 3870X2

ATI/AMDs next attempt at a dual-GPU card went relatively well. The idea was simple, throw two R670 based GPUs on a single card, connect them together via a PLX bridge chip (to act as a replacement PCIe bridge) and effectively crossfire two graphics cards on one PCB.

ATI/AMD was the first company to put dual-GPUs on a single PCB, something Nvidia only attempted with the second version of the GTX295.

While it wasn’t the undisputed champion of the graphics card arena at the time (it was competing against the single GPU Nvidia 8800 Ultra based on the G80 core), it did manage to top the performance log for some benchmarks at the time.

ATI also released a 3850X2 card a few months after the 3870X2 using the same design, with lower-end technology and at a lower price point.

Radeon 3870X2

Radeon 3870X2

Radeon 4870X2

The following high-end dual GPU card to appear was the 4870X2.

The 4000 series didn’t manage to take the performance crown back from Nvidia, but it did manage to bring competitive performance at a good price across the range of cards. The 4870X2 was huge, it was hot, and it did hold the title of world’s fastest single PCIe card for a while.

It was often used in overclocking circles for its strong performance in synthetic benchmarks, and responded well to extreme cooling.

As with the 3000 series, ATI/AMD released the 4850X2 shortly after the 4870X2 for a lower budget section of the market.

Radeon 4870X2

Radeon 4870X2

Radeon 5970

With the next iteration of high end dual GPU single PCB graphics cards, AMD/ATI decided to drop the X2 label that designated dual GPU card. It also managed to finally reclaim the title of fastest single PCB graphics card in the world from Nvidia’s own GTX295 (though this was to be expected, given that the GTX295 was from a previous technology generation).

The 5970 was also the first (and at the time, the only) graphics card to support Eyefinity technology which allowed users to spread a game across multiple monitor setups for incredibly high resolutions.

It required a minimum of a 650w power supply to run (though ATI/AMD recommended a 750w PSU to be on the safe side) and measured in at a staggering 12.2 inches, meaning that you needed some high-end hardware to house and power this graphics card.

Interestingly ATI/AMD refrained from launching a lower-end dual-GPU solution as they had done with previous generations of graphics cards, though nothing of value was really lost with this move.

Radeon 5970

Radeon 5970

Radeon 6990

The current big boy in the ATI/AMD camp, the 6990 is the performance king of the single PCIe graphics card world. Sort of.

Performance is comparable to the GTX590, with each card winning its fair share of games. ATI/AMD decided to up the model number from X970 to X990 in a bold attempt to convince people that these model numbers mean something.

The 6990 is still a large, hot card, but at least ATI/AMD can now effectively compete head to head with Nvidia on the high-end performance front. Core for core the Nvidia offering is still faster, but due to impressive crossfire scaling performance which gives nearly 100% performance increase when adding a second GPU, ATI/AMD are still in the game.

Radeon 6990

Radeon 6990

Haven’t you missed something?

If you’ve read the History of Nvidia dual GPU cards as well as this ATI/AMD history and are wondering where the rest are, it means you’ve paid attention to the graphics card market over the last few years.

Where is that dual 7800 GTX solution? Didn’t Sapphire have an ATI dual GPU card that pre-dated the 3870X2? The answer to these and other questions is yes, and we’ll go in depth in a future article: dual-GPU graphics cards you probably don’t remember.

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History of Nvidia dual-GPU cards

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