While doing my usual TweakTown work this morning, the friendly courier from FedEx knocked on the door and handed me a package from HIS - it was a Radeon X850XT Crossfire Edition along with a regular slave card. First of all I'll say it's good to finally see a retail Crossfire card because we've waited long enough since it was first introduced almost 6 months ago at Computex in Taiwan.
ATI Crossfire motherboards are starting to become available in the retail level from places like Newegg.com who sell the DFI LanParty UT RDX200 Crossfire board based on the Radeon XPRESS 200 Crossfire chipset but where are all the other ATI partner boards? ATI's website lists 10 different motherboard partners (strangely enough not including DFI) but the DFI board is the only one to start appearing at retail and a quick search on our shopping comparison website doesn't show it readily available. For instance, the DFI board we speak of won't be available to buy in Australia for about another week and a half (at least) and we keep getting the "it's not ready yet" response comment from Taiwanese motherboard makers regarding review samples of Crossfire boards. If we as reviewers cannot get them, you guys won't be able to either. Generally after we receive a review sample which has come straight off the factory line, it typically takes 2 - 3 weeks for it to begin selling on the shelves once it's passed through the channels.
Given these details and the lack of forthcoming Crossfire board samples from companies like ASUS, ECS, Gigabyte, MSI, Sapphire and Shuttle who we work closely with, some of them have said we most likely won't see Crossfire board products from them available for sale until the end of the year (best case). Until then we have to wait to see a good and wide choice of Crossfire boards available to buy - right now we are limited and we pay for it in high asking prices (try almost $300 AUD for a Crossfire motherboard) since there is hardly any competition to drive pricing down. On the same hand though, VIA is set to release a Crossfire supported chipset sometime around the middle of November and boards should (we cannot confirm) available to buy mid to late December and this should help increase competition in the market but nothing was mentioned about SLI support. This will help give users more options when it comes to the Crossfire platform but I cannot help but think ATI and nVidia could have approached the whole dual graphics thing in a better way.
In a perfect world, it would have been much more ideal to see nVidia and ATI work on a set standard (platform) for SLI and Crossfire, heck call it SLI-Fire if you like. This would have allowed for a much broader range of products for consumers to choose and an easier platform to work with since users know they can switch and change between nVidia and ATI dual graphics on the one motherboard. Of course, though, with the way the world turns, industry politics doesn't allow for this type of thing to happen.
So what's the underlying strong behind all this? Take the upcoming Intel 975x gamer's chipset, for example, which is almost ready to show its face - it can support Crossfire and SLI since it has two 8x PEG slots but Intel are only officially supporting ATI (and ATI supporting Intel) for certain reasons. One would hazard a guess and say this is because nVidia own most of the high-end gamer's chipset sales and Intel are looking at working against nVidia as they are becoming somewhat of a threat to Intel and other chipset makers. You would even almost think Intel and nVidia were having a bit of a cat fight behind closed doors, reason being... the 975x does work with SLI however nVidia have (currently) decided against adding SLI driver support for the new chipset. It's a catch-22 situation - essentially, if nVidia added 975x SLI support, they would sell more GPU's but if nVidia don't add 975x SLI support it makes the 975x chipset itself a less attractive product to the consumer.
Sure, all this is nothing new to the industry, these type of fights have been happening for years, but I figure it's good for the end-user to know what is happening and why things happen a certain way. So we'll just sit back and wait for Crossfire product to become available and keep in mind it'll be early December (best case) until we see X1800 Crossfire cards become available. I've mentioned the term "available" too many times here and right now availability is one thing which ATI really need to fix first and foremost.
EDIT: As I type this message, Sapphire emailed us regarding a Crossfire board review sample, so we should begin to see Sapphire boards for sale in 2 - 3 weeks.