Doing ATI's Crossfire with DFI, HIS and Crucial

We built a system based around a DFI Crossfire mobo to see what type of performance we get at stock and overclocked.
| Dec 1, 2005 at 11:00 pm CST
Manufacturer: none

Introduction

IntroductionIf you find yourself not wanting to venture down the path of SLI and nVidia yet want to stick with your AMD solution, the chances are that you have been looking around at the ATI chipset offering Crossfire. Today we will be building a system around ATI's latest technology Crossfire and seeing just how it performs and if we can overclock with ease. HIS and Crucial will be both making an appearance in the system along with DFI. The components under the hammer include the latest DFI Crossfire RDX CF-DR Crossfire enabled motherboard, HIS with an X850XT and X850XT master card along with Crucial with 2GB of DDR500 Ballistix memory.What we will do is have a look at the products individually and see what they have to offer us, check out how we went with overclocking and then get on with the onslaught of benchmarks to put the Crossfire system through its paces.

DFI RDX200 CF-DR Motherboard

The Motherboard - DFI RDX200 CF-DR- Package and Contents

The last time we saw a "Lanparty" motherboard from DFI, it had a huge box this time the box is a little bit more normal sized. The RDX200 CF-DR is part of the Lanparty UT series which is a bit of a cut down bundle. The normal Lanparty comes with a whole bunch of extras which in the end make it more expensive. The box for the CF-DR is quite nice and really stands out in the red. The front of the box doesn't show much more then the processors supported by the board, in this case X2, FX and Athlon 64. We can also see that it supports Crossfire which is the big thing around this chipset.
Turning the box over we have a picture of the motherboard along with the main features implemented on it. You can clearly see the highlights including 8ch Audio, Firewire, Dual Gigabit, Genie BIOS, 100% Japanese capacitors, EZ ON/TOUCH, Silicon Image RAID, SATA and PCI Express.
Opening the box up we have a few goodies aside from the motherboard. Included is two molex to SATA connectors, IO plate along with four SATA cables to match the color scheme of the motherboard.
Our normal Driver CD and Silicon Image SATA controller floppy disk is also inside the package.
1 rounded floppy cable and 2 rounded IDE cables are also included in the package. As you can see we again notice that DFI are following the same color scheme with the yellow.
The audio module is a separate part of the motherboard; you only have to install it if you want to use it. There is no denying that onboard sound is never as good as a separate PCI solution so enthusiasts will find themselves not using the onboard audio as they have a better separate solution already or intend on getting one.
With the package and content out the way let's look at the most important part of the package - The Motherboard.

DFI RDX200 CF-DR Motherboard Cont.

RDX200 CF-DR Continued- Motherboard LayoutThe RDX200 CF-DR looks similar to a lot of the motherboards in the DFI line up with the yellow and orange theme seen throughout the motherboard. The general overall look of the motherboard is nice.
The ATI Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire chipset is cooled by same cooler that is used on majority of the current DFI motherboards. It sits low and cools well. There really isn't much more you could ask for.
Moving down to the PCI Express configuration we can see our 2x longer 16x PCI Express slots for our graphics cards which run at 8x electronically, a slower PCI Express 1x slot and 3 PCI slots. We have a good combination here of PCI/PCIE slots.
The top of the board shows our 4x DDR memory slots, our 939 socket along with our 24 pin power connector and smaller 8 pin EPS power connector above.
Moving to the side of the motherboard we can see all the ports that are provided by the motherboard. We have our two PS2 ports that we have come so accustom to, next to that we have two Coaxial SPIDF connectors, six USB 2 ports are provided on the motherboard, a single firewire port and two gigabit network ports.
Moving back on to the motherboard we move across to the bottom left of the board which is extremely busy. Here we see our passively cooled ATI SB450 southbridge, 8 x SATA ports with 4 being provided by the Silicon Image controller which can also be seen here. We have a small built in speaker, our extremely useful EZ touch buttons and our main headers for connecting your case power button, reset and etc.
Moving to the upper right hand corner of the board we mentioned before that the 24 pin connector is located here. It comes with a sticker covering it which gives you three different PC setups along with a recommended power supply for that setup. Above the 24 Pin connecter we have an 8 pin EPS connector. You do need to have the 8 pin EPS connector plugged in to get the motherboard to post so it is important that you check your power supply has this connector on it.
The motherboard layout is great and is really nice to setup. No plugs get in the way when it comes to air flow so it really is a very flawless design. The only thing we can't stress enough is that you do need to have an EPS power supply to get the board to post. The same is with the SLI-DR Expert model from DFI. This offers a better supply of power to the system.

HIS Radeon X850XT Master Card

Graphics Cards - HIS Radeon X850XT- In The Box

As we have mentioned the main emphasis of this article is Crossfire and as you would expect we have a Crossfire setup in place. While we would like to be utilizing a Radeon X1800XT Crossfire setup that isn't going to happened thanks to X1800 Master cards being non existent at the moment.
Box wise there isn't anything that we haven't seen before on the front of it. Both boxes are exactly the same except the Master Card has got a sticker over where it says X850XT and now says X850XT Crossfire Edition.
Turning the box over we have exactly the same situation with the boxes being the same except a sticker of the Master Card as opposed to the normal X850XT. The only notable difference between the cards is the connector where the VGA is looks like a DVI one with a lot more pins - this is the connector used to hook both cards up together for Crossfire support.
When it comes to opening the box we also find that both cards are almost identical. Included cable wise we have a PCI Express Power Connector, HDTV out cable, S-Video cable, RCA cable, DVI to VGA connector and RCA to S-Video connector.
The Crossfire Master Card comes with an extra cable that helps carry the signal between the two cards. This method doesn't feel quite as good as nVidia's with the pins being quite fine on the cable. All you need is a bent pin or one to come out and you will no longer be able to make use of Crossfire.
Paperwork wise we have a manual along with 10 hours of absolutely FREE play time on GuildWars. Finally CD wise we have our driver CD along with the ATI bonus DVD which comes with Dungeon Siege and a few extra bits and pieces. We have been seeing this DVD for a while from HIS now.

HIS Radeon X850XT Master Card Cont.

The Graphics Cards Continued- The Cards

Moving to the cards we can see that from the below view that they look exactly the same. Both cards use the standard X850XT cooler and from front on you wouldn't be able to tell which the master card is and which the normal X850XT is.
Turning the cards over we have a similar picture but you can see that the Master Card is a fair bit busier on the back with all the gold caps on the card. Apart from this the same mechanism on both cards are used to hold the front heatsink fan in place.
Moving to the side of the card we can see how the cards differ. The normal X850XT comes with a VGA and DVI port while the Master Card comes with a DVI port and another connector that is used to place the cards in Crossfire mode. We saw the cable on the previous page.
There isn't anything really out of the ordinary between the two cards as we can see.

The Other Parts

The Other Parts- Crucial Ballistix RAMEvery good system needs good memory and now quantity is becoming important but thanks to companies like Crucial its not a matter of quantity over quality as we have with us a set of their DDR500 2GB kit which comes with a great looking heatsink and timings of 3-4-4-8 @ 2.8Volt.
Unfortunately we are unable to unlock the full potential on these modules today but we hope to be able to make better use of it in articles in the future.- Gigabyte G-Power CPU CoolerSince we will be overclocking the system today it is important that we mix it up a bit with something a little bit different. The G-Power cooler from Gigabyte has been around for a while but we have never had a look at it. It uses heat pipe technology and is all aluminum. The top finds a huge fan on it which we thought would cause problems but no matter what system we installed it on we didn't run into any problems at all.
Main specifications include:110 x 110 x 25mm Fan4 Heat PipesBase: Copper with Ni coatingAluminum FinsFan Speed: 1700 - 3200RPMAirflow: 36.2 - 68.5CFMNoise: 21.3 - 40.1 dB(A)When it comes to volume it is quite loud at full speed but thanks to being able to control the fan speed it isn't all that bad when at the lower speed. It only really needs to be run at full speed when you want to get into some serious overclocking. Most of the time you will find that low to medium settings will be fine.

Overclocking the System

Overclocking the SystemOverclocking of our system is done in two parts; firstly we overclocked the processor which also overclocked the memory. Once we found a stable setting in Windows and we are able to run some of the more strenuous benchmarks without any trouble, we then move onto overclocking the HIS graphics cards.

The DFI BOS is absolutely full of different settings and just about everything can be adjusted down to the tee. While we have been able to see our X2 achieve clocks of around the 2.6GHz mark today we didn't have that kind of luck.The maximum stable overclock we found with the DFI Crossfire motherboard was 2.35GHz. This was achieved at a front side bus of 235MHz which is nothing to sneeze at. This is almost a 20% increase in CPU speed and considering we still find ourselves quite new to the BIOS on offer from DFI, we have no doubt that the board is able to achieve more with some tinkering. At this speed we also ran the memory at 1:1 which is still under spec for the Crucial modules so we would be a bit worried if we ran into troubles with the memory.Moving on to the HIS graphics cards we find ourselves loading up old faithful ATI Tool to see what we can do. As far as we can tell when it came to overclocking it would seem that we are only overclocking the master card which comes stock at 520MHz on the core and 540MHz on the memory. We were able to increase this to what was a quite impressive 586MHz on the core and 609MHz on the memory or in DDR this is 1218MHz which is quite a nice memory speed.A quick run down shows that @ stock speeds our X2 3800+ runs at 2GHz and the X850XT Master Card runs at a stock core speed of 520MHz and memory speed of 540MHz or 1080MHz DDR. The overclocked setup finds our X2 3800+ running at an increased rate of 2.35GHz and our X850XT Master Card being increased to 586MHz on the core and 609MHz or 1218MHz DDR on the memory.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup

Test System SetupProcessor(s): AMD Athlon X2 3800+ @ Various SpeedsMotherboard(s): DFI Lanparty UT RDX200 CF-DR (Supplied by Bronet Australia)Video Card: 2 X HIS X850XT (1 x Master Card) (Supplied by HIS)Hard Disk(s): WD Raptor 74GB 10,000RPM SATA (Supplied by Western Digital)CPU Cooling: Gigabyte G-Power Pro Cooler (GH-PDU21-MF) (Supplied by Gigabyte)Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP1Drivers: ATI Catalyst 5.11 and DX9cWhen it came to testing the Crossfire as we mentioned in the overclocking section we will simply be testing it against itself to see what the platform is truly capable of. We will be running the system at its stock speeds through our normal array of benchmarks and then with the maximum overclock on both the CPU and VGA.

While we would normally benchmark at lower resolutions when looking at a motherboard we will be running our normal benchmark setups which include 1024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200 as we want to see how the system performs in a gaming situation. This is the reason you do spend the money on buying two graphics cards after all.We have also included a few system benchmarks in the shape of SiSoft Sandra and PC Mark. The reason for this is more to see what kind of theoretical performance increase we get when overclocking the system. If we get more memory and CPU bandwidth, hopefully this will help with the VGA overclock to really give us some extra power in our games and normal 3D benchmarks.Before we get onto the results we must mention that we didn't run all the benchmarks we would like. It seemed that even with all the up to date drivers we had trouble running Far Cry, Half Life 2 and F.E.A.R. on the Crossfire solution. A fresh install was included on the hard drive along with all the up to date drivers. We do have another Crossfire board coming so we will re-evaluate it and see where we are sitting then and we also do have a 975X board coming which supports Crossfire. Hopefully it's no more then some teething issues as it is still quite a new technology for ATI.

Benchmarks - SiSoft Sandra

SiSoft SandraVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.ukProduct Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=enBuy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
We can clearly see that the CPU really benefits a lot from the overclock but what is really surprising is the amount of performance the memory gains when we overclocked it. At stock the speeds did seem quite low but when we overclocked the system we found that performance not only came up to speed but also well and truly past it in both our buffered and un-buffered tests.

Benchmarks - PCMark

PCMarkVersion and / or Patch Used: 2005Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/Buy It Here
PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.
PCMark like SiSoft Sandra sees an extremely similar picture, we do get a performance gain in the CPU area which is quite healthy but the biggest gain can be seen with the memory speed.

Benchmarks - 3DMark03

3DMark03Version and / or Patch Used: Build 360Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark03/Buy It Here
By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.Please Note: Due to recent events with the 3DMark03 series, we are adding results purely for those who are still in favor of 3DMark03. These results should not be taken too seriously and are only added for interest sakes.
3DMark03 sees a performance increase in both resolutions but defiantly more noticeable in the lower resolution.

Benchmarks - 3DMark05

3DMark05Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/Buy It Here
3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.
3DMark05 like 03 sees a bigger jump in performance at the lower resolution. With this said though the difference in both resolutions is a lot greater to what we saw in 3DMark03.

Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.doom3.comBuy It Here
Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.
Doom 3 performance has swung the other way with an absolutely HUGE performance increase being seen in the higher resolution when overclocked. At the lower resolution we also see a massive performance jump as well.

Benchmarks - Quake 4

Quake 4Version and / or Patch Used: UnpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com Product Homepage: http://www.quake4game.comBuy It Here
Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.
Quake 4 sees a greater performance increase at the lower resolution but at the higher resolution we do get a small increase which does find it self sitting at about a 10% performance increase.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AFIn our High Quality tests we bump the Antialiasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) up causing the card(s) to be put under more load.This usually helps us remove the CPU limitation. We use 4 x AA and 8 x AF as this is quite a common setup for most people who are venturing into the AA and AF area.
3DMark05 with these high quality settings sees a very minor increase when overclocking the processor and VGA.
Quake 4 sees an extremely minor bump in score when overclocked.
Doom 3 like we saw in the previous tests saw an excellent increase in performance with the overclocked system.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsThe problem is we have what seems to be a nice bunch of components all let down by one common problem. The motherboard from DFI is fantastic, it offers an absolute bucket load of features, a number of tweaking options in the BIOS, was extremely easy to setup, has a great layout and is just overall a great board. The only problem that we can really find with it is the chipset it uses; it lacks items like SATA2 not because DFI didn't have access to it or want to implement it but because the ATI Southbridge doesn't support it.

The same goes for the HIS cards here, both cards are great, overclocking on the master card was extremely easy and we can see that it was extremely effective but the problem is that Crossfire just isn't really ready yet for everybody. It is obvious that the performance advantage is there as if we venture over to our last Catalyst Analysis article and compare the score we get on a standard X850XT in our nForce 4 system at times it is a lot lower then the Crossfire setup.It is clear that some people no matter what you tell them thought are going to want the Crossfire motherboard be it because they are an ATI fan boy or girl or just don't want to use the nVidia offering. If you are in this category the DFI board is great but it is probably aimed at your intermediate user when it comes to BIOS. Not because its hard to overclock but because if you really want to get full potential out of it you do have to get in deep with it.While our overclock wasn't the best we have seen when it was at this speed it was 100% rock solid. We have heard absolutely nothing in regards to what is happening with the X1800 master cards which makes us wonder if ATI realize that this technology just isn't right yet.There isn't a lot of information on the net about Crossfire because it seems that samples really are quite thin and our general feel is that ATI (and some of their partners) don't want to make much noise about it. With the problems we had running a few games and some of the horror stories you hear on the internet it is understandable. We will say though that Crossfire for us was extremely easy to setup which is surprising considering the kind of nightmares we and other people went thought when setting up SLI for the first time. Crossfire needs another generation of graphics cards to come around before it really can take off - performance isn't bad but from a price/performance ratio people are going to be better of venturing down an X1800 or 7800GTX path for the time being.

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:26 pm CDT

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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