AMD enables gaming on six monitors

AMD is attempting to defy the economic downturn today by launching a graphics card that can play games across six monitors.

The Radeon HD 5870 EyeFinity 6 Edition features very similar specifications to the standard Radeon HD 5870, featuring the same count of 1,600 stream processors and a core GPU speed of 850MHz.

However, it differs from its vanilla brethren with its array of six mini DisplayPort connectors on the back, along with five display adaptors for various DVI and HDMI setups, all of which are included in the box. The reference spec also requires all EyeFinity 6 cards to have at least 2GB of 4.8GHz (effective) GDDR5 memory. Although some standard 5870 cards come with 2GB of RAM, the reference specification only requires 1GB.

According to ATI, the extra memory enables the card to scale games across six high-resolution monitors while still maintaining playable frame rates. In its own benchmarks, the company claims that Crysis can be played at Medium settings at an average of 30fps across six monitors. Each monitor runs at a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, making for a total maximum resolution of 7,680 x 3,200.

A number of games already support ATI’s EyeFinity technology across three monitors, including Aliens vs Predator, Dragon Age Origins, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat, DiRT 2, Supreme Commander 2 and Dawn of War II Chaos Rising. However, RTS games such as the latter two titles that apparently make for a better experience across multiple monitors.

ATI’s graphics product manager Dave Baumann explained that “real-time strategy games are actually particularly interesting on a six-panel configuration, because some of those scale the game world according to the resolution. So with very high resolution monitors, you actually end up seeing more of the gaming environment around you.”

The question is, are there enough people with the money to buy six monitors? We put the question to Baumann, who admitted to THINQ that “the EyeFinity 6 is somewhat of an aspirational product.”

However, he added that “in actual fact we’ve seen the uptake of EyeFinity [across three monitors] being much greater than expected. This product is actually kind of the ideal solution for three-panel gaming, due to the 2GB of memory, and then expanding up to six panels is something that you know you can do at your leisure.”

Of course, this also makes a large leap of logic, which is that people can also afford to buy three high-resolution panels, and then upgrade to six later. Let’s face it, this is still going to be a very small market.

“So how many people will go out there and have six panels immediately?” said Baumann. “Not that many, although I’ve seen a number of people on the widescreen gaming forums who have already got systems set up waiting for this board. But realistically this is something that offers the end user expandability.”

In order to make six-monitor gaming look as smooth as possible, gamers will have access to a bezel-compensation control in the Catalyst 10.3 Control Center, which will enable them to calibrate a six-panel system for their own collection of monitors.

There are some other neat features in the driver too, including the ability to split your virtual video wall into groups of displays for specific purposes. Not only could you ran a different 2D app on each display when you’re working, but you can also assign one set of three displays for gaming, while the other three display standard 2D apps. ATI also says that you’ll be able to easily toggle between Clone and Extended modes.

The EyeFinity 6 features appear to add a hefty premium to the price of a Radeon HD 5870. An XFX card with the reference specs is currently available for pre-order for £446.48 inc VAT, while a standard 5870 card from the same manufacturer costs £317.19 inc VAT.

That’s a lot of money for an extra 1GB of RAM and some extra DisplayPort connectors and dongles, but then this is an ‘aspirational’ product – you can’t expect it to be reasonably priced too.