MSI driver combines power of any three GPUs

Nvidia and AMD’s 3-way SLI and CrossFireX technologies have just been given a competitive smack from MSI. The company has just released a driver that can combine the power of any three graphics cards, regardless of the GPU manufacturer.

The new driver was released for MSI’s Big Bang Fuzion motherboard, which comes with Lucid’s Hydra 200 chip. In case you’re unfamiliar with Hydra, the idea behind it is that gamers can mix and match a variety of GPUs from either Nvidia or ATI, and the Hydra chip will combine the power to improve 3D performance.

MSI first released its Big Bang-Fuzion motherboard a few months ago, but at that time only two graphics cards could be chained together using the Hydra chip. With the new driver, up to three cross-vendor cards can now rasterise in harmony. Perhaps more importantly, however, it looks as though the new driver also improves performance compared with the original.

Speaking to THINQ, MSI’s John Inwood explained: “basically, Hydra is a work in progress. We’ve got a board based on it, and I think the performance initially - because it was just when the Lucid chip was being launched - wasn’t that great.” However, with the new V1.5.106 installed, Inwood says that MSI has seen “around a 44 percent improvement” in performance compared to the original driver.

That said, some cards work better together than others. “There are cards that have lower performance if you mix and match them,” said Inwood, “but there are some cards that have particularly good performance.”

So what combinations work well? MSI has supplied us with a few 3DMark Vantage Extreme results based on its own tests to show how the best configurations affect the scaling with two and three cards. Using GeForce GTX 285 cards N Mode (just Nvidia cards), MSI claims that the 3DMark score jumped by 76 percent using two cards, and 139 percent using three cards. Meanwhile, when using Radeon HD 5870 cards in A Mode (just ATI cards), MSI saw a 74 per cent improvement with two cards and 112 per cent with three.

That’s all well and good, of course, but what happens when you start mixing cards? Well, according to MSI, adding a Radeon HD 5870 to a GeForce GTX 285 in X mode (using mixed cards), the company saw a performance boost of 78 per cent. Adding a single Radeon HD 5770 to a pair of GeForce 260 GTX cards increased the score by 39 per cent. As with all benchmarks supplied by hardware manufacturers, however, these should be taken with a pinch of salt until you see independent tests.

Using the Hydra 200 chip, all three GPUs can work together, rather than just sharing memory across the PCI-E bus.

Inwood explains that the chip “does the jiggery pokery that means you can use the cards together. It will use the equivalent of SLI or CrossFire together, so whatever performance-level of cards you put in there, it will get the most use out of them. Even if you put one high-end one and one medium one, or if you mix between different modes, it bears no resemblance on the performance of it.”

In addition to the performance improvements and three-card support, the new driver also brings support for DirectX 11 in games such as BattleForge and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat, as well as support for ATI’s Radeon HD 5000-series GPUs. There’s no support for Nvidia’s Fermi architecture yet, but we’re told that’s coming soon.

If you own an MSI Big Bang-Fuzion motherboard, then you can download the new driver from here.