Tech: AMD Enhances Eyefinity with GCN

When AMD finally launched its Eyefinity technology it had been teasing for a while, gamers across the world rejoiced – triple-monitor gaming changes everything from the experience to the visuals used in a game. Crysis becomes so much more than just a compelling first-person shooter, Need For Speed addicts you to the thrill of going fast more than ever, and epics like Oblivion and Mass Effect drew you deeper into the world. Like the old 2D plane was blown apart by 3D, I’m still feeling goosebumps on my arms when I’m in front of three 22-inch LED monitors with a racing wheel in the middle and DiRT2 on-screen.

I’m a fan of AMD’s Eyefinity tech. Nvidia has been playing catch-up to the idea for a while now and still hasn’t coined it – for triple-monitor gaming you need two Nvidia cards in SLI. While I understand the reasoning for that particular requirement, it rather prevents non-gamers from taking advantage of the technology – and its those guys that’ll benefit from what you’re going to see today – Eyefinity 2.0. First off, AMD chose to wait until the release of their new HD7000 series to unveil their refinements to the technology in Catalyst 12.2 beta. In particular, their HD7950 is considered by many now as the baseline for a decent Eyefinity setup for gaming and productivity. Along with GCN for compute-aware applications, AMD has managed to offer gamers and power users a great value package. First off, the multi-media enthusiasts get a real treat – Multi-channel audio.

I’ve had this problem before with multiple monitors that had HDMI inputs being fed by a graphics card with DisplayPort and HDMI connectors. DP, as you well know, transfers sound and video over a single cable like HDMI does. However, if you have such a setup with three monitors with built-in speakers, you’ll have to mute one or two of them. Should you play your videos in VLC, choosing the HDMI port as your default audio out will enable all of the HD-outputs for sound, including DisplayPort. AMD’s improvements now make the embedded graphics audio chip a lot smarter, and chooses which monitor plays sound based on the content being viewed on it – start playing a video on one and there’ll be sound while the others remain mute because there’s no audio content being played. Unfortunately this technology only debuts on the new HD7000 series, so if you want to clean up your sound setup its best to start saving up.

Oh, but the mind-boggler: if you keep switching which monitor plays the video the audio chip will notice the change and select the correct audio source based on which monitor the content is playing – now that’s impressive. No audio card allows that kind of control today. You might notice the other change AMD has planned for users: Eyefinity and 3D can now be enabled on systems cable of running both at the same time. Go ahead, download the drivers and enjoy your Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in the comfort of your computer chair.

Bringing tears to the eyes of users everywhere...

The next biggest change is desktop positioning. With previous Eyefinity setups the desktop was always on the left-most monitor and you actually had to fiddle around with the monitor setups in Windows to get it right in the middle. Some people got around this by hacking the standard Windows GUI, but that took some effort. AMD’s drivers now give you the option to center your desktop on the monitor in front of you. Since the most popular configs are 3:1 displays, this benefits everyone when the drivers get signed and released.

And finally, for the gamers – bezel correction has been vastly improved with the new Eyefinity drivers. You can now mix-and-match monitors of different resolutions and line up the images so that no matter what game you’re playing, it’ll always be lined up properly. This is definitely going to make a lot of lives easier, as not everyone has the cash to drop for three monitors. I’d like to try this myself, as I have two 15” CRTs in perfect condition lying around the house – one of which I’m actually using to type this on while I’m browsing 4chan.

We’re going to see more Eyefinity threads in various forums pop up as gamers take to using their old monitors to enhance their experience. But, AMD has dropped the ball here in a way that may prompt some users to avoid the next few updates – which I’ll cover in next week’s article. All in all, AMD is pushing for value here, and Nvidia can only sit back and watch while Kepler bubbles slowly to the surface. I say that’s the perfect way to start this year!

Catalyst 12.2 Beta: XP / Windows 7/Vista 32-bit / 64-bit