AMD's Eyefinity expands desktop real estate beyond reason

AMD's new Eyefinity graphics card tech enables up to six monitors on one desktop.

We don't have dates, prices, or benchmark scores yet, but after a demo in our offices Thursday, we can at least report on our brief experience with AMD's forthcoming Eyefinity graphics card technology. By enabling you to connect up to six monitors to a single PC, Eyefinity opens a wide array of display possibilities with appeal for a number of different kinds of users.

Even before we saw Eyefinity in person, it was clear that this is a niche technology aimed at those willing to spend a lot of money. By way of example, AMD brought in six, 22-inch Dell Professional P2210H displays and a pair of Adtec vertical mounts to support them, for a retail total cost of around $1,650.

We'll guess and say AMD's Eyefinity-capable graphics card will cost between $500 and $600 (again, a guess). Even if AMD charges $400 for the card, adding no premium to the standard Radeon HD 5870's on which Eyefinity is built, you're looking at a $2,000 investment for a six-display Eyefinity setup, assuming you already own a fast-enough desktop to run it.

Mounting and aligning six displays requires dexterity, sweat, and patience. A conference room table doesn't hurt, either. Sarah Tew/CNET

Once you make the investment, you'll need to go through the cumbersome installation process. That means mounting each display, aligning the bezels properly, and then connecting the Mini DisplayPort cable and the appropriate adapter to each of the Eyefinity card's six Mini DP outputs.

Eyefinity requires a single graphics card, and lots of display cables. Sarah Tew/CNET

With the hardware set up, you then need to go through AMD's driver software to configure the panels in your desired layout. Eyefinity supports both extended desktop and clone display modes, and with six monitors to play with you can operate a variety of configurations. You can extend the display across all monitors in a 3x2 arrangement. You can also stack two, 3x1 extended desktops on top of each other, or run three banks of adjacent 1x2 extended desktops. The maximum resolution of the desktop extended across six monitors comes in at 5,760x2,160 pixels.

AMD's Evan Groenke navigates the initial display software setup. Sarah Tew/CNET

Such high-resolution output obviously has appeal to the PC gaming crowd, and AMD spent most of our demo showing off the Eyefinity's gaming chops. We saw demos of Dirt 2, Supreme Commander 2, and Tom Clancy's HAWX running across all six screens at full 5,760x2,160, all with smooth frame rates. Not every game out there will scale to such high-resolution output, but AMD is working with various game developers and publishers to ensure that as many games as possible will take advantage of Eyefinity.

As you might imagine, running six displays has some unexpected quirks. You'll want a high-resolution mouse to navigate the massive 5,760x2,160 desktop. Aligning the bezels of your displays is also paramount to creating a seamless image. The Dell monitors AMD brought in had relatively chunky housing, which detracted from the immersion level. A line of pricier, thin-bezel displays, as well as an Eyefinity-minded stand, are due out from Samsung shortly after Eyefinity launches. AMD said the Samsung display and stand package would cost $2,500.

AMD has also designed a technical workaround, called bezel correction, for the chunky bezel problem. This feature, which you can enable in the drivers, essentially expands the display resolution to smooth the transition between screens. In the demos we saw, bezel correction noticeably improved the fidelity of the in-game motion in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 as it spanned across our three monitor displays. It also helped keep in-game menus readable.

One limitation bezel correction can't overcome is the fact that in a six screen, 3x2 setup, plastic edging occupies the center of your field of vision. That introduces a problem for first-person shooters, or any game with a centered targeting reticle. AMD recommends you play FPS titles in an extended 3x1 setup instead (you can run three monitors using existing Radeon HD 5000-series cards), although we also submit that a nine-display version would solve this problem as well. Perhaps in Eyefinity 2.

Six displays gives you lots of multitasking potential. Sarah Tew/CNET

Impressively, in a stacked 3x1 extended setup with a game running in the lower three displays, Eyefinity can use the three unused screens on top for other apps. You can see this capability on display in our video. In general that speaks to the level of multitasking made possible by Eyefinity. The appeal for digital media editors, and the capability to display massive images, before and after shots, and multiple screens of brushes and utilities, should be apparent as well.

We can think of a few obstacles to owning Eyefinity aside from the price of entry. First-person shooter fans might not see the value of six displays when the optimal experience only needs three. You also need to find a place to put a rack of monitors that measures just over 5 feet across. You'll also need to think about how you sit in front of such a setup comfortably. We find it difficult sitting the standard three feet away from a single 2,560x1,600 30-inch LCD. Eyefinity's 5,760x2,160 six-display resolution dwarfs that considerably.

We'll also add that PC gamers interested in spending money on more experiential features (as opposed to simply pursuing more frame rates), may want to consider whether six displays would be more immersive than 3D. Nvidia's 3D Vision is obviously not an Eyefinity feature, and while AMD supports a different, passive 3D technology on its Radeon HD 5000-series graphics cards, we couldn't get a straight answer as to whether its current 3D technology would work with Eyefinity. AMD's reps did suggest that we might be hearing more information regarding its approach to 3D later this year. Hopefully we'll learn more about that soon.

AMD left the six displays and the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity 6 Edition graphics card with us for further testing. We plan to follow up with performance numbers for various games, as well as the card's price and release date as soon as we're able. If you have any questions for us regarding Eyefinity or a particular game or application you'd like us to try, let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to check it out.

 

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