As we’ve covered a number of times now, AMD has been heavily pushing Eyefinity across its entire range of Radeon HD 5000 series cards. Depending on the GPU in use the 5000 series can drive up to several monitors, however because each TMDS transmitter pair necessary for driving a DVI/HDMI port requires an independent clock source, the 5000 series can only drive 2 such ports. The bulk of AMD’s flexibility is with DisplayPorts, where they only require 1 clock source between them allowing AMD to offer upwards of 6 DisplayPorts at once.

The problem for AMD is that DisplayPort adoption has been slow.  DisplayPort is meant to be the successor to DVI in the PC space, affording smaller connectors and higher resolutions than DVI, while also being able to directly drive LCD panels and to be able to do all of this royalty-free. However with the boom in LCD 1080p monitors – many of which are effectively repurposed LCD TV panels – this transition has been slow to come. Even AMD’s showpiece display – the multi-monitor Samsung MD230X3/MD230X6 - only finally began shipping this month after being demoed as early as last September. Ultimately while the situation is improving, DisplayPort-capable monitors are still few in number, mostly confined to high-end monitors.


An existing Apple dual-link DVI adapter

As a result, budget Eyefinity setups have been unnecessarily expensive. The solution up until now for using 3 DVI/HDMI monitors in Eyefinity has been to use an active dual-link DVI adaptor, which converts the DisplayPort signal in to something suitable for a dual-link DVI port. The biggest issue with this is the price – an active dual-link adaptor costs around $100, as much as a Radeon HD 5670. AMD has needed a cheaper method to enable Eyefinity with DVI/HDMI monitors, and that has finally arrived in the form of the active single-link adaptor.


Active Mini-DP and DP to DVI adapters

The active single-link adaptor, as the name implies, actively converts a DisplayPort signal to a single-link DVI/HDMI signal. The difference from the dual-link adaptor comes down to power consumption and complexity: to drive a single-link DVI port, you only need half as many TMDS transmitters as is necessary for a dual-link port. With simpler hardware the active single-link adaptors can also be run on the meager amount of power supplied with a DisplayPort connection (3.3v@500mA), meaning a secondary USB plug to draw power from a USB port is no longer necessary.

In turn the reduction in complexity brings down the price of the hardware. Currently active dual-link adaptors go for around $100, but AMD is estimating the price on active single-link adaptors to be significantly cheaper at $30. The fact that it’s an active converter means it will never be cheap as simple mechanical/passive converters, but it also means that the price of a 3rd DVI/HDMI port for Eyefinity no longer costs more than some of the cards themselves.

The adaptors will come in two types: a full-sized DP-to-DVI adaptor, and a mini-DP-to-DVI adaptor. DP and mini-DP are electrically the same, so the difference comes down to best suiting the device in question: mini-DP for laptops and exotic cards like the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity6, and regular DP for desktop cards that have a regular port.


Active adapters are labeled with "Active" to differentiate them from passive adapters

For the adaptors we’re looking at today, they will be differentiated from passive adaptors by the addition of the word “Active” on the underside of the adaptor. It’s also worth noting that while these are single-link adaptors, the DVI port is a dual-link DVI-D port, meaning that dual-link cables will work with these adaptors in single-link mode, but DVI-I cables will not work.

In our own testing the adaptors worked as claimed. We were able to drive an 3x1920x1200 Eyefinity setup using an active adaptor, fundamental proof that the adaptor worked. Users with fairly old drivers may get a superficial "Lower setting applied" error from AMD's drivers, as they don't know what to make of a single-link adaptor.


Dual-link port for cable compatibility

Furthermore while AMD is promoting this given their heavy investment in to DisplayPort, there’s no reason that these adaptors won’t also work with NVIDIA and Intel GPUs, as these are active adaptors capable of converting any DP signal. For that matter the adaptors aren’t an AMD design (the adaptors are designed and built by 3rd parties), but for the time being it’s AMD who’s doing the heavy promotion.

Finally, availability is expected to be in early September, with an MSRP of $30. E-tailers will be selling adaptors from both traditional AMD partners and 3rd parties who specialize in adaptors, and we’d expect most if not all of these adaptors to be simple rebadges of the adaptors we received today. Also be on the lookout Radeon cards with these active adaptors bundled in, as some of AMD’s partners will be participating in the release of these adaptors.

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  • jackstar7 - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    This is fantastic news. I want to start using eyefinity and this will help.

    Now if AMD can sort out multi-resolution setups I'll be a happy camper.
    Reply
  • gcor - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    I've been using one of these for about a year now: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB570Z/A

    Does it do the same thing? I believe it converts to DVI-D Single Link, up to 1920x1200@60Hz. It cost me $20(AUD). It might be a cheaper way to go for Eyefinity folks.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    I don't have the Apple single-link adaptor, but my understanding is that it's passive. Bear in mind that Apple is only driving 1 monitor by default (which may very well be DP), so they have at least 1 free set of TMDS transmitters to drive a passive adapter. Reply
  • chizow - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    They're still passing the buck to the end-user with these dongles. I don't understand why they don't just add another TMDS clock-gen for another pair of display outputs for cards they want to market as 3 display capable? How much more could this possibly cost? We've been stuck on 2 TMDS outputs for idk how long (pretty sure my GF4 Ti4200 was the first card I had that was able to output 2xdigital outputs over DVI, and it cost more because of it).

    DP adoption is going to remain slow until they either bundle these active dongles for free, include more TMDS capable outputs, allow for multi-card display output in CF like Nvidia does with SLI, or convince more monitor makers to include DP support. Because as it is now, even thise single-link adapters won't support displays that require DL-DVI like 2560x1600 or 120Hz 1920x1080 displays.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Kyle Bennett over at HardOCP has hinted that they will for the 6xxx series cards. Reply
  • chizow - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Sorry, which solution did he hint would be added?

    Personally, I think if ATI wants DP to really take off, they need to go with the extra TMDS clock-gen which would allow them to just put all DP outputs on their cards or a mix of DVI and DP outputs. Then they can just use cheap passive DP to DVI or DVI to DP adapters for legacy devices if they so choose.

    It will cost them more to implement, but surely it would be cheaper than even the $30 it would cost for this half-baked single-link solution.

    The reality of it is however that most monitor makers are not going to bother with DP unless there are cards that actually support it, and Nvidia clearly isn't behind DP for whatever reasons ranging from valid to tin-foil hat conspiracy theories. The HT market isn't either, as they obviously have vested interest in HDMI.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Just that the DP issue would change. I suspect you're right that the fix will involve an extra clockgen. Reply
  • Googer - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    As a die hard CRT user with an Army of Sony GDM-FW900's, GDM-F500r's, and GDM-F550's, I find the lack of analog adapters a serious disappointment for all analog video aficionados. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    They do sell active DP->VGA adapters.

    If you'd like to do some research, this might be a good place to start: http://www.widescreengamingforum.com/forum/viewtop...
    Reply
  • nexox - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Yeah, I find that newer video cards (the ones with DVI-I, so onboard analog) are skimping pretty heavily on analog filtering these days. Obviously the manufacturers figure it'll be cheaper to go with a lighter weight filter, since hardly anyone uses a CRT any more. Unfortunately to drive my 2 FW900s side by side I needed an nvidia 9xxx series, since there was some 4096x4096 limitation on my old card, and with those FW900s on full res I need 4608 horizontal pixels.

    Basically every card I've had since my GeForce 3 (w/ my Viewsonic p95f+) has been a step down, as far as analog performance.
    Reply

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