The mini active DisplayPort to DVI single link adapter is pictured above.
Way back in September of 2009 AMD flew me out to Oakland, and set me up on the USS Hornet for the unveiling of their Eyefinity multi-screen capable Radeon HD 5870. The demos were impressive, and I had a lot of fun playing Left 4 Dead on a set up that night. It was not until May of this year that my review of the technology was out. It was clear that it showed promise. Monitors were the main problem at this point. There were good games, and the drivers were maturing so little problems I had before were going away. It all boiled down to the monitors.
In order to do a 3 display or more Eyefinity setup you had to have at least one DisplayPort monitor. There are not exactly tons of them even now. The other issue was bezels that are not thin enough, and today the same issue exists. DisplayPort to DVI adapters were out earlier this year, but they had to be active, and they all cost around $100. They required external power, and as you can read all over the net they had issues. The biggest is the screen that was hooked to one would just not display an image, or randomly black out or flicker. It was a behavior exhibited by earlier drivers with our 6 screen testing, but this was not going to be fixed by driver updates.
Since then I've kept plugging away at Eyefinity, and I had even purchased 3 HP 24" 1920X1200 monitors I had already positioned in portrat mode. While I enjoyed the 6 screen landscape mode it did not take long to be clear that a FPS heavy gamer like myself needed a cross hair that was not obscured or warped by the bezel. A little more testing proved portrait mode with 3 monitors was the way to go. I did not desire an ultra wide 5760 pixel view, and I wanted something that worked for productivity as well as gaming. 3X1 portrait mode was the ideal solution.
Of course that meant to enjoy Eyefinity I would need at least one display port monitor. This is a technical limitation that I've seen best explained here at Tom's Hardware. The jargon may boggle your mind so take that as a warning. Now no disrespect to the Dell 22" screens I tested on, but I wanted 1200P not 1080P so web pages and documents were not too tight it was clear that my HPs were what I wanted. Luckily like magic AMD sent out an email that new improved adapters were coming at under $30, and they worked with no external power and up to 1920X1200 resolutions. A completely new ASIC was the key in better performance, and lower power consumption, and AMD has validated these new adapters. It was the perfect product at the perfect time. Finally I was having Eyefinity on my work/gaming desktop.
With dongles in hand I pulled out my dual 9800GTs, and slapped in a single Radeon HD 5870. Each monitor had DVI and VGA, and I used the existing DVI connectors on the card, and the supplied full size active DisplayPort to single link DVI adapter. A 4th monitor was powered by a Radeon HD 5550, but that did not factor in here. At first there were some scary moments as my far left monitor would not display, but it turned out a funky DVI cable was the cause. I loaded up the Catalyst Control Center, and created a 3X1 display group. It was time to game.
First I turned to Battlefield Bad Company 2. The Frostbite 2 engine just required the correct resolution be chosen, and off I went. A single 5870 had a hard time keeping frame rates high enough with full DirectX 11 glory so I had to turn settings down or get quickly killed in hardcore mode. CrossFire is the way to go here at least until the 6000 series arrived. Again the bezels with compensation on were sometimes bothersome. When the sniper you are looking for is hidden behind the bezel it can become frustrating rather quickly. The key was however that it worked. There was no flickering or the adapter driven screen. I did not lose the screen completely, nor did I notice any issues at all in weeks of play with Bad Company 2.
Next I moved on to Left 4 Dead 2. Left 4 Dead is what I had always demo'd Eyefinity on along with Dirt 2 since it played easier. Without snipers hiding in the bezels it is much easier to compensate for them. A single 5870 handled L4D2 much better and frame rates did not hinder gameplay much at all. Again with L4D2 I had no issues with signals to the adapter powered monitor. It just worked as advertised. Yes, everyone at work has made fun of my set up which now includes a total of 6 monitors all with their own purposes, but it is worth it. The picture above does no justice to how sweet it is to play on. These cheap non branded HP 24" monitors were less than $500 combined, and with a DisplayPort dongle at under $30 it finally brings Eyefinity down to a price that is reasonable, and more importantly reliable without the need for Displayport screens.
With an upgrade to Radeon HD 6000 series just around the corner Eyefinity is about to get a performance boost. With new title support coming out, and already a good deal of solid high end games supported it becomes more and more tempting every day. These new active DisplayPort to single link DVI adapters are available now at Newegg from Sapphire at just $26.99. Sapphire is also bundling them with some video cards as well. So prices are down, performance is up, and you can now be more flexible with your monitor config. What remains as the main hindrance to Eyefinity now are those pesky bezels. Hopefully with LED monitors now starting to take off that problem will be solved next.