And there you have it: the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to CrossFire performance on the P35 chipset with the HD 2900XT. There is nothing really revolutionary or surprising to us in the initial results after spending some significant time testing both products. We will say that the P35 launch should go smoothly when compared to the P965 launch last year if the first wave of motherboards is any indication of what is to come. Our ASUS P5K-Deluxe motherboard has been a joy to work with over the past few weeks and the retail unit has not changed our initial opinion of the board. While not perfect, it is definitely a step forward for ASUS in several areas when compared to the P965 family. Expect to see our first review on this board and others on Monday.
P35 may be good so far, but the same can't be said of R600. We fully expect to see performance and quality improvements over the coming weeks as the R600 drivers continue to mature and AMD pushes the performance envelope. How much actual applications like games will benefit is anyone's guess at this time but early results with the latest beta drivers show impressive gains in the 3DMark applications if that's important to you. However, what is not mentioned in most of these early results is continuing issues with CrossFire and OpenGL under Vista along with IQ issues in games, not to mention certain video decoding and playback functions not being up to full speed. Don't get us wrong, though: for as much grief as AMD has endured or deserved for this product launch we still like the card and expect to see more of it in upcoming product reviews. (Yes, some of us are eternal optimists that figure performance and quality will come up to speed and prices will drop.)
We are not here to single handily knock AMD for these issues as it has taken NVIDIA close to six months to get decent Vista drivers out for the 8800 series of cards and we are still waiting on new platform drivers. We could continue the listing of suppliers that have not stepped up to the plate yet in providing stable drivers or applications for Vista 64, even though everyone has known for the last three years that the industry would be progressing to 64-bit operating systems. At present, it's hard for us to determine what caused more problems in our testing: the new products that still need optimizations and tuning or an operating system that just does not seem quite finished yet.
It seems getting new hardware products to work together seamlessly is something that no longer seems possible to do upon product launch. Maybe we propagate that problem by not being more direct in our conversations with the suppliers during the test phase of new products, but we do typically tell it like it is and those suppliers who listen take it to heart as you will see with the P35 products. It could also be that a few of the suppliers are fooled into believing their own marketing spins when providing engineering test results or products for those early previews that read like a bad infomercial. In the end, we need less hype, better products, and clear and concise information about the products' strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, our game testing indicates that driver optimizations will be paramount to improving CrossFire performance on the P35 chipset when utilizing Vista. Due to the x16/x4 limitations, the expected performance capability of the R600, and a whole new generation of games coming out over the next few months that promises to pound your current system into submission at the highest settings, we cannot recommend the P35 at this time for a CrossFire capable system. That honor still belongs to the chipset that refuses to die, the 975X which is slated to be replaced this summer with the new X38 chipset. While not always the fastest solution for an R600 CrossFire platform it does offer a level of consistency and stability that is not always present on the P35. We fully expect the P35 to perform significantly better in several areas once AMD has the time to tune their drivers for it. For now we understand and accept this lack of optimization, but that does not mean we like it.