Eyefinity 6 Monitor Setup: The Hands-On Preview

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When AMD announced Eyefinity, we were somewhat skeptical. At first blush, six displays seemed excessive, both in terms of cost and sheer physical space. After setting up and running a six-panel Eyefinity setup, we’re now a little less skeptical – cost turns out to be less of an issue than we imagined. But setup time and physical space requirements are still a bit beyond the pale.

Today, we’ll walk through what it took to get a six display rig going with just one graphics card and one high end PC. It turned out to be a tale full of twisty passages, no two of which were alike (apologies to Underground Kingdom.)

When AMD launched the Radeon HD 5830 , they also announced the Radeon HD 5870 Eyefinity edition. This latest variant of the HD 5870 includes 2GB of video memory and six (yes, six ) mini-DisplayPort adapters.

It’s still pretty early in the DisplayPort adoption cycle, so boxed versions of the Eyefinity board will ship with five adapters:

  • 2 mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapters
  • 2 passive mini-DisplayPort to DVI (single link) dongles
  • Passive mini-DisplayPort to HDMI dongle.

While we laud AMD for thinking about user needs, this set of adapters doesn’t actually support six displays. Even if all your monitors are DisplayPort capable, you’ll still need additional mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapters, which cost around $24 each. (Note that should you happen to have six Apple 24-inch LED Cinema Displays, you’re good to go, as each Apple monitor comes with a mini-DisplayPort cable.) Should you have more than two DVI-equipped monitors, you’ll need active DisplayPort to DVI adapters, which currently cost over $100.

If you have a older 30-inch, 2560x1600 monitors, which connect via dual-link DVI, you’ll need additional adapters, since the included passive mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapters are single link. The price of glory is not insubstantial.

Assembly Required

Once you’ve got all the right cables, adapters and monitors, you should be good to go, right?

AMD contacted us and offered to loan us six 1080p LCD panels for testing. The monitors AMD loaned us consist of six Dell P2210H units, 21.5-inch, 1080p displays equipped with DisplayPort$. Alas, they don’t ship with DisplayPort cables in the box, so expect to pay an additional $10 or so for a stock DisplayPort cable. Still, that brings the total cost up to only about $240 per display. On the other hand, that equates to six 1080p displays for under $1,500 – or less than the cost of a single, high end 30-inch monitor.

Once you have six monitors, you need to mount them. You could, of course, create a “surround gaming” setup with five or six monitors in a single line. But if you want the video wall effect, nothing quite beats a 6 x 2 setup. For that, you’ll need purpose-built monitor stands. AMD also loaned us a pair of Visidec monitor stands – one quad and one dual display (stacked). Oops, the bumps the price up a bit, since the two sets of stands runs to about another $420.

Okay, now we’re up to about $1900, for a total of 5760x2160 pixels. It all makes for an impressive stack of hardware.

How're we going to set all this up? Read on to find out.

Since we’re using specialty stands, that requires a little more assembly than just unpacking the box, popping the panel onto its stand, plugging in a couple of cables and firing up the system. Just assembling the stands takes a good hour or more.


Now that we’ve got the stands set up, we need to attach monitor mounts to the VESA slots on the back of each display, then mount the displays onto the stands. The Visidec stands require a lot of fiddling, and the way you mount the monitors onto the quad stand is completely different from the way they attach to the stacked dual display stand.


Perhaps the most annoying part of physical setup, however, is aligning the monitors so that the bezels are vertically and horizontally in line. This is mostly painstaking, trial-and-error made more difficult by the poorly designed mounting hardware. If we were going to pick monitor stands, the Visidecs would probably be low on our list. In fact, after repeated adjustment, the ball joint on one of the stacked pair of mount became wobbly, and the monitor would sag. We had to insert a shim to keep the display level.

First Boot and Initialization Woes

We installed AMD’s reference Eyefinity edition HD 5870 in our graphics test system. Once the monitors were attached to the stands and somewhat aligned, we attached the six DisplayPort cables, each with a mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, to the card. Most systems will only “see” the first two displays when the system POSTs.


Once we booted into Windows 7 (64-bit Ultimate edition), we installed the beta Catalyst 10.3 drivers. The general process was to configure each monitor as a duplicate desktop – six 1080p, replicated desktops.


After you get the duplicate desktops going, the next step is to group them into one Eyefinity display group.


Here’s where we ran into a more serious snag: the sixth display – the one attached to the mini-DisplayPort connector at the top of the card (furthest from the slot) would lose sync every time we tried to add it to a 6 x 2 group, or even a 3 x 1 group.

We swapped out cables. We swapped out monitors. We even tried three different Eyefinity edition HD 5870s – all to no avail. That top connector refused to sync.

It was time for desperate measures. I suspected a problem with the Asus Rampage II motherboard, one of the earliest X58 boards on the market. Updating the BIOS proved fruitless, so it was time for radical surgery. We swapped out the Rampage II for a much more recent model, the Asus P6X58D Premium. After updating motherboard drivers, and a couple of reboots, we fired up Catalyst Control Center and configured the system for a 6 x 1 group.


Success!

Of course, we fired up a few games just to see if everything was good. First up, the Uniengine Heaven benchmark:


Okay, that’s not really a game. So then we fired up the recently released Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising.


That looked very nice, and seems to run well.

So now we’ve got Eyefinity running and games seem to work. All it took was about four hours of physical setup and one motherboard swap – all in a day’s work for a tech geek.

Now the serious performance testing begins. But that’s a tale for another time.

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