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MSI Big Bang-FUZION: Lucid Hydra arrives

What is the Lucid Hydra 200 and what are its benefits?

As an Israeli company, Lucid stands out from the crowd of Taiwanese and American businesses that predominate the PC landscape, but that's not to forget there's been serious investment by the likes of Intel and other companies like Marvell over the years in the Middle East.

For the most part though Lucid is a venture-capitalist funded company going up against the likes of AMD and Nvidia in trying to create a PCI-E controller that can mix and match graphics cards. Only recently we've been allowed to use both SLI and CrossFire on the same Intel chipset: first X58 and now P55, but never with one card from ATI and one from Nvidia. As SLI and CrossFire work in such fundamentally different ways the Hydra 200 fits between the CPU (with its own PCI-E controller) and the graphics cards, managing their load according to their individual performance.

On paper, it's very intriguing, however in reality it's never as simple as a hardware chip only - otherwise you'd bet your bottom dollar Nvidia and AMD would have done it already and not invested more human-hours in writing driver code than they do developing the next generation hardware.

Lucid might have developed its own hardware, but it needs to make sure all the possible graphics solutions work together, on all Microsoft OSes (because of DirectX), in multiple DirectX versions and across many, many games. The sheer number of combinations is mind bogglingly high, which is why there is a very strict list of compatible parts.

When I mean strict I mean - if the name's not down, don't bother trying. You're totally reliant on Lucid for software updates to make new games and new hardware compatible.

MSI Big Bang-FUZION: Lucid Hydra arrives What actually is the Lucid Hydra 200? MSI Big Bang-FUZION: Lucid Hydra arrives What actually is the Lucid Hydra 200?
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What limitations should I know about before I buy an MSI Big Bang-FUZION?

  • Operating systems are limited to Vista and 7 only - no XP support is included, which isn't unexpected to be honest. And at least both 32-bit and 64-bit OS support for Vista and 7 are there, however if you want to run in "X-mode" and combine both Nvidia and ATI cards, you must use Windows 7.

  • No dual-GPU products such as the Radeon HD 5970 and GeForce GTX 295 are supported. This is because their internal PCI-E switch is incompatible with the Hydra 200 chip.

  • ATI Radeon HD 4000 and HD 5000 series and Nvidia GeForce 9-series and GT200-series are supported. That's really plenty of graphics cards already in the market (or, have been) and those with older GeForce 8-series or HD 3000-series aren't really left out considering the cost of budget, faster parts now, and, would you buy a premium solution to use with cards several generations out of date? We don't think so.

  • Nvidia 185.85 to 196.62 WHQL and all Catalyst upwards of 9.7 are supported. No beta drivers are however, and, if Nvidia releases a new WHQL driver then Lucid has to release a compatible software update too. Previously we tried the 195s with Hydra 1.3.5 pre-release drivers that didn't support them, and Hydra would not run. We had to roll back to 191.07. ATI Catalyst drivers do not seem to suffer this limitation.

  • Currently only two graphics cards are supported, however Lucid and MSI has committed to a future update in 2010 that will allow three cards to be used together.

  • No CrossFire and SLI brackets must be used, and if CrossFire or SLI happens to be turned on in the driver it must be disabled - the Hydra 200 chipset and drivers will handle everything and there could be conflicts otherwise.

  • Using X-mode might see a performance increase when running the ATI graphics card in the top slot and we were told to preferably connect the ATI card in its DisplayPort socket. We don't have such a monitor so we used DVI.
There's also quite a long list of games supported, although no Crysis or Modern Warfare 2: the former is a shame and the latter is a complete oversight in our opinion. We're still waiting on MSI for an exact list for the retail 1.4.1 driver in addition to the ones we've tested and we'll try to update this a bit later.