UPDATE: AMD has since resolved most of the issues noted in this article with the release of Catalyst 12.11 beta. You can get the details in our 7970M Crossfire vs 680M SLI article.
Alienware’s flagship system M18x just got a refresh last month when it debuted with AMD’s new 7970M graphics card in Crossfire configuration. This new 28nm video card based on the “Pitcairn” architecture features 1280 stream processors with a whopping 32 ROPs and 2 GB of GDDR5 RAM. What do all these numbers mean? Absolutely nothing if you buy the M18x-R2 with 7970M Crossfire!
Well to be more accurate and fair, there are no official drivers from AMD or Dell that support 7970M in Crossfire mode, thus users are left to fend for themselves by hobbling together leaked beta drivers that often cause more problems than they solve.
We spoke to two owners of the M18x-R2, Speedy_Gonzalez and GTO_PA011 and both of their experiences were nearly identical:
Popular DX 11 titles such as Batman Arkham City showed decreased performance with Crossfire enabled or at best a 5 FPS gain vs a single 7970M. The same was true for Skyrim where both users noticed severe frame rate fluctuation between 16-60 fps vs a single card where it holds steady at a higher frame rate. The issue with Skyrim is not isolated to the 7970M series either, other Crossfire owners report similar findings. Max Payne 3, a hotly anticipated sequel by Rockstar Games shows flickering in game menus.
Some power users would argue that they should try the newest 12.7 beta drivers from AMD to see if that remedies the problem and unfortunately they’d find there’s no improvement at all. Speedy_Gonzalez reports that 12.6 and 12.7 beta produce random BSODs and do not have working color profiles.
The obvious solution must be to call Dell and ask for support right? After all, Dell advertises premium next day service and online support for their Alienware notebooks. Unfortunately, Speedy_Gonzalez tried this to no avail. After spending 3 hours with Alienware tech support installing and uninstalling random drivers, he was told that they would like to replace his motherboard and video cards for an obvious software problem.
When Speedy asked for an upgrade to nVidia’s upcoming 680M or a refund, he was denied both options and told that replacing hardware is Alienware’s first option. Yes that left me scratching my head too thinking WTF?
It’s been over a month since M18x-R2 with AMD’s new 7970M wonder card was released and so far neither company has produced results. AMD has passed the responsibility on to Dell while Dell claims they haven’t received a proper base driver from AMD. Meanwhile, customers that pay $3000+ for a supposed top end gaming system are left with empty promises.