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Sapphire x1950 Pro

Sapphre x1950 Pro Review

Introduction

Although many have been a bit disappointed that the latest hardware renditions that ATI released didn’t take the GTX performance crown, they tend to forget that the money is in the mid to low range cards, not the top end. This is a market that is still held pretty firmly by ATI with their x1950 Pro cards. Today I have Sapphire’s version of the series which has proved itself time and time again; let’s see how this one fairs against new challengers from the 8600 series.

Specifications

  • ATI RADEON™ X1950 PRO core (580MHz)
  • 256MB GDDR3 onboard memory (1400MHz)
  • 36 pixel shader processors
  • 256-bit Memory Bus
  • PCI Express x16 / CrossFire support

Features

  • 36 pixel shader processors
  • 8 vertex shader processors
  • Up to 256-bit 8 channel GDDR3 memory interface
  • Native PCI Express® x16 bus interface
  • Plug-and-play (native) CrossFire™
Shader Technology
  • Support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware.
  • Shader Model 3.0 vertex and pixel shader support:
    • Full speed 32-bit floating point processing
    • High dynamic range rendering with floating point blending and anti-aliasing support
    • High performance dynamic branching and flow control
  • Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL® 2.0
Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering
  • 2x/4x/6x Anti-Aliasing modes:
    • Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling
    • New Adaptive Anti-Aliasing mode
    • Temporal Anti-Aliasing
  • Lossless Color Compression (up to 6:1) at all resolutions, up to and including widescreen HDTV
  • 2x/4x/8x/16x Anisotropic Filtering modes:
    • Up to 128-tap texture filtering
    • Adaptive algorithm with performance and quality options
  • Improved rendering with higher subpixel precision and LOD computation levels
    • New rotational high quality rendering mode
3Dc+™ — Advanced Texture Compression
  • High quality 4:1 compression for normal maps and luminance maps
  • Works with any single-channel or two-channel data format
Ring Bus Memory Controller
  • Programmable arbitration logic maximizes memory efficiency, software upgradeable
  • New fully associative texture, color, and Z cache design
  • Hierarchical Z-Buffer with Early Z Test
  • Lossless Z-Buffer Compression (up to 48:1)
  • Fast Z-Buffer Clear
  • Z Cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering
  • Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, up to and including widescreen HDTV
Avivo™ Video and Display Engine
  • New advanced video capabilities, including high fidelity gamma, color correction and scaling
  • Dual independent display controllers that support true 30 bits per pixel throughout the display pipe
  • Full symmetry on both heads
  • Each display interface supports display resolutions beyond 2560×1600
  • Advanced DVI capabilities, including 10-bit, 16-bit HDR output
  • YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays
  • Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
  • MPEG1/2/4 decode and encode acceleration:
  • DXVA support
    • Hardware motion compensation, iDCT, DCT and color space conversion
  • All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
  • Adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing and frame rate conversion (temporal filtering)
CrossFire™
  • Multi-GPU technology
  • Four modes of operation:
    • Alternate frame rendering for maximum performance
    • Supertiling for optimal load-balancing
    • Scissoring for compatibility
    • Super AA for maximum image quality

  • Native CrossFire support simplifies setup by requiring no dedicated slave or master hardware
  • 24-bit CrossFire connection enables high resolutions and refresh rates
  • Supports the broadest range of platforms for both Intel and AMD

Bits and Box

The x1950 Pro box is typical of Sapphire whole x19** series of cards with the white-washed box and strange, borg like girl exhibiting herself across it.

Sapphire x1950 Pro Box
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The back of the box has some “Product Highlights” and also lets you in on the extras you receive with the card.

Sapphire x1950 Pro Box Back
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Incidentally, these aren’t actually that exciting. You get the usual DVI to VGA converter, some SVideo cabling, a manual and some DVD burning software.

Sapphire x1950 Pro Bundle
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Sapphire X1950 Pro

The card itself is quite different from other x1950 Pros as although the stock heatsink is still present, the shroud to direct air flow on the Sapphire card is different; as is the fan. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the stock cooler temperatures from our Connect3D card.

The front is a hologramatic blue in colour with the same cyborg Sapphire girly, showing us that she really does love computer hardware; like we wish all women did.

Sapphire x1950 Pro
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Sapphire x1950 Pro
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Borg Chick
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The cooler is an exhaust style cooler which entails a fan sucking air from the inside of the case, blowing it over a heatsink shrouded in plastic and then out of the back of the case. At least that’s the usual plan with coolers like this, however on the x1950 cards the shroud doesn’t reach the back of the case and the air is simply deposited at the back of the card. Surely an exhaust option would have improved cooling here?

At the back of the card there is the typical twin DVI ports allowing for two monitors to be powered by a single card.

Rear of Card
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At the “top” of the x1950 Pro there are twin crossfire bridge connectors which currently allows for a dual graphics card setup. However it has been stated in the future it may be possible for 3 graphics cards to be run together using these connectors.

The GPU is powered by a single 6pin PCI-E power connector which is the same across the whole x1950 range.

6pin Power Connector
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On the back of the card you can see that the cooler is held on with just a simple screw on backing plate. This combined with the low profile of the cooler itself means that this card only takes up a single slot altogether; great for those with small PCs or cramped PCIE slots.

Sapphire x1950 Pro Back
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Installation

Due to the thin profile of the card its installation was trouble free and the fact that it uses only a single 6pin PCI-E connector meant that my obsessive cable management only took a few minutes :).

Testing

To test GPUs XSR has a battery of synthetic and real world benchmarks that we put the cards through. Those tests are as follows:

3Dmark01, 3Dmark03, 3Dmark05, 3Dmark6, FEAR pre-set benchmark, X3 Reunion pre-set benchmark, HL2: Lost Coast built in benchmark and our very own Battlefield 2142 recorded demo sequence.

All 3Dmark tests are run using default settings and all gaming benchmarks are set as maximum detail (HL2:Lost Coast and BF2142 have 4x anti-aliasing). All tests were run 3 times and the average of the results taken to ensure that the scores were accurate. If there was a large anomaly in the testing we repeated the 3 tests again.

The rig that this GPU was tested in is as follows:

Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 2.7ghz
Asus P5W DH Deluxe
Silverstone Olypia 650w
OCZ 2gb Special Ops PC6400 @ 900mhz

The results for this card were also compared to a MSI 8600GT, Sapphire x1900XT, MSI 8800GTS 320mb and a Connect3D x1950 Pro. The drivers used for testing the Sapphire x1950 Pro were the latest catalyst 7.4s.

NB. It must be noted that the drivers used for testing the and Connect3D x1950 Pro were 6.12, and the 8800GTS 320mb and 8600GT used the 158.22 drivers. There were performance increases between 6.12 and 7.4 drivers so they will have had some effect on the benchmarks.

Overclocking

Like the Connect3D x1950 Pro card we reviewed previously, overclocking on this card was impossible. Even the slightest mention of a core or memory speed increase and the whole rig would restart. I’m afraid you arn’t going to squeeze anything noteworthy out of the Pro series of cards.

Results

3Dmark Results

Game Results

FEAR Results

As you can see there isn’t really any difference between the x1950 Pros, though that isn’t surprising. However, it is nice to see them keep up with the x1900XT pretty well and to have such a commanding lead over the 8600GT in HL2 and X3.

Noise and Cooling

Unfortunately, attaching their own fan seems to have reduced cooling ability and added to the noise output of the card. The cooler on the Sapphire isn’t horrendous, but the stock ATI cooler setup kept its card’s cooler and was quieter so why Sapphire chose to stick their own on I don’t know.

Cost

These cards weigh in at about £110 which is a bit more expensive than the average 8600GT and about £30 less than a 8600GTS; which is about right for its performance.

Conclusion

The x1950 Pro sits very comfortably just ahead of the 8600GT in performance and it’s price reflects that. However, even though the latter card is nipping at the heels of the Pro in terms of value for money, the x1950 still manages to remain the king of the budget gamer cards. If you are looking for good performance at a reasonable price and don’t plan to overclock then the x1950 Pro is a great choice.

Pros Cons
Good value for performance Cooler worse than stock ATI
Only single 6pin needed

I’d like to thank our sponsors Sapphire for providing us with this GPU.

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