Sapphire Radeon X1950 Pro Ultimate Edition
Until the X1950 Pro Dual debuts, the X1950 Pro Ultimate Edition is the flagship Radeon X1950 Pro card from Sapphire.
At the heart of the card is Zalman’s VF900-Cu VGA cooler. The VF900 is a little slimmer and lighter than the VF700 cooler that has been used previously on Sapphire’s Ultimate and Toxic cards in the past, making it easier to fit inside some cases. Keep in mind however that it’s still a dual-slot cooler; it will definitely eat up the slot directly adjacent to your PCIe graphics slot. To hold the card’s cooler in place, Zalman uses four thumbscrews. These thumbscrews rest on the underside of the card and could potentially get in the way of some motherboards that place massive heatsink/fan units on the North Bridge of the system chipset. Fortunately we tried out a range of ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards, including the latest 975X and P965 boards, as well as the ASUS Crosshair and M2N32-SLI and didn’t run into any issues.
As the “Cu” implies, Zalman’s VF900-Cu is composed entirely of copper. To further increase the effectiveness of the cooler, Zalman employs two heat pipes which wring their way around the entire upper portion of the cooler. For cooling, Zalman employs a large variable speed fan that can be manually adjusted to run from 1350-2400 RPMs on retail VF900 units via Zalman’s Fanmate fan speed controller. Sapphire doesn’t include the Fanmate controller with their Ultimate card, opting instead to run their board at around 1800 RPMs. With the card’s fan spinning so slow, it produces very little noise while also doing a very good job of keeping the graphics core and memory cool. In operation Sapphire’s X1950 Pro Ultimate not only runs quieter than the stock ATI Radeon X1950 Pro and its cooler, it also runs cooler. We ran back-to-back idle and load testing in 3DMark and noted a difference of over six degrees Celsius at idle in favor of the Sapphire card (36 degrees versus 42) and 14 degrees Celsius under load for the Sapphire Ultimate (45 degrees for the Sapphire versus 59 for the ATI card).
Sapphire also uses a large copper heatsink to cool the board’s VRM circuitry, at the center of the heatsink is a large “S”, giving the heatsink a bit more flair. Sapphire also uses RAMsinks to cool the graphics card’s memory modules.
Sapphire has made no changes to ATI’s Radeon X1950 Pro reference board design; all the board’s components are placed exactly as they are on the ATI reference board, although obviously one difference that separates Sapphire’s board from the rest of the crowd is their use of a blue PCB, rather than the red PCB used by ATI and the rest of their board partners. Another key difference between the Sapphire X1950 Pro Ultimate and many other X1950 Pro cards is that Sapphire removes the Rage Theater chip necessary for VIVO (video-in/video-out) support. This means that you can’t hook the card up directly to a camcorder or game console for instance. The card however does have a video jack for outputting to an HDTV or SDTV (via S-Video or composite connection).
In terms of clock speeds, Sapphire runs the graphics core on their Radeon X1950 Pro Ultimate at the standard X1950 Pro clock speed of 580MHz. The memory however is overclocked 110MHz, from the default X1950 Pro speed of 690MHz, to 800MHz (1.6GHz effective) on Sapphire’s X1950 Pro Ultimate. This improves memory bandwidth by about 7GB/sec, from 44.2GB/sec on the stock X1950 Pro to 51.2GB/sec on Sapphire’s X1950 Pro Ultimate. As a result, the X1950 Pro Ultimate should run a little faster than your typical stock Radeon X1950 Pro card, Sapphire claims their board is about 5% faster, although obviously this is going to depend on the game you’re testing and the resolution and eye candy settings used. Keep in mind that the board runs its memory overclocked to 1600MHz out-of-the-box, Sapphire’s TRIXX utility is no longer required.
For connectivity, the board is equipped with two dual-link DVI connectors and supports HDCP. As we mentioned earlier, VIVO isn’t provided, but the card can be hooked up to an HDTV via the component video cable which is included in the card’s packaging. Also inside the box you’ll find two DVI adapters, a PCIe power adapter, CrossFire cable, S-Video cable, composite video cable, driver CD, manual, and a copy of the game Just Cause on DVD-ROM.