Summary: Based on ATI's RV570 graphics chip, the Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT delivers an impressive price/performance ratio thanks to its 36-shader architecture: with a little bit of overclocking this card can actually outrun a Radeon X1950 Pro! But all isn't perfect with Sapphire's X1950 GT. See how the card stacks up to the competition in today's review!
Last Fall ATI reinvigorated their mainstream graphics lineup, introducing a slew of new graphics processors at both the high and low ends of the mainstream segment. The GPU that garnered the most attention among enthusiasts was easily the Radeon X1950 Pro though.
With its brand new RV570 graphics core, the X1950 Pro turned heads. The chip was equipped with 36 pixel shaders -- just 12 shading units shy of ATI’s flagship Radeon X1950 XTX -- and also sported a 256-bit external memory interface. Arguably the Radeon X1950 Pro’s most notable new feature though was its integrated CrossFire engine. Whereas previous Radeon cards relied on an array of external chips to provide CrossFire functionality, the Radeon X1950 Pro was the first ATI card offered with integrated CrossFire built-in to every card. This ended the need for separate CrossFire master cards that could sometimes be hard to find at retail, and the thick, ungainly CrossFire dongles that accompanied them.
Priced then at an MSRP of $199, the Radeon X1950 Pro was well received among enthusiasts. We called it a worthy successor to the Radeon X1900 GT in our X1950 Pro Performance Preview article, with the Radeon X1950 Pro often outperforming its closest competitor, the GeForce 7900 GS in many benchmarks.
Over time though prices on the GeForce 7900 GS slowly began to fall and rather than reduce prices on the Radeon X1950 GT accordingly, ATI instead decided to introduce another graphics card based on the RV570 GPU family – the Radeon X1950 GT, which was announced at the end of last month. Sapphire’s Radeon X1950 GT is the first X1950 GT card to hit US shores, and it’s the card we’re looking at today. However, first let’s go over the Radeon X1950 GT GPU at the heart of Sapphire’s latest mainstream card.
The innards of the Radeon X1950 GT
At the heart of the Radeon X1950 GT is the same RV570 GPU used in the Radeon X1950 Pro. If you recall, RV570 is built on TSMC’s 80-nm manufacturing process and contains 36 pixel shaders, 8 vertex shaders, 12 TMUs and 12 ROPs. Keeping the graphics core fed with data are eight 32-bit memory controllers, for a 256-bit memory interface.
The following chart summarizes how AMD’s newest mainstream GPU stacks up to previous offerings and the NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS it competes with:
As you can see in the chart above, due to its slower graphics core, the Radeon X1950 GT will run a little slower than the original Radeon X1900 GT, although thanks to its new RV570 graphics core, the Radeon X1950 GT has the added feature of native CrossFire support and HDCP. Apparently under the new AMD-ATI you have to give up a little to get a little (in return), at least as far as the Radeon X1950 GT is concerned.
With the Radeon X1950 Pro and Radeon X1950 GT using the same GPU, we expected Sapphire to use ATI’s reference X1950 Pro board design for their Radeon X1950 GT card. Surprisingly enough though, they didn’t, coming up with their own unique board design for this card.
The PCB itself is the same, measuring roughly 9” in length (the entire card is 9.5” long), and you can still spot the dual 12-bit CrossFire connectors located on the top left corner of the Radeon X1950 GT, but the rest of the board design is very different from the Radeon X1950 Pro.
One of the most notable differences between the Radeon X1950 Pro reference design and Sapphire’s X1950 GT is in power delivery. Power circuitry is completely new, you can actually see a bank of electrolytic capacitors flanking the board’s cooling. The 6-pin PCI Express power connector has also been moved from the middle of the board on the reference Radeon X1950 Pro board design to the upper corner on Sapphire’s X1950 GT.
The feature that stands out the most on Sapphire’s Radeon X1950 GT card though is its cooling. Saphire uses a ducted cooler, but it’s completely different than the heatsink/fan used on the Radeon X1950 Pro reference board. Sitting directly atop the RV570 GPU is a large all-copper heatsink. The copper heatsink is smaller than ATI’s however, measuring 3” in length and 3.1” in width. Flanking the heatsink is a large aluminum plate. This plate encompasses the majority of the cooling, resting directly above the memory modules and underneath the card’s fan.
The fan itself is a blower style fan, and it’s actually slightly larger than the fan used on the Radeon X1950 Pro. It’s located offset of the graphics core in order to increase its effectiveness. Air passes into the fan and is then channeled through the blue plastic duct, passing over the aforementioned copper heatsink cooling the GPU before it finally exits out the right side of the cooler.
In practice, this system does a good job of keeping the graphics core cool, but it does so while generating an excessive amount of noise. The graphics card’s fan literally runs at full speed at all times. As it stands now, there’s no slow or intermediate setting for the fan, just 100%. So whether you’re gaming, browsing the Internet, watching a DVD movie, or even running the system in standby (sleep) mode, the fan continues to operate at full speed.
As you can imagine, this can get extremely irritating after just a few minutes of use, as the card’s fan can generate a lot of noise. Thankfully it isn’t GeForce FX 5800 Ultra loud, but it is considerably louder than any card we’ve tested recently, including the Radeon X1800 XT and X1900 XTX, which delivered a reputation for running notoriously loud.
Most of today’s graphics cards are equipped with variable speed fans, where the fan can dynamically adjust its RPMs based on usage or temperature. We’re crossing our fingers that this issue can be addressed at some point by Sapphire with a simple BIOS tweak, but as of right now this is an issue that seems to afflict their cards.
Included inside the packaging of the Saphire X1950 GT card are two DVI adapters, a component video cable, S-Video cable, composite video cable, CrossFire cable, and power adapter. Sapphire also includes a copy of the game Just Cause on DVD-ROM, driver CD, and PowerDVD 6 2-channel edition.
Company of Heroes 1.3
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
Battlefield 2 – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast – Direct3D
Company of Heroes – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
RV570 graphics core: With its RV570 graphics core, the Radeon X1950 GT has all the basic ingredients to be a good performer. It has 36 pixel shaders, 8 vertex shaders, a 256-bit memory interface, and built-in CrossFire support when you’re ready to upgrade to a second graphics card. The Radeon X1950 GT also supports HDCP. The only downside is the X1950 GT’s reduced clock speeds. Fortunately, that’s where overclocking comes in.
Noise: The fan on Sapphire’s Radeon X1950 GT runs at full speed at all times, there’s no intermediate setting. This is incredibly irritating, particularly at the 2D desktop when installing programs, browsing the web, etc and needs to be fixed.