Summary: With their X1950 Pro SCS3, PowerColor is the first AMD board partner to produce a silent Radeon X1950 Pro card. The card uses massive heat pipes and a dual-slot heatsink to pull of this feat. In today's review we take a look at the SCS3 board as well as PowerColor's stock X1950 Pro card, which is powered by the Arctic Cooling Accelero X2. See how both cards compare to the stock X1950 Pro inside!
PowerColor’s Radeon X1950 Pro SCS3
While heat pipe coolers do an excellent job of dissipating heat off the GPU, as anyone who has owned a Zalman ZMP series heat pipe unit can tell you, they do so while pumping out an extraordinary amount of heat that usually goes right on your graphics card and nearby system components. To help solve this problem, Sapphire for instance shipped their latter 9800 XT Ultimate cards with an external cooling fan. Without the fan in place, the card generated so much heat it could literally burn your finger to the touch!
Because heat pipes do such a good job of drawing heat off the GPU, NVIDIA for instance has implemented heat pipe cooling into the reference designs in all of their high-end graphics cards dating back to the GeForce 7800s. To help keep heat at bay, these heat pipe coolers are paired with powerful fans that are designed to keep cool air flowing across the heat pipes and the fins of the heatsink that is also designed to help keep the heat pipes cool. But what if you could deliver a heat pipe cooling system that ran silently while also minimizing heat output?
That’s precisely what PowerColor and Arctic Cooling have teamed up to do with the X1950 Pro SCS3, and it comes oh so close to heat pipe cooling perfection. The card is essentially a Radeon X1950 Pro card with a souped-up version of one of Arctic Cooling’s S2 cooling units mounted on top.
Arctic Cooling start the package off with a massive array of heat pipes. Four very long heat pipes start directly above the GPU and then run across the top of the graphics card. In fact, the heat pipes are so long, they extend beyond the graphics card. We estimate they’re so long they’re roughly 6” in length from start to finish, making them one of the longest heat pipes we’ve ever seen on a graphics card.
Flanking the copper heat pipes is a massive aluminum heatsink. This heatsink helps to keep the heat pipes cool. The heatsink Arctic Cooling has employed is composed of very long fins to help increase its effectiveness, and as you can no doubt tell in the pictures, the cooler is dual-slot, so you will need to leave the PCI slot adjacent to your graphics card empty in order for the card to fit.
In operation, the system Arctic Cooling has developed works quite well. The cooler is so large that heat is dispersed over a very large area, and as such, the PCB and card itself don’t get very hot, in fact idle temps are pretty comparable to your typical X1950 Pro card and even under load the system works well (we’ve got temp results later in this review). The only downside to the system that we found was that the backside of the card ran hotter than the reference ATI Radeon X1950 Pro card. This could have been fixed with a heatsink on the back of the card, but placing a heatsink here could cause interference problems with motherboards with large cooling units on the North Bridge of the chipset. Many AMD-based nForce 590 SLI motherboards for instance ship with very large heat pipe coolers on the system chipset.
Besides the heat pipe cooling system, PowerColor also adds individual heatsinks on each of the card’s memory modules, as well as an additional heatsink over the power circuitry on the back of the card.
If silence isn’t a priority for you, or you just want the peace of minding of having one of the most powerful aftermarket coolers on the market, PowerColor also offers their stock Radeon X1950 Pro with Arctic Cooling…
The VGA Silencer line has since been replaced by Arctic Cooling with the Accelero X1 (for GeForce cards) and the Accelero X2 (for Radeon cards).
The Accelero X2 cooler consist of six copper heat pipes as well as a copper base for drawing heat off the GPU. From there heat is transferred to an aluminum heatsink unit which consists of an array of aluminum fins. The Accelero is a dual-slot cooler, so the heatsink is quite large and does a very good job of keeping the GPU cool. To keep everything cool, Artic Cooling employs a large, 2,000 RPM fan, which supplies fresh cool air and runs very quietly.
We recently conducted a roundup of VGA coolers and the Acceleros came out on top due to their excellent price/performance ratio. This really is the best bang for the buck aftermarket VGA cooler on the market right now, nothing else is really close. The real beauty of it is with PowerColor and Arctic Cooling partnering together, you can get excellent cooling for your Radeon X1950 Pro without voiding your card’s standard warranty.
If you were to go out and buy the stock Radeon X1950 Pro with standard cooling from AMD/ATI or one of their board partners, you’d have to replace the stock cooler to get this level of cooling, and thus void the manufacturer’s warranty.
In terms of clock speeds, both PowerColor boards run at the standard Radeon X1950 Pro speeds of 575MHz core/690MHz (1380MHz effective) memory. Both boards also support VIVO (video-in/video-out), are HDCP compliant, and support ATI’s CrossFire technology: simply combine two cards together to get double the performance. Both cards also ship with the same hardware/software bundle, which includes a component video cable, power adapter, CrossFire cable, VIVO cable, DVI adapter, driver CD, and manual. PowerColor doesn’t include a game bundle with either card to keep prices down.
If the stock Radeon X1950 Pro speeds aren’t enough, PowerColor also provides an X1950 Pro “Xtreme” SKU which ships with either 256MB or 512MB of GDDR3 memory. The Xtreme boards are only offered with the Accelero X2 cooler and run at 600MHz core/700MHz memory (1400MHz effective), giving them a slight boost in performance over the card’s we’re looking at today.
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
Performance: With its 36-shader architecture, ATI’s Radeon X1950 Pro is widely considered to be one of the most powerful GPUs out there in the mainstream graphics segment. The GPU also packs a 256-bit memory interface, allowing you to crank up the AA and screen resolution and still get good frame rates. Its nearest competitor, the GeForce 7900 GS, is often left in the X1950 Pro’s dust. Just check out our Oblivion and F.E.A.R. results as proof. The one title where the 7900 GS clearly prevails is Quake 4, everywhere else the X1950 Pro pretty much comes out on top.
Size: In order to effectively cool the Radeon X1950 Pro’s RV570 GPU, a massive 4 heat pipe cooling unit from Arctic Cooling is used. The heat pipes are very long, they’re much longer than the heat pipes NVIDIA employed for the GeForce 7800 GTX/7900 GTX series, and probably even longer than the heat pipes used on many aftermarket CPU coolers.
X1950 Pro core: Again, the RV570 graphics core powering PowerColor’s X1950 Pro card is one of the best in its class, and with the added addition of integrated CrossFire, you can easily pair two X1950 Pro cards together for double the performance. The card also fully supports ATI’s Avivo video processing technology. The only thing really missing is factory overclocking (although PowerColor has their Xtreme SKU for that).
Dual-slot: The only real downside to the Arctic Cooling Accelero is that it’s a dual-slot cooler. Because of this, you’ll have to leave the slot directly adjacent to your graphics card empty in order to house the card. Considering the cooling performance of the Accelero cooler though, we think this is more than worth it.
With their latest Radeon X1950 Pro cards, PowerColor is tackling two very different markets: enthusiasts who want performance, and the media center PC crowd who desire performance and low noise. By partnering with Arctic Cooling, PowerColor has been able to put together two very capable cards for both types of users.
PowerColor X1950 Pro 256MB
With its silent cooling system, PowerColor’s X1950 Pro SCS3 is designed to appeal to the home theater PC crowd. These are the type of users who want to be able to watch movies without having to listen to the fans inside their PC’s whining incessantly.
The heat pipe cooler does a great job of keeping the GPU cool. In comparison to the stock X1950 Pro cooler, we observed temps that were only a few degrees warmer. This is an impressive achievement for a card that’s cooled with no fans, in the past we’ve seen temps that considerably greater (10+ degrees Celsius) for cards that were cooled solely with heat pipes, so Arctic Cooling and PowerColor deserve credit for getting their cooling system right on the X1950 Pro SCS3. The only side affect we noticed was that the underside of the board runs hotter than the reference X1950 Pro.
With so many heat pipes resting just above the GPU, our guess is that heat isn’t being dissipated quick enough and it has to go somewhere – unfortunately that place is the backside of the card. This is something that could have been remedied with a heatsink on the back of the card, but if PowerColor had chosen to do this, it would have made the card compatible with fewer systems, as many motherboards ship with massive coolers on the North Bridge nowadays. If you’ve got a system fan located over your graphics card this won’t be a problem, in fact the card ran fine even without any system fans. But it’s something you may want to keep in mind if you’re picky about the temps of your board itself, as clearly the GPU seems to be running great.
The only real reason we’re scoring the SCS3 card a little lower is because street prices on the card are a little higher than the rest of PowerColor’s X1950 Pro cards. Right now on Newegg for instance, you can get the 512MB factory overclocked PowerColor X1950 Pro Xtreme card for less than the SCS3 after mail-in rebate. This clearly makes the 512MB card a better value at this time.
If you must have a silent X1950 Pro card though, it doesn’t get any better than PowerColor’s X1950 Pro SCS3. The card is definitely in a class of its own.
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