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HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo
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Date: Jan 05, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Michael Lin
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Introduction and Specifications

A few weeks ago, we looked at the HIS Radeon X1950 Pro IceQ3 Turbo, a mainstream graphics card set to do battle with the GeForce 7900GS in the $200 price segment. Based on the RV570 GPU, the X1950 Pro brought a host of features to the table including native CrossFire. While X1950 Pro is a good performer for a great price, some of us were left wishing for more. For a short while, those of us willing to spend an additional $50-$100 for a bit more power than the X1950 Pro could offer had to turn to NVIDIA. That is, until the Radeon X1950 XT was released.

Today, we will be checking out HIS' take on the Radeon X1950 XT, the HIS X1950XT IceQ3 Turbo. As the name implies, the HIS X1950 XT uses the company's IceQ3 cooling apparatus which performs better than the "stock" model and is much quieter to boot. The Turbo in the name also means that the card is guaranteed to overclock to a certain speed, in this case a guaranteed core overclock to the stock XTX speed of 650 MHz. The HIS X1950 XT also has ViVo capability and comes with the HIS "Platinum Pack" bundle. All this for a palatable $290. HIS also offers a much more mundane version of the X1950 XT, sans overclock guarantee and IceQ3 cooler, for about $30 less.

          

ATI Radeon X1950 XT
Features & Specifications
Features - Radeon X1950 XT
- 90nm fabrication process
- 48 pixel shader processors
- 8 vertex shader processors
- Up to 256-bit 8-channel memory interface
- Native PCI Express x16 bus interface

Ring Bus Memory Controller
- Internal ring bus for memory reads
- Fully associative texture, color, and Z/stencil cache designs
- Hierarchical Z-buffer with Early Z test
- Lossless Z Compression (up to 48:1)
- Fast Z-Buffer Clear
- Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions

Ultra-Threaded Shader Engine
- Support for Microsoft DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 3.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware
- Full speed 128-bit floating point processing for all shader operations
- Up to 512 simultaneous pixel threads
- Dedicated branch execution units for high performance dynamic branching and flow control
- Dedicated texture address units for improved efficiency
- 3Dc+ texture compression o High quality 4:1 compression for normal maps and two channel data formats
- High quality 2:1 compression for luminance maps and single-channel data formats
- Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL 2.0

Advanced Image Quality Features
- 64-bit floating point HDR rendering supported throughout the pipeline
o Includes support for blending and multi-sample anti-aliasing
- 32-bit integer HDR (10:10:10:2) format supported throughout the pipeline
o Includes support for blending and multi-sample anti-aliasing
- 2x/4x/6x Anti-Aliasing modes
o Multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sparse sample
patterns, and centroid sampling
o New Adaptive Anti-Aliasing feature with Performance and Quality modes
o Temporal Anti-Aliasing mode
o Lossless Color Compression (up to 6:1) at all resolutions, including widescreen HDTV resolutions
- 2x/4x/8x/16x Anisotropic Filtering modes
o Up to 128-tap texture filtering
o Adaptive algorithm with Performance and Quality options
- High resolution texture support (up to 4k x 4k)
Avivo Video and Display Platform
- High performance programmable video processor
o Accelerated MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264 decoding and
transcoding
o DXVA support
o De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
o Motion compensation, IDCT, DCT and color space conversion
o Vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
o 3:2 pulldown (frame rate conversion)
- Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
- HDR tone mapping acceleration
o Maps any input format to 10 bit per channel output
- Flexible display support
o Dual integrated dual-link DVI transmitters
o Dual integrated 10 bit per channel 400 MHz DACs
o 16 bit per channel floating point HDR and 10 bit per channel DVI output
o Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space
conversion (10 bits per color)
o Complete, independent color controls and video overlays for each display
o High quality pre- and post-scaling engines, with underscan support for all outputs
o Content-adaptive de-flicker filtering for interlaced displays
o Xilleon TV encoder for high quality analog output
o YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays
o Spatial/temporal dithering enables 10-bit color quality on 8-bit and 6-bit displays
o Fast, glitch-free mode switching
o VGA mode support on all outputs
o Drive two displays simultaneously with independent resolutions and refresh rates
- Compatible with ATI TV/Video encoder products, including Theater 550

CrossFire
- Multi-GPU technology
- Four modes of operation:
o Alternate Frame Rendering (maximum performance)
o Supertiling (optimal load-balancing)
o Scissor (compatibility)
o Super AA 8x/10x/12x/14x (maximum image quality)
 

The HIS Platinum Bundle that's included with the X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo is fairly complete. In the box, you get the card itself, an HIS case badge, user's manual, two DVI-to-DB15 monitor adapters, a HD component output adapter, and an S-Video / Composite Video Input & Video Output Dongle so you can take advantage of the card's ViVo capability. Unfortunately, S-Video and Composite Video cables were not included.

The bundle of cables and adapters isn't especially impressive, but that's not what makes the Platinum Pack special. The bundled software is where the Platinum Pack really shines. Included in the bundle are three CDs, a DVD and a slip of paper (more on this later). The first CD contains a full retail version of CyberLink's PowerDVD. The next CD, titled "Power Up Gamers" includes the display drivers, ATI's HYDRAVISION multi-monitor management utility, and a slew of wallpapers and calendars in a wide range of resolutions. The last CD contains HIS' proprietary overclocking utility, iTURBO. With the click of a button, the iTURBO utility will overclock the video card to the speed advertised on the shiny "iTURBO" sticker stuck to the front of the box. In this case, a core overclock from 625 MHz to 650 MHz, which is the stock X1950 XTX speed.

The DVD, titled "HIS Bonus DVD Ver.3", contains a large bundle of software, including the full versions of Dungeon Siege, the GameShadow patching utility, CyberLink PowerDirector 5 SE Plus, CyberLink Power2Go 5, and CyberLink Medi@Show 3. Also included on the DVD are trial versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, Half-Life 2, Act of War: Direct Action, Tribes: Vengeance Single Player, Axis & Allies, CyberLink PowerDVD Copy, CyberLink PowerBackup, CyberLink LabelPrint, and Cyberlink JukeBox. That is a lot of free software and we're still not done.

Remember that mysterious slip of paper? Printed on it is a "Unique Code" and instructions on how to use that code to choose three full, retail games of your choice from the HIS GamersPortal to be shipped to your door. Just navigate to the GamersPortal, select your game, validate the unique code, enter your address and your games will be on their way. You need to pay $5.99 for shipping though. There are currently nine games and three utilities to choose from. They are: Conflict Desert Storm, FarCry, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, LEGO Star Wars, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Colin McRae Rally 2005, Dues Ex: Invisible War, XIII, McAfee VirusScan 2006, Nero 7 Essentials Suite 1, and Roxio Easy Media Creator 7.

There is no doubt that the HIS Platinum Pack is one of the best software bundles included with a graphics card. With the addition of the ability to choose part of your bundle, everyone should be able to find something they like. Bravo, HIS.

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A Closer Look At The HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3

 

Unlike the Radeon X1950 Pro, the X1950 XT does not utilize the RV570 GPU. Instead it uses the same R580+ GPU seen in ATI's flagship Radeon X1950 XTX product. The Radeon X1950 XT is very similar to the XTX, differing only in clock speed and memory. The XT uses 256MB of GDDR3 clocked at 900MHz (1.8GHz effective) while the XTX runs 512MB of GDDR4 modules at 1GHz (2GHz effective). The XT is also a bit slower than the XTX when it comes to core clock, lagging behind the XTX's 650 MHz by 25 MHz. All told, the XT is a slightly slower XTX with half the memory. However, the XTX's hefty $400 price tag is thankfully missing from the XT, which comes in between $250 and $300. This puts the X1950 XT in direct competition with the GeForce 7900GT and 7950GT.

HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo
Familiar Styling, Improved Performance

Besides the familiar red PCB, the HIS X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo looks nothing like an ATI built reference X1950 XT. However, if you take away the fancy IceQ3 cooling apparatus, your left with basically an exact copy of the reference design. Readers of our HIS Radeon X1950 Pro IceQ3 Turbo review will notice that the X1950 XT IceQ3 looks identical. Some readers may also notice that the X1950 XT also looks identical to the HIS Radeon X1900 XT we reviewed earlier this year. They all share the same IceQ3 cooling apparatus and red PCB.

Something to consider in regard to the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo is that while it is CrossFire compatible, pairing it with an X1950 XTX Master Card results in half of the Master Card's memory being disabled; something we can't recommend. Two of these cards can be paired together in a cable-less CrossFire mode as well, but performance won't be as high as true CrossFire because the card lacks the compositing engine found on Master cards. Basically, what we're getting it is that this card is best suited to a single-GPU configuration.

      

   

The HIS X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo is factory configured to the same speed as the ATI reference design, with a core clock speed of 625 MHz, and a memory clock of 900 MHz (1.8 GHz DDR). However, because this is a "Turbo" model, it's guaranteed to overclock a certain amount by HIS. As mentioned earlier, the shiny iTURBO sticker on the top right corner of the box indicates the guaranteed overclock. In our case, a 25 MHz increase in core clock, bringing us to the stock X1950 XTX core speed. According to the literature on HIS' website, non-Turbo versions are also available that do not guarantee an overclock, but are otherwise identical. Since the overclock is assured by HIS, we'll be boosting the X1950 XT to iTurbo speed for our benchmarks.

      

The IceQ3 cooling apparatus on the X1950 XT is the latest in HIS' line of IceQ coolers. The IceQ3 consists of a system of large copper heatsinks and heatpipes which cover the GPU and all the memory modules. Rather than having one huge heatsink which covers everything, the IceQ3's has individual heatinks for GPU and memory, which prevents unwanted heat transfer between the GPU and memory. A fan and shroud mechanism covers the heatsink and pushes air through the heatsink's fins. A grill on the connector plate of the card allows the air to be expelled directly out of the case instead of being blown back into the case and recycled as is the case with most other video cooling solutions. This contributes to lower case temperatures, which results in lower temperatures overall.

The fan used by the IceQ3 is significantly quieter than the one found on the ATI reference model. During testing, it could barely be heard over the "ambient" noise created by the other components in the system. The fan is also designed to intake air from both sides, thanks to the special bi-directional design, improving overall airflow. The fan shroud and fan blades are made from the same sturdy plastic material which has the additional property of being sensitive to UV light. Those of us with UV lights in our system will enjoy a gentle blue glow.

Overall, the HIS X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo runs cooler, faster (when taking advantage of the guaranteed overclock), and quieter than the ATI reference model. HIS claims the IceQ3 cooler can achieve a temperature reduction of 11 degrees Celsius and a noise reduction of over 20 decibels.

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Our Test Systems and 3DMark06

 

HOW WE CONFIGURED THE TEST SYSTEM: We tested the HIS IceQ3 Radeon X1950XT on the Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 - an Intel P965 chipset-based motherboard - powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 processor and 1GB of Corsair XMS2 DDR2 memory. The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and loaded the "High Performance Defaults."  The hard drive was then formatted and Windows XP Professional with SP2 was installed. When the installation was complete, we installed the latest drivers, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled, the hard drive was defragmented, and a 1536 MB permanent page file was created on the same partition as the Windows installation.

In a slight departure from our standard testing procedure, we also installed HIS's iTurbo software on our test system and the HIS X1950 XT was boosted to the advertised iTurbo speeds (650MHz / 900MHz) in all benchmarks. The other video cards used in the benchmarks were all running at manufacturer reference speeds. Lastly, we set Windows' Visual Effects to "best performance," installed all of the benchmarking software, and ran the tests.

The HotHardware Test System
The Mid-range Overclocker

Processor -

Motherboard -



Video Cards -



Memory -

Audio -

Hard Driv
e -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core 2 Duo (2.13GHz)

Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6
Intel P965 chipset


NVIDIA GeForce 7900GT
NVIDIA GeForce 7950GT
ATI Radeon X1900 XT
HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3

1GB Corsair XMS2 DDR2

Integrated

Western Digital Rapter WD740ADFD

10,000RPM - SATA II - 74GB

Operating System -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-




Synthetic (DX) -

DirectX -
DirectX -

DirectX -
OpenGL -
OpenGL -
Relevant Software:
Windows XP Professional SP2
DirectX 9.0c

NVIDIA Forceware v93.71

ATI Catalyst 6.12


Benchmarks Used:
3DMark06 v1.0.2
FarCry v1.4
F.E.A.R. v1.0.8
Half Life 2 - Episode 1
Quake 4 v1.3
Prey v1.2

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06 v1.0.2
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

3DMark06
3DMark06 is the latest addition to the 3DMark franchise. This version differs from 3Dmark05 in a number of ways, and now includes not only Shader Model 2.0 tests, but Shader Model 3.0 and HDR tests as well. Some of the assets from 3DMark05 have been re-used, but the scenes are now rendered with much more geometric detail and the shader complexity is vastly increased as well. Max shader length in 3DMark05 was 96 instructions, while 3DMark06 ups the number of instructions to 512. 3DMark06 also employs much more lighting, and there is extensive use of soft shadows. With 3DMark06, Futuremark has also updated how the final score is tabulated. In this latest version of the benchmark, SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0 tests are weighted and the CPU score is factored into the final tally as well.

 

 

 

The HIS Radeon X1950 XT muscles its way to the front of the pack, beating the closest competitor by as much as 13%. The two Radeons manage to beat the GeForces in both the overall test and the shader 3.0 tests. Although the GeForce 7950GT manages to beat out the X1900 XT in the shader 2.0 test, it still doesn't come close to trumping the X1950 XT. These results aren't too surprising, since we know from our initial look at the X1K refresh that the X1900 XT and the X1950 XTX are great performers. Our HIS X1950 XT, boosted on iTurbo, was running at stock X1950 XTX core clock speeds, so it's reasonable to assume similar performance levels, and the X1950 XT certainly doesn't disappoint.

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Half-Life 2: Episode 1

Performance Comparisons with Half-Life 2: Episode 1
Details: http://www.half-life2.com/

Half Life 2: Episode 1
Thanks to the dedication of hardcore PC gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  So, when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion, gamers the world over sat in eager anticipation. Upon its release, HL2 was universally lauded, and the sequel won an array of "Game of the Year" awards. Armed with the latest episodic update to HL2, Episode 1, we benchmarked the game with a long, custom-recorded timedemo that takes us through both outdoor and indoor environments. These tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently, and with color correction and HDR rendering enabled in the game engine as well.

 

Here we see the gaps between our competitors close a bit, especially at higher resolutions. At 1600x1200, the X1900 XT and the 7950 GT are neck and neck. However, the X1950 XT still maintains a nice lead over the other three cards at all resolutions.

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FarCry v1.4


Performance Comparisons with FarCry v1.4
Details: http://www.farcry.ubi.com/

FarCry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene for some time, you probably know that FarCry was one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC in the last few years. Courtesy of its proprietary engine, dubbed "CryEngine" by its developers, FarCry's game-play is enhanced by Polybump mapping, advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, dynamic lighting, motion-captured animation, and surround sound. Before titles such as Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 hit the scene, FarCry gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D gaming on the PC. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, at various resolutions with 4X AA and 16X aniso enabled concurrently.

 

Here we see the X1950 XT pull away from the pack again, beating out its next closest competitor, the X1900 XT by a bit over 13% at both 1280x1024 and 1600x1200. In this battle, the 7900 GT is clearly outmatched. It falls behind the X1950 XT by 37% at 1600x1200.

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F.E.A.R. v1.08


Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
More Info: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/

F.E.A.R
One of the most highly anticipated titles of 2005 was Monolith's paranormal thriller F.E.A.R. Taking a look at the minimum system requirements, we see that you will need at least a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of system memory and a 64MB graphics card, that is a Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-class or better, to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.08, we put the graphics cards in this review through their paces to see how they fared with a popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to the maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

 

Here we see more of the same story, with the X1950 XT dominating. The Radeon X1900 XT finished a close second, followed by the two GeForce cards.

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Quake 4 v1.3


Performance Comparisons with Quake 4
Details: http://www.quake4game.com/

Quake 4
id Software, in conjunction with developer Raven, recently released the latest addition to the wildly popular Quake franchise, Quake 4. Quake 4 is based upon an updated and slightly modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Quake 4 is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows, but unlike Doom3, Quake 4 features some outdoor environments as well. We ran this these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

 

Quake 4, being an OpenGL game, has traditionally favored NVIDIA cards so its no surprise to see the GeForce cards closing the gap here. The 7950 GT catches up to the X1900 XT and manages to edge it out at 1280x1024. However, our X1950 XT continues to hold on to first place.

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Prey v1.2

Performance Comparisons with Prey
Details: http://www.prey.com/

Prey
After many years of development, Take-Two Interactive recently released the highly anticipated game Prey. Prey is based upon an updated and modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Prey is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a plethora of dynamic lighting and shadows.  But unlike Doom3, Prey features a fare share of outdoor environments as well.  We ran these Prey benchmarks using a custom recorded timedemo with the game set to its "High-Quality" graphics mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X AA and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled simultaneously.

 

The X1950 XT with its slight iTurbo advantage holds on to first place in our last round of benchmarks. On our custom Prey benchmark, we see the field returning to their positions from the earlier benchmarks. However, the 7950 GT is still neck and neck with the X1900 XT at high resolutions.

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Overclocking the HIS X1950 XT IceQ3

Before we concluded our testing, we spent a little time overclocking the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 using the clock frequency slider available within ATI's Catalyst drivers, on the "Overdrive" tab. To find the card's peak core and memory frequencies, we slowly raised their respective sliders until we begun to see visual artifacts on-screen while running a game or benchmark, or until our test system was no longer stable.

Throughout overclocking, the IceQ3 cooling system was manually set to full power with the iTurbo software. This is a significant departure from the 27% power that the IceQ3 runs at while idle and the 38% power under stress. At 27%, the system is barely audible and at 38% its still whisper quiet. However, at full power the system is very loud, but temperatures were amazingly low; staying below 45 degrees Celsius under stress.

Overclocking the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ 3
The Sliders Move But is Anything Happening?

HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Overclocked: 690MHz GPU / 1.90GHzHz Memory
HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Stock:
650MHz GPU / 1.80GHz Memory

 
HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Overclocked: 690MHz GPU / 1.90GHzHz Memory
HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Stock:
650MHz GPU / 1.80GHz Memory

With all this cooling, we quickly maxed out both the core and memory sliders at 690 MHz and 950 MHz respectively. The X1950 XT didn't appear to even break a sweet, not with that IceQ3 cooler blasting at full power at least. Unfortunately, with the sliders maxed out, we were forced to switch to a 3rd party utility. After trying out half a dozen utilities, including HIS' own iTurbo, we discovered that none of them could effect the X1950 XT's core and memory clocks in any way. While the sliders in the many utilities we tried moved back and forth, the benchmark numbers stayed the same, indicating that the utility wasn't actually working.

After much trial and hope, we finally resigned ourselves to the overclock achieved by the Catalyst driver's Overdrive capability. This resulted in a final overclock of 690 MHz for the core (up from 650 MHz) and 950 MHz for the memory (up from 900 MHz). We felt that the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo still had a bit left in it. We wouldn't be surprised if it could manage another 5 MHz for the core and 50 MHz+ for the memory.

While we had the card overclocked, we re-ran a coupe of benchmarks to see how the higher clocks affected performance. Despite being disappointed with our inability to overclock the card any further than the Overdrive utility will allow, the achieved overclock is still fairly impressive. This translated into some big gains in our benchmarks, with a 4% gain in 3DMark06 and a 7% average frame rate increase in FEAR.

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Performance Analysis and Conclusion

Performance Summary: In all of our benchmarks, the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo performed admirably, cranking out high scores throughout. The 25MHz core clock overclock the X1950 XT enjoys thanks to HIS' iTurbo overclocking utility allowed it to outpace the older 256MB X1900 XT and the GeForce 7950 GT in our tests.

We really liked the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo. Its based on the same core GPU technology and possesses the same feature set as the Radeon X1950 XTX. Considering the 25MHz iTurbo guaranteed overclock, the HIS X1950 XT differs from the X1950 XTX only in memory clock speed; lagging behind by 50 MHz (100 MHz effective).

We've said it before in previous reviews, but we're compelled to say it again; we really like HIS' IceQ3 cooler. It is noticeably quieter than the ATI reference cooler during regular operation, although it was equally loud when cranked to 100% power. However, the improved design of the IceQ3 allows it to keep the card cool under stress at considerably lower RPMs than the reference cooler. Except when we manually cranked it up to full power, our IceQ3 never went above 38% power, resulting in wonderfully quiet operation. We also appreciated the IceQ3 shell's UV reactivity, which produces a pleasing blue glow in the presence of a UV light source.

The HIS Platinum Pack bundle included with the X1950 XT contains arguably the best selection of software we've ever taken out of a graphics card box. HIS' decision to allow the customer to choose three pieces of full-version software to complete the bundle is a great idea. However, the bundle lacked when it came to accessories, and we wished S-video and composite video cables had been included.

The HIS X1950 XT costs about $100 less than a XTX and the only sacrifices your making are settling for are a smaller frame buffer and slightly slower onboard memory. We found that our X1950 XT was also a great overclocker, although your mileage may vary. We did have trouble finding compatible overclocking tool however, which limited how much we could overclock the card. ATI fans looking for XTX performance without the price should take a good, hard look at the HIS Radeon X1950 XT IceQ3 Turbo.

  • Quiet, All-Cooper Cooler
  • Full-Featured
  • Good Performance
  • Relatively Good Price
  • Excellent Bundle
  • 3rd-party overclocking tools didn't work
  • Not a good candidate for CrossFire

 

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