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Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT 256 MB
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Date: Mar 02, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Alex Evans
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Introduction

There is a common occurrence in the graphics industry that happens near the launch of any major new architecture. Before a company introduces a major change in their GPU designs, they will take their existing GPU designs and offer them at a wide variety of different speeds and price points, sometimes surprisingly low priced, in order to clear out inventory before their new architecture comes into view. The most recent example of this would be Nvidia's GeForce 7900 GTO, which launched just a few weeks before their new GeForce 8 architecture, and provided amazing price/performance levels for those who bought it, but was quickly put out of favor when Nvidia's DX10 architecture launched.

We may be seeing a similar scenario with ATI's latest GPU models, which use their existing architectures but are priced quite low in comparison to what we've seen in the past. Of course, ATI is long rumored to be in production of DirectX 10 compliant graphics processors from the top to bottom ends of the market, so seeing "new" GPUs based on existing DirectX 9 architectures, like the card we're looking at today, strikes us as ATI simply getting the most mileage possible from their existing design. This certainly isn't a negative, however. Their existing DirectX 9 designs are stable, have been in production long enough that most if not all of the kinks have been worked out, manufacturing yields are undoubtedly greater than they were at introduction, and they have fully working drivers.

ATI's "newest" graphics processor is dubbed the Radeon X1950 GT, which is based on the same RV570 core that was featured in the Radeon X1950 Pro line. However, the X1950 GT is a more attractive product, as ATI has dropped their price point down to $150 with minimal drops in clock speed in comparison to the $250+ X1950 Pro model, while keeping nearly every major feature identical. We got our hands on the new Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT card, which has been garnering very solid reviews thus far, for a comparison against other cards in this similar price point. 

Shipping Box - Front

Shipping Box - Back

Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT
Features and Specifications
Stoking the passion within for adventure the Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT brings next generation performance where games are no longer chained to the limited capabilities of PC hardware to the affordable mainstream market! Tomorrow's evolving in-game demands for feature rich environments now find themselves a reality with hardware features such as: the industry acclaimed X1950 GPU, 256MB of onboard memory, and increased performance via CrossFire support. When you couple impressive hardware advancements with next generation software support for Windows Vista 3D environment, DirectX and OpenGL the journey to a graphically enhanced tomorrow is accelerated with the tools of tomorrow made available today by Sapphire and the Sapphire X1950 GT.
  • ATI RV570 Graphics Processing Unit
  • 0.09 Micron Process Die Size
  • 384 Million Transistors
  • 500 MHz GPU Core Frequency
  • 36 Pixel Shader Units
  • 256 MB GDDR-3 Memory
  • 256-bit Memory Interface
  • 600 MHz (1.2 GHz) Memory Clock Frequency
  • 38.4 GB/s Memory Bandwidth
  • PCI Express x16 Connector
  • Dual 400 MHz RAMDACs
  • Active, Single Slot Copper Cooling
  • DirectX 9.0 (Shader Model 3.0) support
  • MPEG2, MPEG4, Divx, VC-1, H.264 Hardware Video Acceleration
  • HDCP Compliant DVI Output Ports
  • Two Dual Link DVI Output Ports
  • 2560 x 1600 Maximum DVI Resolution, 1024 x 768 Maximum TV Out Resolution
  • Component (YPbPr) HDTV Output Support
  • Hydravision 3 Multi-Monitor Support

Sapphire clocks the Radeon X1950 GT at levels which are close to, but slightly lower than the Radeon X1950 Pro. While the Radeon X1950 Pro featured the RV570 GPU clocked at 580MHz with 1.4GHz GDDR-3 memory, the Radeon X1950 GT features the RV570 at 500MHz with 1.2GHz GDDR-3 memory. While a 500MHz GPU clock may seem quite high for a mid-range part, keep in mind that this GPU features 36 pixel shaders, which is 3/4 that of the high-end Radeon X1950 XTX's 48 pixel shaders, meaning that this GPU does less work per clock compared to these high-end GPUs. On the plus side, ATI's prior mid-range card, the Radeon X1600 series, only had a 12 pixel shader design, so for the price, the Radeon X1950 GT will be a major step up compared to the last generation.

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Board Design

Board Design

The Radeon X1950 GT is based on the same PCB design as the Radeon X1950 Pro, which isn't surprising, as the two boards share the same core architecture, the ATI RV570. The deep teal blue PCB is surprisingly large considering the mid-range price tag of this card, although the length should not pose any spacing issues with the majority of cases on the market. The card is based on a PCI Express x16 interface, and there have been no announcements as of yet if there will be X1950 GT AGP variants, although it's technically possible using ATI's "Rialto" PCIe to AGP bridge chip. (There are X1950 Pro AGP cards available)

 

 

The X1950 GT and Pro cards also share the same cooling unit, featuring Sapphire's robotic alien lady, which is nearly standard with all of their new products. The cooler is a single slot unit which features a large aluminum alloy base plate which connects to a set of copper thin fins. The heatsinks are cooled with an embedded (short) 60mm fan. The fan, unfortunately, is somewhat loud during normal operations, and the speed of the fan is not thermally controlled, which means it spins at its full speed all the time. If you're willing to install a third party application like RivaTuner, you can indeed control the fan speeds through Windows, although we wish ATI had included this feature natively, either in hardware or through the Catalyst Control Center software.

The board is equipped with two dual-link DVI output ports, meaning this card can power screen resolutions up to 2560 x 1600. Sandwiched in-between the DVI ports is a flexible TV output jack, which supports HDTV (Component), Composite, and S-Video output. The board does not support VIVO functionality, which means that the board can only output video, and cannot take in video streams from other sources.

The Radeon X1950 GT is the second card release (after the Radeon X1950 Pro) which supports ATI's second generation Crossfire technology. The new internal Crossfire connector can be seen at the top of the PCB near the DVI ports. This new method of Crossfire allows multi-GPU operation without an external card connector cable, which was ubiquitous with ATI's first generation Crossfire technology. In order to run two of these boards in Crossfire, you need a Crossfire compliant motherboard using an ATI chipset or Intel's 975X or P965 chipset. 

 

 

The end of the PCB is covered by power conversion components, and the PCI Express power connector. The board requires a 6-pin PCI Express power cable to function.

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Extras and Overclocking

Extras, Add-Ons, and Overclocking

For a board that reaches down into the mid-range and value segments, the Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT is surprisingly feature packed. Software wise, Sapphire includes a driver disc, an OEM copy of PowerDVD 6.0, and a copy of "Just Cause", a GTA-style game which has garnered mediocre reviews.

Hardware wise, Sapphire has done a superb job of making sure all your needs are covered out of the box. Sapphire includes a PCI Express converter cable for those who don't have a PCIe compatible power supply, to start off with. In terms of video signal, Sapphire includes S-Video, Composite, and Component (HDTV) connectors in the box, along with an S-Video to Composite adapter as well. Two DVI to HD-15 cables are bundled in the box too. 

Sapphire bundles an internal Crossfire connector as well, seen below. While the board has two Crossfire connectors on the top, Sapphire has done the smart thing and only bundled one cable per card. While both cables are needed for Crossfire to run, when a second card is purchased, this would have the second connector needed connect the cards together. The connector is similar to Nvidia's SLI bridges, but is somewhat flexible. Keep in mind that with this connector, your PCI Express x16 slots must only have one slot in-between them, otherwise the connector will not reach. 

 

 

For testing, we used ATI's latest Catalyst 7.2 driver set for Windows XP, which worked great on our first attempt. We also attempted to do Windows Vista testing, although this was a bit more troublesome. While Sapphire claims that the card has Windows Vista support out of the box, their bundled driver disc would not install drivers properly for Windows Vista (32-bit). ATI's Catalyst 7.2 downloadable driver for Vista would not work either, not detecting the Radeon X1950 GT hardware. Sapphire's technical support responded to our inquiry about this issue quickly, but did not offer a workable suggestion. Ultimately, we had to manually force a driver install with Vista, using a Radeon X1950 Pro driver, which worked fine as the X1950 Pro and GT share the same architecture. Just something potential buyers might need to keep in mind, Vista support doesn't seem to be quite there yet, despite Sapphire's claims.

The board is interesting from an overclocking standpoint, as the stock 500 MHz RV570 graphics processor can overclock quite heavily, but the memory would not budge. Using RivaTuner 2.0, we were able to push the GPU up to 625 MHz, a 25% gain in GPU performance. However, pushing up the memory by even miniscule portions led us to screen freezes and the driver sending us back to VPU safe modes. We've included benchmarks of the card at its stock 500 MHz GPU / 1.2 GHz DDR speeds as well as overclocked 625 MHz / 1.2 GHz DDR speeds.

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Test Systems and 3DMark
Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz) Dual-Core
  • 2 x Kingston DDR2-800 CAS 4-4-4-15 Modules (2 GB Total)
  • 1 x Asus P5W DH Intel 975X Motherboard
  • 1 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10 7,200 RPM Serial ATA Hard Disk
  • 1 x Lite-On 18x DVD+/-RW Serial ATA Optical Drive
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional (32-bit)

    Test Candidates

  • Sapphire Radeon X1950 GT 256 MB
  • Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT 256 MB
  • Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT 256 MB
  • Nvidia GeForce 7950 GT 512 MB

To gauge a baseline on 3D performance, we ran a quick 3DMark test as seen above. As you can see, the Radeon X1950 GT card scores quite well, considering the price tag, right on par with the GeForce 7900 GT. The 7900 GT is a smidge faster than the 7900 GS which is currently available on the market, so the X1950 GT is getting off to a good start. Even better, when the GPU on the card is overclocked, performance can meet levels of the GeForce 7950 GT, which is about $100 more expensive than the X1950 GT. Let's look at some real-world titles.

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Half Life 2 Episode One Performance
Gaming Performance
Half Life 2 : Episode One

 

Half Life 2 shows solid performance levels with the X1950 GT, although the amount of difference between the ATI and Nvidia branded cards seems to be a bit larger. In both tests, we see the GeForce 7900 GT outpacing the X1950 GT at stock speeds. Even when overclocked, the card falls a bit behind in this particular title. Nevertheless, 100+ FPS with 4x FSAA and 4x anisotropic filtering in a title like this is quite good for a budget-level card such as this.

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Prey Performance
Gaming Performance
Prey Demo

 

The OpenGL based Prey certainly favors Nvidia branded cards, as both of our tests show the GeForce 7900 series cards performing better than the X1950 GT. Again, for its price point, the Radeon X1950 GT performs quite well, but the similarly priced Nvidia cards have an advantage in this game.

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FEAR Performance
Gaming Performance
FEAR

 

 

The X1950 GT puts up a better fight in FEAR, delivering performance levels on par with the GeForce 7900 series without FSAA / anisotropic filtering enabled. When these features are enabled, the Sapphire card takes a substantial lead over the lower-end Nvidia cards, although still is outpaced by the (more expensive) GeForce 7950 GT card. Again, for a budget-class card, the Sapphire card puts up very solid numbers.

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Conclusion

Our Conclusion

It's hard to get truly excited about a card like the Radeon X1950 GT when you simply look at its specifications. The card is based on a GPU which has been out for quite a long time now, and in the case of this "new" card, ATI has decided to simply run it at slower speeds than before. Sapphire's Radeon X1950 GT has the identical PCB and cooling system to the Radeon X1950 Pro. Making things worse is the constant barrage of press in regards to ATI's upcoming DirectX 10 hardware, which is scheduled to launch in the next few months, which makes DirectX 9 class GPUs like this all that much more un-interesting to enthusiasts. 

However, this card is not designed for those who want the latest and greatest, but is designed for those who want a refined, stable card at a low price point. For this potential market, the X1950 GT hits the mark quite well. The Radeon X1950 GT greatly outperforms previous ATI cards in this price point. This card works quite well with all modern titles, and even has enough graphics horsepower to run fairly high-end games with FSAA and aniso filtering enabled and keep frame-rates high. In addition, the card has excellent image quality, video hardware acceleration, and supports HDCP content protection, for those who want to push Blu-Ray/HD-DVD content on their systems.

Sapphire has packaged the card with a nice bundle of accessories and cables, although we do feel that they could have packaged the card with a better overall cooling system. The stock cooling system is, unfortunately, quite loud, as the fan does not support thermal monitoring out of the box, even though the moderately clocked 80nm GPU underneath runs quite cool under most scenarios. While the fan speed can be controlled through software, it must be done with a third-party application, which users shouldn't have to find on their own.

Gaming performance isn't spectacular for this card, and we would recommend that gamers on a budget look towards the low-end Radeon X1950 XT 256MB cards, which are about $100 more, but offer substantially better gaming performance compared to the X1950 GT series. For those looking for mid-range gaming abilities, for say World of Warcraft or Civilization 4, with a nice set of outputs and video capabilities at a low price point, the X1950 GT is a surprisingly well rounded card. Throw in the fact that it's nicely overclockable and it makes the package an even better value. For $150, it's hard to go wrong here.

  • Solid Price to Performance Ratio
  • Excellent Image Quality, H.264 Hardware Support
  • HDCP Enabled DVI Ports
  • Crossfire 2.0 Support
  • Loud Fan, No Thermal Controls
  • Vista Driver Installation Issues

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