Sapphire – Radeon X1950 Pro review

CrossFire without a Master card
Photo of Sapphire – Radeon X1950 Pro
£149

Right, hold on to your hats: here’s the CrossFire card with the technology that should have been embedded right from the start. CrossFire without the need for a Master card. Yep, that’s right: no more hunting down those rarer-than-rocking-horse-poo Master cards or using those cumbersome CrossFire cables.

The one complaint heard more than others about ATI’s (or should that be AMD’s) CrossFire technology is the lack or shortage of controlling Master cards across all the various GPUs that supported it. This made Nvidia’s SLI system look the easier and more cost efficient system to go for. But with the Radeon X1950 Pro, all that’s about to change and it’s interesting that ATI has chosen to launch this new version of CrossFire in a mainstream board aimed at taking on Nvidia’s G7900 GS and GT models.

In the X1950 Pro, ATI has built the CrossFire engine into the GPU, so all you need to get two X1950 Pro cards running in CrossFire mode is a CrossFire motherboard and a pair of CrossFire connectors.

The latter have more than a passing resemblance to Nvidia’s SLI connectors, albeit a little wider, which is why on first glance you may think you’ve bought an SLI ATI card, as the cards have a connector – or rather a pair of connectors – built into the top of the PCB just like Nvidia’s. The use of two connectors means that the ATI setup can move data bi-directionally at up to 350MHz, whereas the Nvidia solution can only move data in one direction at a time.

Designed to replace the current Radeon X1900GT, which itself hasn’t been around for very long, the X1950 Pro is based on ATI’s RV570 core, built on an 80nm process. The core features an impressive number of transistors – 330 million – and has 8 vertex and 12 pixel shaders. The X1950 Pro also features support for a new Folding@Home client to produce enhanced GPU performance (ATI quotes up to 40 percent).

Sapphire’s take on the X1950 Pro is very close to ATI’s reference design but built on an attractive blue PCB with a matching blue design on the cooler. The cooler itself uses both aluminium and copper: the body of the cooler is aluminium which is a good radiator of heat, while the contacts for the memory chips and GPU are copper, allowing for better heat conductivity.

As for engine speeds, these are the same as the reference design, with a core of 580MHz and the 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 700MHz (1,400MHz effective). As with the reference design, Sapphire’s X1950 Pro supports HDCP.

Performance-wise the X1950 Pro is no slouch, especially for a card costing under £150. When tested with 3DMark 05 at a resolution of 1,024 pixels by 768 it gave a score of 8,645, but of more interest is the frame rate numbers you get from playing real life games.

FarCry and Half Life 2, when tested at the same resolution, give 74 and 62fps respectively, and that is with all the detailing features set to maximum. Even when the resolution is upped to 1,600 x 1,200 pixels the frame rates are still playable, at 70fps for FarCry and 55fps for Half Life 2.

For some reason Sapphire has ditched the very useful Sapphire Select gaming bundle on the X1950 Pro and instead bundled a copy of The Da Vinci Code, which is not the world’s greatest game. The only other software bundled with the card is a copy of PowerDVD 6.

Company: Sapphire

Contact: 01793 423830


Verdict
With the X1950 Pro, CrossFire has, in one fell swoop, become just as easy as any SLI configuration to setup, and it when it comes to cost versus performance it's bang on the mark.