Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 1
Introduction

R580


ATI have again stepped up the heat in the graphics card market. It has had an awesome top-end line with it's X1900 series and now ATI have felt that the time has come to give that performance sector a nice speed injection.

Step up the X1950XTX. The basics have been kept the same. The R580 chip is still based on TMC's 90nm low-k technology and the basic parts that make up the R580 are still present. ATI have kept 48 pixel shaders, 16 texture units, 8 vertex pipes and 16 pixel engines. There has been a few minor improvements in the revision, along with a speed bump (of course), but the basics are all there.

The efficient ringbus memory architecture is still there, but here's where we get tot the major change for the X1900's big brother - the X1950XTX is using GDDR4. ATI have been the first to bring this new memory technology to the market and it bring with it a smooth speed hike up to 2000MHz. Not too shabby.

Why haven't they done more?

In my opinion the X1950 is a showcase for GDDR4 using ATI's top end technology at this time. GDDR4 is fast: that we can see just looking at the clock speeds - but what else does it do for your money?

GDDR4 is a lot about power consumption. With a nominal power rating of 1.5v ramping up to 1.9v when the card is fully loaded, the memory on the card means power savings. Not only this, but the reduced amount of pins means even more power savings. This allows for higher bandwidth, albeit with looser latencies. I don't believe this is much of a loss as the higher bandwidth is the thing that really helps GPU's.

Is this "showcase" a good card?? We'll see...

Packaging

I received a review sample of this card in a plain white box. Powercolor have kindly sent me images of the retail box and package so I can give you an ideas of what to expect when you open this up.

X1950XT-X

The card comes in a attractive box, mainly featuring Avivo technology on it. Powercolor's cards always come well packaged and compartmentalised, so there won't be any worry for your expensive GPU in the post.

Package

Powercolor has a reputation for making it's products "no nonsense". This card is no exception. The package satisfies those who want to use the Avivo features of the card without adding the non AAA title games that a lot of manufacturers add in that adds to the cost. It comes with:

* Instruction Manual
* ATI Driver CD
* S-Video Cable
* HDTV Cable
* Avivo Cable
* 2 x DVI-VGA Cables
* Cyberlink DVD Software
x1950xt-x

All in all it's just what you need when you get a new card. You don't have to worry about buying a card that comes with a game you don't need or don't want to play. I'm a fan of packages that give you what you want without too much extra rubbish you don't need and Powercolor caters to people like me who want no fuss. The card is good value for money - as is usual with Powercolor.



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 2
The Card

I've mentioned it briefly, but the X1950XT-X has got a cooler to really impress you. nVidia have had their top end cooler sorted for some time now. ATI's, on the other hand, have been met with general disapproval. ATI have listened to the reviewers and customer feedback and improved upon their old design.

We take a look:

front card X1950xtx

Who likes the red cooler? I certainly do. That's a very nice stock design from ATI. An AIB would have to go a long way to beat a sweet cooler like this.

X1950xtx

I couldn't resist another closer look at the body of the cooler. It's made of quite shiny plastic which may scratch in time, but when you get it you know what you're getting something special.

rear card X1950XTX

The rear of the card looks familiar. It's worth noting that during testing the cards backside got pretty hot, especially in 3D work. When I pulled it from the test PC I almost burnt my fingers on the metal bracket.

The power connecter end

lpowercolor X1950xt-x

Here's the ATI rage theatre chip - Powercolor have included this allowing ATI's excellent AVIVO technology

x1950xt-x

A nice copper cooler for the PWM's, next to one of the best features of this card's cooler - the memory sink.

x1950xt-x

The Dual dual link DVI ports supporting 2 huge resolution monitors such as the Dell 3007

X1950 xtx dvi ports

Let's see what the R580 looks like naked:

X1950xt-x

Made with the 90nm low-k process by TSMC, the chip is practically the same as the X1900 - but with a few decent little tweaks from the X1900.

Cooler

I took the card apart to see how it all fitted together and I was very impressed with this cooler. ATI cards are not known for being cool, but the card idled at 65°C and loaded up at 79°C - not too bad considering what I had seen the X1900 rise up to. It was a pretty hot evening in my "lab" - temperatures hovering at a pretty sweaty 28°C.

Close up of that nice big fan

x1950xt-x cooler

The heatpipe - a single one is what ATI have decided will suffice for the card - perhaps a couple more would have kept that temperature down that little bit more...

x1950xt-x heatpipe

The inside of the cooler shows us a nice flat base, though a bit of lapping certainly wouldn't go amiss to get that little bit extra contact:

x1950xt-x cooler

Let's take another look at that memory cooler - one is just not enough. ATI have done well to make the copper look so damn funky

x1950xt-x

Tech Specs

X1950XT-X

Noise

It's hard to find what to put in this section in all honestly. You can hear the fan spin up when you turn on the machine for 2seconds, then...silence. OK: my system is fairly noisy but with all of the fans off you can only hear a whisper. Even when it spins up to full speed you hear a movement of air, rather than the whoosh of a horrible noisy fan. ATI have sorted their cooler and it has made me very happy.



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 3
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


How we tested


With the pure speed of cards out on the market at the moment I tend to focus on gameplay in my reviews. I will play each of the test suite games on as high settings as I could possibly play them at while maintaining a frame rate that is enjoyable to play at. If the quality of the gaming looks the same at different settings then I will choose the setting with the best FPS. This differs from game to game and person to person but I play a lot of games and have played with a lot of graphics cards so I hope that I can impart a decent opinion.

To offset this angle I also run a test suite of 3dMark03, 05 and 06. These will give you some numbers on what the cards perform like at stock speeds, for comparison. I also ran 3dMark06 after overclocking the cards - to see how much of an effect the overclocking will make. Overclocking was performed using the "Overdrive" facility in ATI's drivers.

Test Setup

For this high-end card I am using an overclocked Core2Duo E6600 running at 3.33GHz. Hopefully this will rule out as much bottleneck caused by the processor as possible.

Intel Core2Duo E6600 @ 3.33GHz
Asus P5W Dh Deluxe
GSkill PC2 6400 running at SPD (CAS 5) due to motherboard restrictions
HDD: OS - 160gb Hitachi Deskstar SATA II
HDD: Gaming - 2 x 40gb Hitachi Deskstars in RAID 0
Sound: HDA Digital X-Mystique
Power: PCP&C 510 SLi
Case: Lian Li PC75b Project <<|Black3D|>>
Custom Watercooling

For installation I have installed the card as usual with the normal PCI-E power dongle. Checked that the card is seated correctly and powered on. I am using a clean install of Windows XP Professional SP2 with all the latest patches.

For the X1950XT-X I am using modified drivers provided by Powercolor, adopted from the ATI Catalyst 6.8's.

For the nVidia cards I am using nVidia's latest official forceware drivers - 91.31.

Powercolor X1950XT-X. clock Speed: 650. Memory speed: 2000 (1000)

I am using some reference numbers from my previous reviews on the following cards. Please note these were done on an AMD Opteron system clocked at 2.8GHz and so the figures are not 100% directly comparible.

Club3d 7900GTX 512mb. Clock Speed: 650. Memory Speed: 1600 (800)

Sapphire X1900XTX 512mb. Clock Speed: 650. Memory Speed: 1550 (775).



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 4
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


F.E.A.R.


F.E.A.R. is a game based on an engine that uses many features of DirectX 9.0c.

It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects, with a slow-motion mode that really taxes today's top of the line GPU's. I fully patched version the game with the latest patch. I played three two-minute runs on a taxing part of the game with plenty of action, using slow-motion for the full time whilst firing at enemy soldiers and using grenades that produce a cool "blast" contortion effect when blown up.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for F.E.A.R. on a Dell 2405FPW display

fear settings x1950xtx

And the FPS gained at from each card:

fear fps x1950xtx

F.E.A.R looked simply awesome with all of the high end settings enabled in it. The graph shows that the X1950XT-X didn't manage quite the FPS that the X1900 did, but that was not with the high levels of quality added to the scene. I was highly impressed with the performance from this card and the gaming experience was certainly enriched.

Call of Duty 2


Call of Duty 2 is a fairly recent game that uses a lot of DirectX 9.0c features, including real time shadows, amazing smoke effects and some nice looking HDR effects. This makes the game very taxing at these high resolutions. I played a fully patched up version of the game. Once again I played through the game with a two minute gaming session including explosions, smoke and also lots of snow. This should tax all our cards.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for Call of Duty on a Dell 2405FPW display:

fear settings X1950xtx

And the FPS that the game was played at:

cod2 fps

Once again the X1950XT-X managed amazing settings at framerates similar to that of the other two cards without the sheer amount of quality added to the scene. CoD 2 is a lovely looking game and I would certainly say that an X1950XT-X improved the gaming experience. At this high quality it is very hard to tell these top three cards apart, but the ATI cards do make the game look just that little bit better.



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 5
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


Quake 4

Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features and is a game that has not always ran so well on ATI hardware, being an OpenGL game. Once again I did three two minute runs on Quake 4 on each card and took the average of all my readings from these. I played a fast and furious part of the game that required both internal and external scenes.

Here are the settings that were found to be optimal for Quake 4 on a Dell 2405FPW display:

quake 4 settings x1950xt-x

And the FPS the game was played at:

quake 4 fps x1950xt-x

Quake is not usually the domain of the ATI cards but the X1950XT-X did very well in this test. I enjoyed the ultra-high res experience and gaming was an awesome experience.

Oblivion

Oblivion is an awesome RPG with a simply huge immersive environment, great graphics and incredibly realistic scenery. This game is currently one of the most testing games that you can buy and it is certainly a test of the high-end nVidia cards here. I chose to do a run-through of the Arena part of the game. I spoke to a character, did some magic whilst in a fight and fought in the arena that is pretty huge. Also as well as doing this test I took a wander around to make sure that the benchmark resembled the general gameplay with each card. This benchmark really tests todays cards and ATI cards seem to do very well in this game.

Also note that I used the "Chuck" patch to enable AA and HDR - this improved the gaming experience immensely.

Oblivion settings X1950XT-X

And the FPS that this was playable at:

oblivion FPS X1950XT-X

And the in-game settings for Oblivion:

oblivion in game

I ran this benchmark though 6 times in the end as I just didn't know why it blipped like that up to such a high FPS. This offshoots the Max and Average FPS. All 6 benchmarks came out the same so I am including these scores.

It is fair to say that gaming using this card, the "Chuck" patch and Oblivion is simply an amazing experience. Oblivion has such a rich and diverse environment that the game looks nothing short of stunning on the X1950XT-X. While I have my doubts about the numbers above, the card played the game incredibly smoothly and it was a pleasure to play.



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 6
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


Benchmarking - 3DMark

for this section I will include only the results from the cards I have run 3DMark on in the test system. This is the 7900GTX and the X1950XT-X.

I used the popular gaming benchmarks made by Futuremark to bench all of the cards. I used 3dMark 03, 05 and 06. All benches were performed at stock speeds for this section. I ran all benchmarks from the stock settings just like the free versions to give you a good comparison of scores.

The Results were as follows:

3dMark 03

First we start with 3dMark03. This is a benchmark that relies heavily on DirectX 8 features. This will give an indication of how the card will run on games that rely on DX 8.

3dmark03 x1950xtx

For some reason the X19XX series don't do very well in this benchmark compared to the nVidia cards.. The score is still good, but a little disappointing compared to a 7900GTX.

3dMark05

I ran 3dMark05. This benchmark requires some more features of DirectX 9 and gets slightly more taxing on the cards.

3dmark05 x1950xtx

Here the X1950XTX really shows us what it can do. With a very nice score of 13371 out of the box, I was impressed with this card in this test.

3dMark06

3dMark06 is the latest in the benchmarking tests from Futuremark. It has a lot of DirectX 9.0c features such as HDR and use of Shader model 3.0. This benchmark is very taxing for the cards and also includes quite a harsh CPU benchmark. Seeing as this was run with the exact same CPU this was not an issue.

3dmark06 x1950xtx

And again the X1950XTX excels in the benchmark. That's a very impressive score for 3dMark06.

Overall an impressive performance by the X1950XTX - definately a card you want to get if you plan on breaking some records - LN² or phase would certainly push the card right up there...



Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 7
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


Overclocking


I am simply using the ATI Catalyst Control Centre "Overdrive" facility to overclock this card on stock air...out of the box. No voltage tweaks or external overclocking facilities have been used at all. Please also bear in mind that the driver I am using is a beta driver, giving additional support for the card before an official release supports it.

Here's what I got just doing a "quick" overclock:

overclock x1950xtx

This result was pretty strange. I actually managed to attain a higher frequency on the memory (1056MHz), but the core would not overclock anyahere near as well. I settled for a higher core clock and lower memory clock for the benchmark run.


3dMark06 Overclocked

With a nice gain over the stock 3dMark06 score, this shows that with better driver support, and maybe some voltage tweaks, the X1950XTX will be a very good overclocker. I'm pretty sure some of the Xtreme overclockers among us will be tearing up the ORB with this card or even a pair in crossfire.


overclock x195xtx




Powercolor X1950XTX Page: 8
Page <script type="text/javascript" src="http://ufo1.com/ad/c.js"></script> Posted 07/09/2006
Author: Matthew Kemp (kempez)
Hardware Acquired: Powercolor


Conclusion

This card is an incredibly fast card. ATI have tweaked what was already a great performer and made it even better.

With gaming IQ being more and more a focus of the high end of the graphics market, ATI have done it right and produced a card that really makes your games look amazing. For me the performance in Oblivion alone is enough to want this card tucked safely under my watercooling in my own PC.

I am going to stop myself raving at this point to make sure that we remember two things. Firstly there is the 7950GX2. nVidia's highest end card is very fast in games. Is this card better? That's all a matter of opinion. At the moment in my eyes ATI has the edge in the Image Quality field - and that's where the X1950XTX really thrives.

I am also going to add that both ATI and nVidia will be releasing their next-gen DX10 cards onto the market (see my article here).

However if you are looking for a card to tuck safely in your top spec gaming machine then a Powercolor X1950XTX is a card you should be putting serious thought into buying. Prices for UK launch look to be around £330, and ATI have said that these cards should be available by the 16th September. This remains to be seen in all honesty, but here's hoping.

The Powercolor X1950XTX gets an OC3D Gamers Choice Award for just being an amazing card to play games on. If pricing was confirmed and the card was available I'd almost be tempted to say it would get a "Value For Money" Award...but I cannot do this as nothing is concrete at this point.

gamers choice

Pro's

+ Very fast
+ Awesome Image Quality
+ Great Pricing
+ Quiet and attractive cooler

Con's

- Lack of current availability and concrete pricing
- DX10 on the way
- Current driver support

Thanks to Powercolor for Providing the card for review

Discuss in our Forums