Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E Page: 1
Introduction

With the release of ATI/AMD's R600 graphics card range being 'slightly' delayed, several ATI AIB partners have taken it upon themselves to give the current X1950 Pro specification a bit of a refresh using some good 'ol fashioned overclocking and uprated cooling.

Today we'll be taking a look at Sapphire's flagship X1950 Pro. With a core speed of 580mhz, memory running at 1600mhz and uprated cooling, will this be enough to keep the ATI fans loyal until the R600 makes an appearance?


Specification

The following information has been shamelessly copied from Sapphire's website:

The ULTIMATE Champion of the Mainstream Gaming
Targeting the enthusiast with near-silent cooling and jaw-dropping performance, Sapphire delivers adrenaline inducing features to the mainstream with the ULTIMATE ATI RADEON™ X1950 PRO. The SAPPHIRE ULTIMATE ATI RADEON™ X1950 PRO promises to awaken the senses with blistering frame rates and awe-inspiring graphics while not interfering with your senses due to the use of its near-silent ULTIMATE cooling solution. Free your imagination from the shackles of PC hardware limitations while remaining affordable with the latest edition to the Sapphire ULTIMATE family. The Sapphire X1950 PRO makes for a welcome addition to the family with its robust hardware offerings such as: the industry acclaimed X1950 GPU, 256MB of GDDR3 of onboard memory, CrossFire support, DirectX and OpenGL acceleration along with enhanced support for the Windows Vista™ 3D environment. Experience the price vs. performance champion with the Sapphire ULTIMATE X1950 PRO!

Hot Features
ATI RADEON™ X1950 PRO core (580MHz)
256MB GDDR3 onboard memory (1600MHz)
Windows Vista™ 3D environment Support
Near-Silent Cooling Solution
256-bit Memory Bus
PCI Express x16 / CrossFire support
Full Version Software: Just Cause
Video Acceleration of: MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, WMV9, VC-1, and H.264
Dual DVI
Tv-Out

And for those of us interested in some of the cards more technical specs...

Features
• 36 pixel shader processors
8 vertex shader processors
Up to 256-bit 8 channel GDDR3 memory interface
Native PCI Express® x16 bus interface
Plug-and-play (native) CrossFire™

Shader Technology
Support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware.
Shader Model 3.0 vertex and pixel shader support:
o Full speed 32-bit floating point processing
o High dynamic range rendering with floating point blending and anti-aliasing support
o High performance dynamic branching and flow control
Complete feature set also supported in OpenGL® 2.0

Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering
2x/4x/6x Anti-Aliasing modes:
o Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling
o New Adaptive Anti-Aliasing mode
o Temporal Anti-Aliasing
Lossless Color Compression (up to 6:1) at all resolutions, up to and including widescreen HDTV
2x/4x/8x/16x Anisotropic Filtering modes:
o Up to 128-tap texture filtering
o Adaptive algorithm with performance and quality options
Improved rendering with higher subpixel precision and LOD computation levels
o New rotational high quality rendering mode

3Dc+™ — Advanced Texture Compression
High quality 4:1 compression for normal maps and luminance maps
Works with any single-channel or two-channel data format

Ring Bus Memory Controller
Programmable arbitration logic maximizes memory efficiency, software upgradeable
New fully associative texture, color, and Z cache design
Hierarchical Z-Buffer with Early Z Test
Lossless Z-Buffer Compression (up to 48:1)
Fast Z-Buffer Clear
Z Cache optimized for real-time shadow rendering
Optimized for performance at high display resolutions, up to and including widescreen HDTV

Avivo™ Video and Display Engine
New advanced video capabilities, including high fidelity gamma, color correction and scaling
Dual independent display controllers that support true 30 bits per pixel throughout the display pipe
Full symmetry on both heads
Each display interface supports display resolutions beyond 2560x1600
Advanced DVI capabilities, including 10-bit, 16-bit HDR output
YPrPb component output for direct drive of HDTV displays
Seamless integration of pixel shaders with video in real time
MPEG1/2/4 decode and encode acceleration:
DXVA support o Hardware motion compensation, iDCT, DCT and color space conversion
All-format DTV/HDTV decoding
Adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing and frame rate conversion (temporal filtering) CrossFire™
Multi-GPU technology
Four modes of operation:
o Alternate frame rendering for maximum performance
o Supertiling for optimal load-balancing
o Scissoring for compatibility
o Super AA for maximum image quality
Native CrossFire support simplifies setup by requiring no dedicated slave or master hardware
24-bit CrossFire connection enables high resolutions and refresh rates
Supports the broadest range of platforms for both Intel and AMD

The Sapphire X1950Pro Ultimate makes use of Samsung's K4J55323QG GDDR3 modules rated at 1.4ns. These generally have fairly good overclock potential, and as we can see from the specifications above, Sapphire have already pushed these from the ATI's stock speed of 1380mhz up to 1600mhz. Sapphire have chosen not to overclock the core past the stock speed of 580mhz, which is strange considering the upgraded Zalman cooling on the card.


Packaging

Most modern graphics cards tend to come in cardboard boxes complete with some kind of flashy graphics on the front. However, Sapphire have gone for a more practical and equally attractive approach by placing the card inside frosted plastic packaging. This allows for any pottential buyers to get a good look at the graphics card and its non-stock cooling solution.

Sapphire x1950pro box front Sapphire x1950pro box back

The front and back of the packaging feature a galaxy-like footer along with the trademark Sapphire female CGI character. Minimal information about the card is present, most likely as Sapphire didn't want to clog up the view through the packaging.

Sapphire x1950pro package Sapphire x1950pro package

The X1950Pro is protected by two hardened plastic moulds that join together to enclose the card keeping it relatively safe from any shipping damage. Also included is a black cardboard box that contains the following items:

• 2x DVI > VGA Connector
• 1 x S-Video > Component Connectors & Cables
• 1 x PCI-e > Molex Power Connector
• 1 x Internal Crossfire Bridge
• 1x Full version of Cyberlink PowerDVD
• 1x Driver Disk
• 1x Full version of Just Cause PC game.
• 1x Instruction Manual

The bundled "Just Cause" PC game is a popular title from Eidos and looks somewhat like Rockstar's Grand-Theft Auto adventure game. It would have been nice to see at least one other title included in the package considering this is Sapphire's top-end card at present, however I'm guessing further titles were ommited to keep the overal cost of the card down.


Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E Page: 2
Card Appearance

Often dubbed as "Leaf Blowers", it's fair to say that some of ATI's past stock cooling solutions have been anything but quiet. Many ATI AIB's have ditched these stock coolers in favor of their own custom solutions, and from the images below we can see that Sapphire have taken a similar approach.

Sapphire X1950Pro Front Sapphire X1950Pro Back

Rather than going for a generic 3rd party solution, Sapphire have teamed up with Korean silent cooling guru's Zalman who are well known for their "flower" style heatsinks.

Using the popular and well respected all-copper VF900-Cu (which actually retails for around £27), you can expect noise output between ~18-25dbA depending how how the cards BIOS is configured to manage the fan speed.

Sapphire X1950Pro Core Sapphire X1950Pro Cooler

The VF900-Cu makes good contact with the X1950 Pro's RV570 core, and Sapphire have even gone to the trouble of using some kind of generic Silver-based TIM for improved heat transfer.

All of this seems to pay off very well considering the reported temperatures from Rivatuner came in at 34°C idle and 45°C load with an ambient temperature of 22°c.

Sapphire X1950Pro PWM Sapphire X1950Pro Memory Sinks

The memory IC's are passively cooled by blue annodised aluminium chipsinks. These should prove pretty effective considering their close proximity to the airflow from the main Zalman cooler.

We can also see that the PWM mosfets on the back of the card have been given their own 'funky' gold aluminium heatsink to help dissipate heat, and promote greater voltage stability to the cards components.

Sapphire X1950Pro DVI

The card has two DVI ports, both of which feature HDCP support and can be used with older VGA screens by use of the included DVI>VGA converter blocks.


Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E Page: 3
Test Setup

In order to give you a good idea of how the Sapphire X1950Pro ULTIMATE compares to its stock-clocked counterpart and other cards in its price bracket, the following pages will show comparative results using the 3 graphics cards below:

Sapphire X1950Pro ULTIMATE 256mb (580mhz / 1600mhz)
Xpertvision X1950Pro Super 512mb (575mhz / 1380mhz)
Asus Geforce 7900 GS (450mhz / 1320mhz)

The following high-spec, overclocked system was also used to remove any potential bottlenecks:

Sapphire X1950Pro Ultimate Sapphire X1950Pro Ultimate

CPU: Intel Core2Duo E6700 @ 3.6ghz
Memory: Patriot PC2-8500 @ 562mhz (5-5-5-8)
Motherboard: Asus Commando (Intel P965)
Hard Disks: 2x Hitachi Deskstar T7K250 80gb (Raid0)
Sound Card: Sound Blaster Audigy Gamer
Software: Windows XP SP2 + DirectX 9.0c
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 7.2 / Nvidia Forceware 93.71

Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E Page: 4
Benchmark Results

3Dmark06 3DMark05
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's and graphics subsystem. All 3DMark runs were performed 3 times with averages being calculated from each of the results. To stress the capabilities of the cards, 4xAA and 1024x768 / 1440x900 resolutions were used.

Sapphire X1950 Pro 3DMark05 Sapphire X1950Pro 3DMark06

In both 3DMark05 and 3DMark06 the Sapphire X1950Pro ULTIMATE managed to beat out the stock-clocked XpertVision by around 2%. Taking bronze was the Asus 7900 GT, which despite a respectable score, fell behind both X1950Pro cards by an insignificant 1-2%.


Counter-Strike:Source
Counter-Strike:Source is a popular multi-player FPS based on the extremely scaleable Source engine. The game takes advantage of many DirectX 9.0c features, but is still fairly undemanding on the GPU unlike the other games in this test. With a card like the X1950Pro we'll be expecting to see framerates in excess of 200fps at 1024x768 and around 160fps at 1440x900.

Sapphire X1950Pro CSS

As expected all 3 cards managed well over 200fps at 1024x768, with the Sapphire taking the lead by a respectable 7fps over its stock-clocked counterpart. Increasing the resolution to 1440x900 brought the results much closer together with the XpertVision trailing behind the Sapphire by just over 3fps.


Sapphire X1950Pro FEAR
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX 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. Once again, all benchmarks were run 3 times to obtain an average at settings of 4xAA, 8xAF and 1024x768 / 1440x900 resolutions.

Sapphire X1950Pro F.E.A.R

With only 1fps difference between the two X1950Pro’s at 1024x768 and no difference between the cards at 1440x900, this really goes to show how taxing F.E.A.R can be on the GPU.


Quake4
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 based. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 4xAA, 8xAF and resolutions of 1024x768 and 1440x900.

Sapphire X1950 Pro Quake 4

The OpenGL orientated Asus 7900GS really steals the show in Quake 4, showing a massive 38fps increase over the ATI based cards. Despite this humiliating defeat, the Sapphire’s overclocked memory gives it a diminutive advantage over the XpertVision card.


Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E Page: 5
Overclocking

Equipped with a Zalman all-coper cooler and heatsinked memory IC's, the Sapphire X1950Pro ULTIMATE is certainly "kitted out" for some serious overclocking.

As the memory on the card is already overclocked to 1600mhz we were unable to perform any additional overclocking using ATI's Catalyst control panel, however installing the latest version of ATITool gave us the neccesary options to try and push things a little further.

ATI Tool

Unfortunately even our best efforts couldn't take the cards memory past it's stock speed of 1593mhz. Maybe this is a limitation of the card or possibly even a problem with ATITool and the X1950Pro series. If you have any ideas be sure to let us know in our forums.

We didn't leave totally empty handed however, and successfuly managed to obtain a 53mhz overclock on the core. Some quick benchmarks of the card running at 634mhz / 1600mhz can be seen below.

Sapphire X1950Pro Overclocked Sapphire X1950Pro Overclocked

Overclocking the card showed a small improvement in both the Quake 4 and Counter-Strike:Source scores, with the latter showing the largest performance increase of 12fps when running at 1024x768.


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Conclusion

The RV570 core has been around for several months now and not much has really changed since our original review back in November. The X1950Pro still provides excellent "bang for buck" and is a perfect card for those of us looking for a temporary solution while waiting for ATI's R600 or more budget DX10 cards to arrive.

With the memory ramped up to 1600mhz the card certainly has an edge over it's stock-clocked counterparts, and the ability to overclock the core by a further 45mhz further enforces this.

Coming in at £135 (02/04/07) the Sapphire X1950Pro ULTIMATE is around £20 dearer than several other manufacturers stock-clocked models. This may seem a rather large inflation on an otherwise well priced card, but when you take into consideration that the ULTIMATE is complete with £30 of aftermarket cooling the price becomes more justified.

Recommended Retailers


Pros
• Great after-market cooling.
• Silent operation even with fan speed set to 100%.
• Excellent price to performance ratio.
• Reasonable core overclock of 45mhz.

Cons
• Unable to overclock memory past cards stock of 1600mhz.


Recommended AwardValue For $$ Award

Thank's to Sapphire for making this review possible.

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