Sapphire are one of ATI's major AIB (add-in-board) manufacturer's and with that they usually make all sorts of exciting cards for us to play with. While awaiting the r600 (ATI's latest and greatest), Sapphire have taken the rather excellent X1950 pro and given it a new lease of life as one card...with two GPU's on it.
With a huge card and an even huger cooler, the X1950 pro Dual certainly looks the part. We take it through it's paces to see if it "walks the talk".
The packaging on the X1950 Pro Dual is decidedly Sapphire's style. With the usual CGI character we have come to know and love from them the box also has a large window to show off the beast inside. This is certainly something that would stand out on the shelves.
The box is also very well packed with the Styrofoam keeping card nicely safe and secure from damage during transit.
Overall a decent job of packaging the card from Sapphire, if a little gaudy for some tastes.
The package with the card is pretty decent, if lacking in software bundled in. Included is:
* 2 x Dual molex to PCI-e power dongle * S-Video > S-Video connector * S-Video > Component connector * S-Video > Composite connector * 2 x DVI > VGA connector * Sapphire branded driver CD Update from Sapphire The retail edition will include a version of 3DMark06, making this a more compelling bundle.
As I said: not bad but nothing special.
The specs of the card are as follows:
X195 Pro Dual
2 x 36
2 x 8
2 x 12
2 x rv570
2 x 512 mb
memory Bus Width
2 x 256 bit
2 x 580 Mhz
2 x 700MHz
As you can see Sapphire have kept many of features of the X1950 Pro and just added another GPU. Sapphire have also upped the core clock a little, meaning that their cooling solution must be pretty efficient.
* 2x 36 pixel shader processors * 2x 8 vertex shader processors * 2x 256-bit 8 channel GDDR3 memory interface * Native PCI Express® x16 bus interface Shader Technology * Support for Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0 programmable vertex and pixel shaders in hardware. * Shader Model 3.0 vertex and pixel shader support: * Full speed 32-bit floating point processing * High dynamic range rendering with floating point blending and anti-aliasing support * 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: * Sparse multi-sample algorithm with gamma correction, programmable sample patterns, and centroid sampling * New Adaptive Anti-Aliasing mode * 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: * Up to 128-tap texture filtering * Adaptive algorithm with performance and quality options * Improved rendering with higher subpixel precision and LOD computation levels * New rotational high quality rendering mode 3Dc+TM - 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 AvivoTM 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 * 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) CrossFireTM * Multi-GPU technology * Four modes of operation: * Alternate frame rendering for maximum performance * Supertiling for optimal load-balancing * Scissoring for compatibility * 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
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 2 Sapphire X1950 pro Dual close up
I have to admit my first thoughts of the X1950 Pro dual were...well...more laughs than thoughts. The card is HUGE. I mean it's massive. After the initial shock died down I went about the business of getting a closer look.
The card certainly looks the part. With a nice large 80mm fan in the middle and a large finned and heatpiped cooler. On the back you can see the tensioners for the two GPU's holding the heatsink firmly in place. One thing you notice as well is that the card only takes up one slot with a single slot backplate. This is a strange decision with such a large cooler to bear the load of.
The news from Sapphire is that this card is a review sample and the retail card will have a double PCI-e backplate andmore importantly two lots of DVI headers for 4 monitor output. This is fantastic news and really gives some value to the card making it a very attractive proposition for those with large multi-monitor setups.
Two Dual Link DVI ports adorn the rear of the card as well as the S-Video out that includes ATi's excellent AVIVO technology.
Additional cooling has been added by Sapphire to cool the power regulation circuitry. Nice to see that Sapphire make sure everything is running as it should.
Here we see the dual PCI-e 6-pin power connectors for this power-hungry card. The fins for those fat heatpipes are sat right above this and you can see 2 of the 4 heatpipes on the right.
Sapphire have added some branding to the cooler along the aluminium plate affixed to the GPU's. Once again two of the heatpipes are showing in the picture. Sapphire have added a backplate to each of the two X1950's to really fix that cooler securely onto the card. This is good for peace of mind.
The card has a crossfire connector onboard. This gives it the potential to have a "quad crossfire" system with four X1950 Pro cores working together. This is not yet available, but it would be a rather exciting prospect!
Once you take the cooler off the whole thing makes a little more sense and also makes the card look pretty well laid out. Each GPU has a ring of Samsung 16x 1.4ns GDDR3 memory chips. The PCI-e bridge chip sits in the middle of the two GPU's connecting them up. There sure is a lot of hardware to fit onto one PCB, pretty impressive stuff.
The RV570 sitting proud on the PCB and also the PLX 8532 PCI-e bridge chip that lets the GPU's talk to each other.
Samsung 1.4ns GDDR3 memory chips - K4J52324QE. Each card has access to 512mb of memory, making 1gb total.
The ATI Rage Theatre chip doesn't need additional cooling and sits just outside the cooler near the rear IO plate. This chip brings us the excellent AVIVO features that the high-end and HTPC ATI cards feature. It's good to see ATI haven't skimped on adding the extra features on this rather insane card.
Here you can see the rather large sized Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual. It is almost motherboard sized. In fact in some aspects it surpasses that as we will see later...
The cooler on the X1950 Pro Dual was actually pretty quiet for such a beasty cooler. At load it is audible but I did not hear the fan spin up to maximum at any point during the game or benchmark testing. This is excellent and an improvement on the stock X1950 pro coolers.
Unfortunately I did not get any scientific readings of temperature this time around, although the GPU was idling at 34°C and loading up under 3DMark06 at 58°C. This is pretty impressive for a dual GPU card.
Now let's get it running shall we?
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 3 Installation
Installation was almost standard for a graphics card. As usual I installed the card screwing up the backplate onto the case. As the PC I was using the card in was watercooled this made for a pretty complicated situation and it didn't really fit in properly. It is well worth checking the dimensions of your case before you even buy the card as it really is very large in length and height.
As you can see the card dwarfs a normal ATX motherboard and you really need to check the size of your case.
Test Setup and Notes
To test these high-end cards I set a PC that gives as little of a bottleneck as possible.
I am again going to focus this review on FPS at certain resolutions and settings. I have reviewed the X1950 Pro before
I am using the numbers of the numbers from the 8800GTS shootout, as this system is easily comparible in setup.
I am still using a manual run-through of the games listed, exactly the same as in previous reviews, but doing it slightly differently to get some consistant numbers. Notice that for all games I ran through with 4 x AA and 8 x AF @ 1920 x 1200. For all of the 3Dmark benchmarks I did two runs. One run was with the stock settings that the free version of the benchmark comes with and one was with 4 x AA @ 1920 x 1200.
I am using a clean install of Windows XP Professional SP2 with all the latest patches.
Both 8800 cards are using the latest nVidia 97.92 Forceware drivers. The X1950 Pro Dual used the Catalyst 7.3 driver set with Catalyst Control Centre installed.
Overclocking was performed using Rivatuner on both 8800 cards and using the ATI "Overdrive" overclocking tool in the ATI drivers.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 4 Counter Strike: Source
Counter Strike: Source is a hugely popular online FPS game based on the Source engine by Valve. This will show what a typical gamer will play on their PC and is a great indication of real-world gaming performance as the engine is so scalable.
The Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual keeps up with the slower 8800GTS in Counter Strike: Source although the minimum framerate is slightly lower.
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.
In Call of Duty 2 the X1950 pro Dual falls behind somewhat. The more advanced pipelines in the more expensive 8800GTS seem to really be able to pump out the frames. It still fared pretty well and was nice and playable at this high resolution.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 5 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.
F.E.A.R. sees the three cards level-pegging. At 1920 x 1200 with 4 x AA this is a good performance for the X1950 Pro Dual.
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features and is a game that nVidia traditionally did well on 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.
The Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual seems to do very well in Quake 4 which is pretty strange. I can only concede that Quake 4 seems to like dual GPu configurations. Indeed the "feel" of the game when playing was actually better than when using the 8800GTS.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 6 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 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.
I enforced 4 x AA onto the game as both nVidia and ATI cards now support AA and HDR in Oblivion.
The Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual's numbers seem pretty good in Oblivion. However the minimum FPS is pretty low and overall the gameplay was not smooth at all. In fact I encountered several glitches and horrible performance during gameplay periods. This may be related to a problem with Crossfire and Oblivion as the card ran fine in single GPU mode.
Command & Conquer 3
C&C3 is the much awaited RTS from EA. Hugely popular and with some pretty nice visuals almost every modern PC should be able to play it. I tested a skirmish right at the end when I had a screen full of mechs to defeat the enemy. This game was played at 1920 x 1200 with no AA and only level 1 of AA selected in game.
Although the Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual is the only card I have tested this on in this setup, I can say that I did not experience slowdown at all. Playing at this resolution and settings level is very nice although AA settings had to be reduced from the gameplay with the 8800GTS.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 7 Benchmarking - 3DMark
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 as well as at 1920 x 1200 (4 x AA).
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.
The X1950 Pro Dual does pretty well at stock settings in 3DMark03. However when I cranked it up to 1920 x 1200 with 4 x AA the point score dropped right off.
I ran 3dMark05. This benchmark requires some more features of DirectX 9 and gets slightly more taxing on the cards.
Once again the stock score was comparible. However when the AA was cranked up the score dropped off considerably.
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 speeds this was not an issue.
3DMark06 shows the same pattern with the 8800GTS cards really showing their stamina at the high resolution with 4 x AA added.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 8 Overclocking
Overclocking on the nVidia cards was performed using Rivatuner. Overclocking on the ATI card was performed using the built-in "Overdrive" facility in the ATI catalyst drivers.
The Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual actually didn't doo too bad for a dual GPU configuration, with a core overclock of around 47MHz (8%) and a memory overclock of 104Mhz (14%).
Anything over the mentioned settings and the overclock failed. Not too bad although I think this is probably due to the limits of the dual GPU configuration.
To test the overclock I ran 3DMark06 test. This allows you to see how the overclock affected performance.
An increase of only 23 marks over the stock settings means that the small overclock did not do too much to affect performance.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual Page: 9 Conclusion
The Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual is one of the last new SKU's that ATI's AIB's are going to produce and it is actually pretty good. The performance is not quite up to that of an 8800GTS although in most games you can play at similar level of settings.
I did experience some problems with the card in Oblivion when Crossfire was enabled, but all of the other games I tried worked perfectly and overall the experience was a good one. The performance of the Pro Dual was the same as the X1950 pro in crossfire but without taking up two slots. In future the potential is there to have two of these cards in crossfire although this is not currently possible.
Sapphire have to be commended for adding to an ATI lineup that is looking rather frail with the dominance of the 8800 series cards in the market. However at $350 it is competing with the lower range 8800GTS 320mb which is a card that beats out the Pro Dual. Also another thing that is likely to put off even the most steadfast ATI fans is the impending (this time!) release of the ATI r600.
At this time I could not find the Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual for sale in the UK, but as mentioned previously Sapphire have priced this up as $350.
The X1950 Pro Dual is an innovative solution to the lack of ATI refreshes, as well as being a superior solution to the 7950 GX2, with only 1 PCB. With this in mind I am giving it the "Innovation Award" and "Recommended"
+ Good performance for an ATI GPU + Keeps up with the 8800 series + Innovative solution for a dual GPU card + Decent pricepoint
- Absolutely huge - may not fit in some cases - Out-ran overall by 8800GTS - Requires a large power draw
Thanks to Sapphire for supplying the review sample