ATI Radeon X1950 Pro

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro

x1950p.jpgATI has built a better dual-videocard mousetrap—and it’s cheap! In spite of our enthusiasm, however, we can’t give the Radeon X1950 Pro a higher rating because we’re so close to the debut of Direct3D 10—which this card doesn’t support. We’ve dinged Nvidia’s latest cards on the same grounds.

We’ve had many reasons to like CrossFire: Its “super antialiasing” is a terrific solution that doesn’t have to be shut off while performing high dynamic-range lighting, for one. Unfortunately for ATI, those benefits have been eclipsed by a kludgey cabling system and noisy cooling apparatus. Such drawbacks disappear with the X1950 Pro.

CrossFire has always depended on a master/slave relationship because the compositing circuitry that weaves the images from the two cards into a coherent whole was located on a separate chip on the CrossFire master card. That circuitry is now integrated into the X1950 Pro GPU, much like it is with Nvidia’s parts. To build a CrossFire rig, you simply need two X1950 Pro’s—the master/slave arrangement is gone.

The new GPU also does away with the bulky external cable. Each card has two edge connectors to accommodate a pair of internal ribbon cables. Why two? Each connection is capable of transferring 12 bits of graphics data, which enables two X1950 Pro cards running in CrossFire to deliver up to 2560x2048 resolution at 60Hz (Nvidia’s 7-series GPUs max out at 2560x1600). It’s unlikely you’ll be gaming at such a high resolution, based on the benchmark performance we obtained at 1920x1200, but plenty of non-real-time animation applications will benefit from it.

The card supports HDCP, too, so you can play back Hollywood movies on a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive. If you’re more interested in making movies, ATI’s reference design includes video-in as well as video-out. Most cards based on Nvidia’s 7900 GS support HDCP, but none support VIVO. ATI won’t require third-party manufacturers to include either feature, so make sure you know what you’re getting if you want HDCP and VIVO.

The GPU on the reference-design card we received was clocked at 574MHz, and its 256MB of memory was running at 682MHz. The single-slot card is long—a full nine inches. A contiguous copper heatsink stretches across the entire surface of one side, with a fan at the far end. Unlike the X1950 XTX, warm air is exhausted through the fan’s hub, instead of being evacuated outside the case.

We benchmarked the card at it default speeds and then, as we’ve been doing for a while, unlocked it and used ATI’s Catalyst Overdrive utility to automatically overclock its GPU and memory: The card crashed. The drivers are supposed to automatically reset the GPU and memory to their most stable overclocking values on reboot, but our benchmarks locked up when we tried running them. Manually restoring the GPU and memory to their default clock settings didn’t help, either. We interpret this to mean that either the non-WHQL drivers we were given are sloppy or there’s just not much headroom for overclocking on this hardware (or both). Whatever the case may be, we wound up uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers to restore system stability.

At its default clock speeds, the X1950 Pro proved to be slower than the more expensive EVGA Signature Series GeForce 7900 GS (reviewed on page 76 of this issue) in two key benchmarks: Quake 4 and FEAR. But it was considerably faster at the first of Futuremark’s two Shader Model 3.0/high dynamic-range lighting games.

If you can’t wait for Direct3D 10 parts, and games are the only reason you’re buying a new videocard, we recommend something with Nvidia’s 7900 GS in this price range. But we rate ATI’s X1950 Pro a notch higher because its support for ultra-high resolution and its VIVO feature render it a better all-around value.

Month Reviewed: December 2006
Verdict: 8




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