Review Although today is only the paper launch of the long anticipated ATI Radeon X1950 XTX, it's worth waiting until 14 September when you can actually buy one. Not only is it ATI's fastest card, but it's also incredibly affordable and, thanks to a new cooler, it has put the noise problems the plagued past ATI cards behind it...
PowerColor kindly supplied us with the first review sample of the Radeon X1950 XTX, beating ATI to the task. If this is any indication how good the GPU's production yield is, there shouldn't be any shortage of X1950 XTX cards once they officially shipped next month. The only (slight) worry is ATI's move to GDDR 4 memory, which isn't yet available in mass production quantities, but should be shortly if one is to believe Samsung.
The X1950 XTX has the memory clocked at no less than 2GHz which is a new record for graphics card memory. The core is clocked at 650MHz, just like the X1900 XTX, but the extra memory bandwidth has given the GPU a very healthy boost in performance. ATI claims gamers will see speed gains of up to 15 per cent speed gains over the X1900 XTX thanks to the faster memory. Like its predecessor, the X1950 XTX contains 48-pixel shaders and eight vertex shaders.
The X1950 CrossFire edition will offer identical performance to the XTX, not the as yet unreleased XT version as was the case with the X1900 series.
This is all great if you're a first-person shooter junkie and wat to be able the squeeze every last bit of performance out of your graphics cards. But one of the best features of the Radeon X1950 XTX is the new cooler. It's whisper-quiet most of the time, except for the rare times when it spins up to push some of the hot air out the back of the system through the vent on the two-slot bracket. This didn't appear to happen more than once every 15-20 minutes, and the X1950 XTX remains one of the quietest high-end cards on the market.
However, this new cooler seems to be made from solid copper and it has made increased the weight of the card quite a bit. It also utilises a heatpipe, something that previous ATI coolers haven't needed. This draws the heat away from the GPU to a heatsink inside the fan ducting, which makes for faster heat dissipation as it's exhausted out the back of the PC. This should allow for an overall cooler running system than with previous ATI cards.
Besides this, there isn't much new to report - except for the performance numbers of course. The test platform consisted of an Intel Core 2 Duo X6800 processor, an Intel D975XBX motherboard, a Western Digital Raptor X hard drive, 2GB of Crucial Ballistix DDR 2 memory and a Tagan 580W PSU.
As we've seen from the spec, the X1950 XTX isn't a next-generation product, merely a speed bump over the X1900 XTX. Since both of these GPUs share the same speed, there will be times where you won't see a huge performance increase, if any. However, the more memory-intensive games you're running, the bigger the performance increase.
The X1950 XTX really comes into its own is when you enable full-screen anti-aliasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AF) at higher resolutions, something that hasn't always been possible with older cards without experiencing a slowdown. There is still a performance penalty but you now need to push past a screen resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 before this will really be noticeable in most games.
As we used beta drivers, there is likely to be performance improvements with the retail drivers, which launched too late for us to use. Nonetheless, the numbers are at least in the ballpark of what you would expect from a top of the range card like this. If you already own an X1900 XTX there won't be any real reason to upgrade, apart from the quiet cooler. Even then, you'd be better off buying an after-market cooler for your current card.
Considering that you have to hit 1,600 x 1,200 resolution before you drop below 100fps, under no circumstances are there going to be any problems playing any of the latest games on this card. The exception is F.E.A.R., but even here you're getting (almost) 60fps until you crank it up to 2,048 x 1,536 and enable FSAA. If you have an older machine and a low-resolution screen, you'll be better off spending your money on a lesser graphics card. The X1950 XTX is for high-resolution gaming on a fast PC. And that's it.
But for anyone looking for a high-end card, the Radeon X1950 XTX really is the card to get. The performance is here, the noise is gone and for once for a new high-end card, it's actually quite affordable. The PowerColor card should retail for around £351 inc. VAT in the UK, which is really quite amazing considering that the X1900 XTX was priced at around the £470 mark at launch. We're still getting ripped off here in Britain considering the same card is going for closer to £250 in the US, though that's minus local sales tax of course.
There's no doubt that the Radeon X1950 XTX is a great card for the money, but if you already have a high-end card, it's not going to be worth investing in, as it's still the same core as the X1900 series. However, if you're about to put together a new high-end PC, it should be on your list of card options.
The Radeon X1950 XTX is a very fast graphics card and the first card to feature GDDR 4 memory. ATI has fixed the noise problem that plagued its previous high-end cards. The launch price is very attractive. ATI is really pushing out the boat to try to win over anyone considering Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2. ®