ATI Radeon X1950 Pro - More Than Frequency Changes

The ATI Radeon X1950 Pro, codenamed RV570, has been built on the 80nm process, contains 36 pixel shader engines, 12 parallel pipelines and eight vertex engines, utilizes digital PWM, supports dongle-less CrossFire, fits in a single PCIe slot and comes with an MSRP of $199. When the AMD/ATI merger was announced many critics and analysts thought that ATI would be too busy merging with AMD to keep producing quality products for the high end graphics market, but it's safe to say that with today's successful launch ATI has cast away those worries.

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ATI has clocked the core on the X1950 Pro at 575MHz and the 256MB of GDDR3 memory at 1.38GHz, which are aggressive for a card with a $199 price tag. The core on the X1950 PRO is manufactured on an 80nm fabrication process, and is completely separate in almost every way imaginable from the existing Radeon X1950 video cards as we will show you later in this article. ATI has been impressed by the cores made on the 80nm process and told Legit Reviews that the average overclock on the core has been 100MHz from what they have seen and been hearing back from those that are lucky enough to have a card already.

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Shot(RV570)

The 80nm RV570 core features 36 Pixel Shaders (12 fewer than the X1950XTX) and 12 Texture Units (four less than the X195XTX) to get the job done. Video output options include dual-link DVI + S-Video, dual-link DVI + single link-DVI + S-video or dual-link DVI + VGA + S-video. The ATI Radeon X1950 Pro has internal dual-link TMDS transmitters for both DVI outputs. As usual, ATI doesn't recommend any particular configuration and it is up to the add-in board partner to choose the appropriate one.

Native CrossFire Technology

For years ATI has been ridiculed for having a dongle and to be honest it's been a pain for us too as we tend to install and remove CrossFire cards on the test bench quite often. Gone are the annoying small screws and external dongle, in are a pair of internal CrossFire bridges that connect both cards. This also means that there is no longer the need for a master and slave card, which will make purchasing a graphics card from ATI much easier than it has been in the past. 

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Native CrossFire Slide

ATI requires the use of both Crossfire Connectors and will include the cables with the purchase of any X1950 Pro series cards.  ATI informed Legit Reviews that each cable will supply 12-bit performance meaning both have to be used to reach 24-bit gaming up to 2560x2048 at 60Hz on cards fast enough to run graphics that high. It should also be noted that if ATI wanted to pair more than two graphics cards together these connector locations could also be used to daisy chain cards together. While we don't expect support for three daisy chained graphics cards any time soon, but it's something to ponder.

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Native CrossFire Pictures

Here is a shot of our ATI Radeon X1950 Pro cards with the pair of CrossFire connectors connected to the graphics cards. The installation of the CrossFire connectors is identical to NVIDIA's SLI solution as all that needs to be done is push them down for them to be correctly installed.

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Native CrossFire Pictures

One interesting thing to note about the CrossFire Connectors are that they were made by Molex Incorporated and dated August 22, 2006, so these have been around for at least a couple months. The take-home message from this page is that ATI has done away with the dongle on the X1950 Pro and their upcoming X1650 XT, so the need for a master and slave card for CrossFire is a thing of the past on these series.

Now that we have covered the most important new feature let's look at the other noteworthy changes on the X1950 Pro.

Goodbye Analog and Hello Digital PWM

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Digital Power Management

When the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro was placed next to the Radeon X1950 XTX it was obvious that ATI changed a few things at the end of the card as the layout is much cleaner. This picture also shows the size differences on the cores and answers the question if the X1950 Pro and X1950 XTX share the same core as they obviously don't.

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Digital Power Management

The reason the PCB looks cleaner is because ATI was the first in the to use digital Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), a technology never seen before on high end desktop graphics cards. Digital controllers eliminate the dangers of overheating and exploding capacitors, giving users a safer and better monitored control over their video cards. By moving over to a digital PWM, ATI was able to save space on the PCB, but didn't shrink the size of the card as they wanted to stick with good low noise cooling solution.

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ATI and NVIDIA have been using analog signals up to this point and it hasn't been a problem, but it's been proven in the labs that digital signals are the way of the future. One of the disadvantages of an analog circuit is that they tend to drift with time and they are difficult to tune. Analog circuits are also usually hot and are sensible to noise. A digital signal is easier to implement, requires a smaller circuit, can be fine tuned, is easily reproducible, dissipates less heat, is immune to noise and weights less meaning that it is the best way to dial a graphics card in. ATI uses an RoHS compliant Multi-Phase SMD Coupled Inductor (part #59PR9852) by Vitec Electronics Corporation to make sure the digital signals are in check and hopefully enthusiasts will end up getting clean power.  

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Other than the move to digital PWM ATI has moved the heat sink fan power header to the top of the card and actually moved the additional +12V header down to the middle of the card. With that said the digital PWM is covered and we can move on to better things!

Test System

Test System:

Video Card Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 4800+

Motherboard

ASUS A8R32-MVP

Memory

2GB Crucial PC-4000

Hard Drive

Western Digital Raptor 74GB

Cooling

Retail AMD Heatsink

Power Supply

Antec NEO HE 550W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Quake 4

Quake 4 is a relevant test as this is obviously a very popular multiplayer game. Having a low framerate while competing in a local LAN is only going to hurt your chances of winning.

Quake 4

Quake 4

Well a die shrink, less pixel power, and slower clocks aren't going to help performance here in Quake 4. However the new X1950 Pro is able to hang with the 256MB X1900XT at 1600x1200.

CrossFire

Quake 4

Quake 4

More of the same while running in CrossFire, the Nvidia 7900 GT SLI system is just too much in Quake 4 for the new kid on the block.

Serious Sam 2 HDR

Ok, let's get Serious! This game offers HDR, tons of impressive scenery and enough enemies to make your trigger finger tired. We've provided results below with standard Anti-Aliasing without HDR. HDR is the next big thing for games coming out today and on the horizon. Although the ATI X1000 series support the use of Anti-Aliasing with HDR enabled in Serious Sam 2, the NVIDIA 7000 series does not. No HDR+AA results were included in the review for this reason.

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

In our single card HDR tests the X1950 Pro is looking great as it's able to beat out the 7900 GT and 7900 GS by comfortable margins. As the resolution scales up it ends up ever so slightly faster than the 7950 GT!

CrossFire

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Running in CrossFire it's no contest, the pair of X1950 Pro cards were faster across the board than 7900 GT SLI.

F.E.A.R.

First Encounter Assault Recon or F.E.A.R. Anyone who has played this game knows that it brings any computer to its knees. Fantastic visuals, this is one of the most advanced graphic engines we have seen. If you haven't played this game you should really check it out. Both graphics and machine settings were on "Maximum" in the F.E.A.R. performance menu. Soft Shadows were turned OFF.

FEAR

FEAR

FEAR

In FEAR the X1950 Pro performs just as well as the two NVIDIA cards priced closest to it.

CrossFire

FEAR

FEAR

FEAR

In CrossFire the X1950 pair takes one on the chin as 7900 GT SLI runs circles around them.

X3 Reunion

The Sequel to the award winning X3: The Threat will introduce a new 3D engine as well as a new story, new ships and a new gameplay to greatly increase the variety in the X-universe. The economy of X3: Reunion will be more complex than anything seen in the X-universe before. Factories are being built by NPCs, wars can affect the global economy, NPCs can trade freely and pirates will behave far more realistically.

Extensive development has gone into the X3 engine, making full use of DirectX 9 technology, to create dramatic visual effects and stunningly realistic starships. Coupled with the massively enhanced A.L. (Artificial Life) system, X3: REUNION will present players with an ever changing, evolving universe; where a player actions really can shape the future of the universe.

We tested with the resolution set to 1280x1024, High Quality with 4xAA/16xAF and everything enabled.

X3:

ATI still has the best performance when it comes to X3 as the X1950 Pro is nipping at the heels of even the 7900 GTX.

Call Of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 was tested with a custom multi-player demo. Quality Settings were set to max, DX9 rendering, and Anisotropic filtering. Optimize for SLI was enabled for all cards.

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

In single card configuration the X1950 Pro has a slim lead over the 7900 GS and GT, but not enough to be meaningful. The fact that the 7950 GT is only slightly faster shows just how much of a performance bargain $200 is today.

CrossFire

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

While single card performance was nearly equal, dual card performance is not. 7900GT SLI is clearly faster here.

3DMark 2006

Futuremark has overhauled "The Gamers' Benchmark" with the introduction of 3DMark 06. The benchmark includes improved Shader Model 2 tests, new CPU tests and HDR Shader Model 3 tests for system-wide gaming performance measurement. Final scores are now impacted very directly by the CPU used so we are including the Shader Model 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0 results as this will tell us just how well our video card performs in this benchmark.

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

Judging by 3D Mark, X1950 Pro holds a slim lead over the 7900 GS and GT. It also manages to out pace its older brother, X1800XT.

CrossFire

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

3D Mark 2006

CrossFire results are much the same as the single card results with the X1950 besting the pair of 7900 GT. There is a significant performance increase over the X1800 CrossFire system according to 3D mark.

Power Consumption

For testing power consumption we took our test system and plugged it into a Seasonic Power Angel. For idle numbers we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 5 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we measured the peak wattage used by the system while running through 3DMark 2006.

Idle

Idle

The shrink to 80nm helps out here, the X1950 Pro uses 50w less power than the 256MB X1900XT under load. ATI is now competing very closely with NVIDIA in performance per Watt, with 11W separating the 7900 GS and X1950 Pro when the system is really cranking.

CrossFire

Idle

Idle

The power savings really add up here as a pair of X1950 Pro's actually use less power than a single X1900XTX under load! The 7900 GT pair still uses 10w less than the X1950's under load while at idle the latter uses 6w less.

Conclusion

The first thing that sticks out at me with these cards is CrossFire. It's been a long hard road for CrossFire but ATI has finally released a GPU solution designed from the ground up to be used in Multi-GPU solutions and it shows. The X1950 Pro is a terrific introduction of what's to come from the red team in the near future. It's very encouraging to see such a polished product being launched because CrossFire is now one big step closer to SLI.

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The CrossFire experience this time around is much improved. The flexible internal connectors are light years ahead of the cumbersome Y-cable and employ forward thinking with bigger and better upgrades on the horizon. While the Catalyst Control Center is still slower than we'd like it is continually getting faster. Probably the biggest thing I've noticed this time around is that enabling and disabling CrossFire now takes only 5-6 seconds once you are in the CCC. The CrossFire pop ups no longer have a "lag" or wait time which was slightly annoying. The overall experience is one of a product that needs just a few tweaks here and there to be on the level of SLI.

In regards to single card performance the X1950 Pro handles itself well against the outgoing 7900 GT and the current bang for the buck leader, 7900 GS. My biggest problem with the high-end X1800 and X1900 products were heat and noise. This is where the X1950 Pro shines with the redesigned single slot heat sink and fan combo afforded by the lower power consumption. In most situations it offers X1800XT like performance minus the dust buster cooler, and without turning your room into a sauna. I love the fact that I never saw over 56c for the card in load conditions, and other than a brief full throttle during POST, the fan was quieter than our AMD heat sink!

ATI Radeon X1950 Pro Core

My problem with the card was limited to the fact that I could not get either of the two cards to overclock a single MHz. We've spoken with the folks at ATI and are working to resolve the issue. ATI has assured us that they are seeing great overclocks coming from X1950 Pro.

Some of you may have noticed the lack of 7900 GS SLI results. Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts I did not get the second GS in time for testing. However we will be doing a follow up article very soon to address the X1950 Pro overclocking and will include a head to head comparison of X1950 Pro CrossFire and 7900 GS SLI.

As we've said the X1950 Pro competes well with its chief competitor in price, the 7900 GS. Now that ATI has eliminated the handicap of noise, heat, and power usage it's really tough to make a call between the two. Both cards will handle any game on the market at resolutions up to 1280x1024 with no problem and come in at a suggested price of around $200.

Personally, the features of the X1950 Pro stand out the most to me as ATI recently announced that Stanford's Folding at Home will work on their current line of X1900 and X1950 GPU's. ATI also has a High Quality Texture Filter that provides an edge in image quality that NVIDIA can't match with any of their current products. Finally, the X1950 Pro is able to run with AA and HDR on in some titles where competing NVIDIA solutions cannot.

When it comes down to it, ATI got it right this time around with the X1950 Pro by including features and functionality NVIDIA can't match, and by sorting the noise and heat issues that many were put off by. If overclocking isn't your bag then I submit to you that the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro is the card to buy for those limiting their video card purchase to $200.

For those willing to get their hands dirty and overclock their card, we'll have to reserve judgment until we can figure out what went wrong.

Legit Bottom Line: ATI delivers a well polished product, and most importantly, a great CrossFire experience to the mainstream market. With lower power usage, low heat output, and virtually no noise the X1950 Pro is the card many have been longing for.