Buying DirectX9 compliant hardware at the dawn of DirectX10, doesn't make much sense at the first glance. But as new hardware appears, the older generations of graphical cards rapidly become cheaper.
ATi X1950 pro chip
ATI's X1950pro is not a new card, but it still has attractive attributes. We were interested whether or not will it be capable to run new games at decent frame rates.
The card in all its glory
We received Asus card for testing. The card has
made a new cooler, different from a reference one. It is less restrictive for the airflow than
the referent ATi cooler, so the vent can run at lower speeds and at the same time it will make less
The card is powered with RV570 core with 12 pipelines and 36 pixel shaders. The second attribute and ATI's main weapon against Nvidia's cards in the price range. The card features full 256-bit bus connects to 1400 MHz onboard memory, but when we overclocked both memory and GPU, we learned that this speed is a limiting factor. The GPU has got enough rendering power, so it can easily saturate the memory bandwidth. To prove this we increased the speed of the GPU from default 580 to 640MHz, leaving the memory speed at its default. The performance gain was minimal, just as we expected.
The card without cooler
The only heat pipe in the cooler has the task to conduct heat from the GPU to the heatsink fins. It works pretty good, the relatively low temperatures proves it. Under full load, the GPU heated to 47 degrees Celsius, but you have to bare in mind that the temperature will definitely be higher during the warm summer days.
On the right side you can see the bottom of the ASUS cooler. On the left side Arctic Cooling X2.
The cooler is single slot. As you can see, you can easily use Thermalright's HR-05 SLI chipset cooler, as there are no elements on the card that would collide with it. The only concern we have is inadequate cooling of the power part of the card. There are elements that are really hot, and have no cooling at all. We will inspect this further in the overclocking section.
The biggest chip (voltage regulation) is not cooled at all, and it is the hottest one.
As in all of the x1000 cards, both DVI ports are dual link. There is a S-VHS video out for all of you that play on their TV. Well, nothing new here. This is good, because this is all we need. Power is drown from a PCI-e outlet, which is standard for this category of cards.
We tested the card with Test Drive Unlimited, TES: Oblivion, and with 3Dmark 06. We showed no mercy, so in most of the games we turned the eye candy on, which resulted with relative low frame rates. We tried to bring the card to its knees. When we drove the races, we were racing like in Carmageddon – trying to punch the opponents and frame rate to the ground.
Oblivion was complicated to benchmark, but we managed to make two tests. The first one was too much for the card, but the second one went easy on the card.
All the tests were tested at default frequencies, and at overclocked ones (GPU 640 / MEM 1600). In Oblivion we had two runs for every test, because of the loading from hard drive to RAM.
As we see
in the table with scores, even at 1024x768 resolution, we cannot achieve high frame
rates. 62 FPS is max when there are no other cars on the screen. You can expect about 40
FPS max while driving through Honolulu.
The bad thing is that in most resolutions you will have to set the detail level to medium to get decent frame rates. Also forget about Antialiasing as it kills the performance. Anisotropic filtering can be used, as proven by the scores, but values higher than 4X hurt the performance too much.
Test drive is playable at 1024x768. Higher resolutions are not recommended.
When we overclocked the card to 640/1600, things went much better. At high resolutions we can now get playable frame rates, but the details still have to be set to medium. Anisotropic filtering and even Antialiasing won't kill the performance if you keep them at minimal values.
The game has stressed the card a lot. If you have a 20" widescreen, playing in its native resolution won't give you satisfaction, and in lower resolutions the graphics don't look so good. So, if you are ready to compromise, then the card has passed the test.
Oblivion is a very stressful test, and a crash test for the reviewer's nerves. We were searching for what hurts the performance the most. We found out that you get the greatest frame drops when you pick a fight in areas full of grass and trees. So no picniking please.
Picking a fight in Oblivion will stress the card a lot.
Here we started the descent
And here it ended
We did two tests. The first one is a fight with a city guard near Cheydinhal. Frankly, we think that the fighting scenes are the most important, because low fram erates during the fight mean that you won't be able to react in time. Without overclocking, the results are not what we would call playable. The situation changes when we rose the frequencies of the card. Now we are getting somewhere. Even at high resolutions the frame rate didn't drop below 22 frames.
The second benchmark was a descent from the mountains that surround the city of Cheydinhal to the city itself. As there is no vegetation in the mountains, that's why we get the highest framerates here. The lower we go, the forest becomes denser, and the frame rate drops. All we said for Test drive applies here. If you want to play at higher resolutions, the default card doesn't have enough power. But when overclocked, the card gives us the possibility even to use anisotropic filtering.
Overclocking & cooling
We were talking so much about overclocking this card, now we will share with you our experience. First of all, the cooler is really good. It is capable of radiating the extra heat generated from overclocking, and in comparison with Artic Cooling Accelero, it will perform similar. We are going to complain about noise, because this card sounds really loud at 80% of its speed.
Tried to push the air cooling.
With the default cooler it is easy to overclock the onboard memory from 1400 to 1600 MHz without compromises. We were a bit disappointed with GPU overclocking capabilities. Only 10%, which results in 640 MHz core. Inadequate cooling? No, there is a new problem.
As we have
found out, our card overclocked the same using the default cooler, Accelero,
and water cooling. The problem isn't in the GPU, or onboard memory, but in the
onboard power supply elements (voltage regulators). As you may have heard, ATI
has gone completely digital in this segment, and these elements heat up really
fast. By adding heat sinks to these elements, we have achieved another 20 MHz
to the GPU overclock.
Unfortunately, no matter how big fan was over this part of the graphical card, we couldn't attain higher clock frequencies. Maybe these voltage regulators are working at their max already.
We have added small coolers on these elements, as you can see on the picture, but it still didn't help.
To buy or not to buy? The problem is that ATI has two more X1950 models, so the decision is even harder. The great thing about this Asus card is that it is really cheap and it sells for only €150. That is a great price.
If you are
a gamer on the budget then you should consider X1950GT. Still, this card is only €30 cheaper but then again slower. X1950GT can
attain the clock speeds of the pro card, but it has slower onboard memory. This
slower memory makes the difference when you are playing in higher resolutions,
but again modern games are using more and more video memory, and here we come
to the second doubt.
Is 256MB enough? Frankly, no. If you have tried custom made high resolution textures for Oblivion (e.g. Quarl's texture packs), then you have seen that using big textures hits the performance dramatically. If you want to play in higher resolutions we suggest buying a 512MB version of 1950 pro.
However, the card is a good choice. It can handle most of the games even at higher resolutions, but with some details reduced. The strong point of this card are definitely pixel shaders. 36 of them, will allow you to play modern games that require extra pixel shading power. As for DirectX 10 games, they will come late 2007 anyway so you still have some time to enjoy the DirectX 9 hardware.