The demand for high performance computing in laptops has never been greater.
Sapphire X1950 Pro Dual
- Great performance for high resolutions, supports up to four monitors, doesn't require a CrossFire-capable motherboard
- Large size, not well reinforced, no exhaust fan
This graphics card offers good performance, but it's just too big and not well built.
Compared to other graphics cards on the market, the Sapphire X1950 Pro DUAL is huge. The reason for its size is the two ATI Radeon X1950 Pro GPUs (graphics processing units) which reside on the one circuit board. Measuring over 30cm, it is about 7cm longer than a regular Radeon X1950 Pro-based board, especially when you take its two supplemental power connectors (one for each GPU) into account. We tested the performance of the card and were quite impressed with the result. However, despite the grunt, the build quality leaves a lot to be desired and isn't as sturdy as we would have liked.
Installing a card of this size can be tricky, especially if your motherboard has IDE or SATA ports located near its main PCI Express graphics slot, and also if your case has a populated hard drive cage directly in front of the graphics slot. We didn't have any problems installing the card in case with two hard drive bays, although if we had a drive cage with three or more bays, then we would have struggled. We used an ASUS P5B Premium motherboard for our tests, on which we also didn't have any problems installing the card. The ASUS P5B is a CrossFire-capable platform, but this isn't a requirement for the X1950 Pro DUAL card. It should also work on most motherboards with a single PCI Express slot. We also used an Intel Core 2 QX6700 Quad Core CPU, 1GB of 800MHz Corsair RAM, a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive and a Seasonic SS-650HT power supply.
Sapphire ships the card with a standard set of ATI Catalyst drivers, and we didn't have any problems using these drivers for our installation. To get the second GPU on the card to work, we simply enabled CrossFire in the driver. The system didn't require a restart and we were able to use all of the card's available grunt immediately.
Testing with FEAR at resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200 with 4x anti aliasing (AA) averaged results that were similar in both tests. The card averaged 67fps (frames per second) at 1280x960 with 4x AA and 65fps at 1600x1200 with 4xAA, indicating that high resolutions won't phase it.
Testing with Quake 4, a resolution of 1280x1024 with 4xAA averaged 123fps and a resolution of 1600x1200 with 4xAA averaged 84fps.
The scores in FEAR and Quake 4 at 1600x1200 are better than what a top-of-the-line Radeon X1950XTX-based card can achieve when used in the same test machine (57fps and 60fps, respectively).
In a non-CrossFire configuration, the card was 11 frames slower in FEAR at 1280x960 with 4xAA--56fps--but its average at 1600x1200 with 4xAA was 27fps slower--38fps. Again, this shows that the second GPU produces much needed power for high resolutions. In Quake 4 the difference between CrossFire and non-CrossFire configurations was even more impressive. At 1280x1024 with 4xAA, the card averaged 61 more frames per second with CrossFire enabled (123fps as opposed to 62fps) and, at 1600x1200 with 4xAA, it averaged 22 more frames per second (84fps as opposed to 65fps).
The specifications of the Radeon X1950 Pro GPU are strong. It has 36 pixel shader pipelines and eight vertex shader pipelines, which can process high dynamic range (HDR) scenes with AA enabled. The GPU itself runs at 580Mhz, while the memory is clocked at 1404MHz, which is slightly faster than a standard Radeon X1950 Pro GPU. The Sapphire X1950 Pro DUAL has two of these GPUs, of course, and each can access its own 512MB of GDDR3 memory. For those of you who use, or plan to one day use a huge monitor, the card supports Dual-link DVI and can support resolutions up to 2560x1600. The card has two DVI ports on its bracket, but Sapphire also supplies cables and brackets for two VGA ports. In non-CrossFire mode, this enables the card to drive up to four monitors.
The card scored 9680 in 3DMark06 which is almost on-par with cards based on the NVIDIA GeForce 8800GTS GPU. As the Radeon X1950 Pro doesn't support DirectX 10 (it's based on DirectX 9), it doesn't have the same graphics capabilities as that GPU, but it's nevertheless a powerful solution.
Sapphire hasn't gone to great lengths to make the card as physically sturdy as possible. Only one mounting bracket has been used to hold the card in place, despite the card having a large cooler that also occupies the adjacent motherboard slot. The weight of the cooler makes the card droop down at the end, which is disconcerting. We would have liked to see Sapphire brace a card of this size with a metal frame along its top edge, at the least. Additionally, as the cooler is already thick and impedes the adjacent expansion slot, it would have been better for Sapphire to extend it so that it could exhaust warm air from the machine. The cooler itself is essentially comprised of a large aluminium-finned heat sink that covers both GPUs and it also has heat-pipes. A 6cm fan blows air through the fins of the heat sink and is thankfully not very loud.
While this card is powerful, it looks like a bit of a novelty due to its size and poor build quality. If your current card is slower than a Radeon X1950 Pro, if you want a single-card solution to drive four monitors, and if your case is big enough to support it, you should definitely think about upgrading to the Sapphire X1950 Pro DUAL.
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