In The Box
Out test subject on the bench today is the full retail version of the Radeon X1900XT graphics card. After the plastic is removed and the box emptied, this is what you can expect to see. Included is the card, a small instruction manual, a driver disk, the Sapphire overclocking utility, a video editing utility, a software DVD utility, all necessary cabling to make use of the VIVO capabilities of the card, a splitter with PCI-E port and two DVI adapters. One thing I like about the Sapphire product is that they don't waste a lot of time on extra stuff. You might see the occasional game included with their retail bundle, but not a lot of fluff as a rule. After all, the odds are very good that you already have the games you like to play and are getting an upgrade card so you can better utilize them.
When you first look at this card, the first thing that comes into mind is BIG! I mean, this thing is just huge, but that might be due to the 2x slot layout included to make room for the oversized cooler. This has been pretty much standard fare for ATI products since the X850 series hit the market. While it looks intimidating, it isn't as loud as you might think. There is a thermal diode built into the component that allows the fan to only hit higher RPMs when the temperatures get out of line. Even under intense gaming, I never heard the fan hit max speed except for boot-up. Yes, this monster will let you know it is awake, then after a few seconds slow back down to a reasonable speed - much like a Shuttle XPC at boot. Now don't get me wrong, it isn't anywhere near silent, it just isn't loud to the point where it becomes unbearable. Unless you have larger fans on your processor, you will know when this machine is running.
Since we have broken into the X1900 series, we have the luxury of the new R580 VPU. This brings to the table a second-generation graphics card capable of making full use of DirectX 9 Shader Model 3. It also includes 48 pixel shaders and 8 vertex shaders. For those interested in how this compares to the nVidia GeForce 7900 series, they have the same number of vertex shaders and only 24 pixel shaders. There is debate on the ratios used by the two manufacturers, but it all comes down to one thing; high performance.
Another nice feature of the R580 VPU is the support for HDR. This is a newer technology and the acronym stands for "High Dynamic Range" and does wonders for creating more natural lighting and shadow effects. This will come in particularly handy for those who are looking for an upgrade to handle the new TES:Oblivion game as it uses this new technology.
Turning the card over shows a pretty clean layout. In years past, many manufacturers put memory modules on the back side of their PCB, but fortunately this doesn't happen here. While it is a convenient place to get things in an out of the way location, keeping those fast modules cool is a nightmare. RAM sinks would pretty much be out of the question for many users, particularly those with a desire to run this card in a Crossfire dual graphics configuration.
The bracket area of the card is quite minimalistic. It consists of two DVI ports and a S-Video connector. Then again, you will probably want all that room used for the cooler, as this is the whole reason for having a 2-slot design. Let's take a peek at the back side of the cooling setup.
For those who are concerned about not having a digital monitor, fear not. If you'll recall the photo above of the contents of the box, you may remember seeing a couple of adapters. Simply attach one to the 15-pin D-Sub connector of your analog monitor and connect that to the graphics card. I played around on a CRT to test this before moving over to the 19" LCD for formal testing and all works without a hitch.
If you're thinking that this beast should be heavy with that much copper in use, you would be 100% correct in that line of thought. Just like cooling a processor, copper displays a higher heat dissipation rate than aluminum. Since there are no heat pipes in use, the copper is a necessity in the cooling department.
Now that we've covered (albeit briefly) some of the high points of this little gem, let's take a look at how this thing performs. Since my main goal is an upgrade path, I'll compare this new generation VPU against the ATI Radeon X850XT PE. While not a dinosaur by any means, it will give us a good look at some performance numbers against a known workhorse, so we will have a better idea as to what the new kid on the block is capable of.