ATI Radeon X1950 XTX (512MB) review: ATI Radeon X1950 XTX (512MB)

  • 1
MSRP: $429.00

The Good Fast new memory; friendly pricing.

The Bad Next-gen products and titles are right around the corner, limiting the card's time on the cutting edge.

The Bottom Line ATI's Radeon X1950 XTX is the fastest single-chip 3D card that you can buy. Unfortunately, with Windows Vista and its accompanying gaming technology, it's going to become obsolete in just five months. ATI adjusted the price of the Radeon X1950 XTX accordingly, but at $450, it's still not an insignificant purchase. We recommend it only if money is no object.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
Windows Vista and DirectX 10 are, barring further delays, a mere five months away, and with them will come next-gen PC games, such as Crysis. Based on previews of Crysis we saw at this year's E3, if you have the hardware to run it, you will be treated to a heretofore unseen level of graphical realism. ATI's new Radeon X1950 XTX, announced today, will not deliver that experience. It's a DirectX 9 card, which means it can only make the most of games from the current generation. The Radeon X1950 XTX will likely still play Crysis, as well as other forthcoming DirectX 10 titles, just not with their next-gen 3D features turned on. Recognizing this fact, ATI has priced the new card at an aggressive $450. If this card had come out a year ago, it could easily have been priced between $500 and $600, since it's the fastest single-chip card on the market. If you need 3D performance now and don't want to spring for Nvidia's $600 two-chip GeForce 7950 GX2, the Radeon X1950 XTX is your next best option. But $450 is still a lot of money, so as we said about the GeForce 7950 GX2, we say about the Radeon X1950 XTX: great card, but you're better off waiting for the next-gen products if you're concerned about longevity and price.

As is often the case at the end of a 3D chip generation, the Radeon X1950 XTX does not introduce many new features. The biggest change it brings to the Radeon X1000 family is GDDR-4 memory. It should be the first 3D card to market with GDDR-4 when it hits the streets on September 14. The new memory doesn't really introduce any new image quality (IQ) tricks, but it should give you faster performance when you use the extant IQ settings, such as antialiasing and anisotropic filtering. It's also the source of the major clock speed ticks to this card. At 650MHz, the chip's clock speed stays the same as the Radeon X1900 XTX's, but the memory now runs at a full 2GHz, up from its predecessor's 1.2GHz. The result, as our benchmarks show, is a dramatic speed increase over Nvidia's competing single-chip part, the GeForce 7900 GTX.

As has pretty much been the case throughout the current generation of 3D cards, ATI and Nvidia's product have been very similar in 3D performance, at least in single-chip card performance. ATI has held a slight edge in DirectX games (most titles), and Nvidia has won on OpenGL-based titles (Doom 3, Quake 4, Prey), but neither was ahead enough to really claim outright dominance. And we can't say that ATI blows Nvidia out of the water now, but we do have to hand it the overall edge for its gains on Quake 4 and, by extension, OpenGL. We also have to thank our colleague Sarju Shah at GameSpot for providing us with the benchmarks this time around. You can check out his analysis of the card here.

3D Mark 2005
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (max. quality, no AA, no AF)  

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast demo, 4X antialiasing, 16X anisotropic filtering (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,,920x1,440 (4X antialiasing, 16X anisotropic filtering)  
1,600x1,200 (4X antialiasing, 16X anisotropic filtering)  

Quake 4 Timedemo #5, high quality mode (4X antialiasing, 8X anisotropic filtering) (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
High quality mode, 4X antialiasing, 8X anisotropic filtering  

As you can see from the charts, the Radeon X1950 XTX has a 10-frames-per-second lead over the GeForce 7900 XTX on the 1,600x1,200 resolution Quake 4 test and faster or equivalent performance on every other test. It's not a total drubbing, but we have to hand the victory to ATI, at least on single-chip cards. It's also worth mentioning that Nvidia still hasn't answered ATI's so-called Chuck Patch, an unofficial driver update that lets you turn on high dynamic range (HDR) lighting and antialiasing at the same time in some games. This gives ATI an image-quality advantage in the games that support it (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, for one), because with Nvidia's GeForce cards, you have to choose between turning on HDR lighting or antialiasing; you can't have both.

Our major caveat comes with multi-3D chip configurations. Both ATI's CrossFire and Nvidia's SLI let you add two 3D graphics cards to a compatible system, and Nvidia has the aforementioned GeForce 7950 GX2, which has two chips on one card, as well as Quad SLI, which pairs two 7950 GX2's, giving you four 3D chips working together. Such multichip configurations not only give you faster performance at common resolutions, but they also provide playable performance at extremely high resolutions--with high-level image quality settings turned on. ATI will also sell a Radeon X1950 XT CrossFire Edition card on Sept. 14 to go along with the stand-alone model, but we don't recommend it. The CrossFire Edition card will run you another $450, putting your soon-to-be-obsolete 3D card costs at $900 (or two-and-a-half Xbox 360's). To be fair, we don't recommend purchasing any new multicard or multichip setup at the moment, so Nvidia's SLI is out, too. The arrival of the next-gen cards is just too close to spend that kind of money right now.

Finally, when ATI told us that it was unveiling the Radeon X1950, the CrossFire Edition, and its other new cards today, but wasn't selling them until Sept. 14, we were reminded of the painful launch of the Radeon X1000 series, in which ATI failed to communicate the significant delay between the press coverage and the availability. We weren't going to fall for that again, so we asked ATI's Will Wallis to explain why this isn't another paper launch. Here's what he told us:

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