Way back at CES in January, I had the pleasure of meeting with Sapphire in the swanky Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. While there, they gave me a little peek at their Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX card. You might remember my little E3 wrap up a year ago and how I talked about Sapphire’s really interesting liquid cooling solution. ATI still has a page up about Sapphire’s unique solution. Sadly, this product never came into fruition, but Sapphire did come back with a new “Blizzard” cooling product and that’s what we have today.
The Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX is, at heart, an overclocked and quietly water cooled Radeon X1900 XTX based on the RV580 chipset. Yes the card is overclocked out of the box so you’ll get a slightly better performance out of this card than a regular ATI X1900 XTX card. The specifications include 675MHz for the core and 1600MHz for the memory. That's an increase of 25MHz for the GPU and 50MHz for the memory over a regular X1900 XTX. With those two increases, we should see some nice performance increase. 512MB of ram is also on this card, which is standard for the X1900 XTX line. Basically, what you have with the regular X1900 XTX, it’s on here with the increase in clock speed and memory speed.
With all the power this card has, you’ll be able to enable advanced features such as HDR or high dynamic range. HDR adjusts the brightness of light according to how you are looking at a lighted object. So if you’re staring straight into a very bright light, you’ll see a very bright and over exposed light source. It’s being used in many Xbox 360 games and many next generation PC games. You’ll be able to run some games using both HDR and anti-aliasing enabled, which was a problem earlier on. This will be game dependent as some will need to be updated to take advantage of it. In fact, a patch for ATI cards to allow both HDR and anti-aliasing for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was just released and this would be a great card to take advantage of two image improvement features on a very hardware taxing game.
Now, the major selling point of this card is the quiet water cooling solution. As you can see, the GPU has a nice little water block on it with two tubes. The cooling system is similar to Thermaltake’s Tide Water cooling unit and it’s what keeps the GPU nicely cooled and running. A small difference from the Tide Water system is that Thermaltake's radiator unit takes up two slots where as Sapphire's takes up one. Water is circulated via a minipump to the radiator unit housing a fan and then cycled back to the GPU. What’s nice about this setup is that the heat is transferred outside the rear of the computer rather than circulating inside the case. This should help cool down the inside of your computer as well. While the pictures show this card taking up three slots, the final production model will do away with the double bracket on the card. The hoses are long enough to allow for the installation of the main cooling unit far away. The cooling setup feels pretty solid from the test unit provided even though this is a pre-production model. Hoses are tightly attached and feel thick. The entire cooling solution is self contained and requires no maintenance. This should ease any concern for those that might be hesitant on the Blizzard setup.
A small issue I do have with the setup is that the fan control is on the cooling unit itself instead of being controlled by a driver or access through an external bracket. Most video cards will only spin up the fan when heat rises or the card starts to run on load. Here, the fan stays at the same speed and the only way to change from high to low or vice versa is to open the case and manually switch it. The low speed is pretty damn quiet and I did all my testing at this setting. When turning on high, it doesn’t seem to be as loud as a regular X1900 XTX fan but it’s definitely not the setting to run in if you want to really have a quiet computer.
Keep in mind that the card will need two power source connections. The standard six pin PCI-E connector is still needed for the main card itself but you’ll also need a free molex connector for the Blizzard radiator/fan unit. If connected, you’ll see blue LEDs on the radiator unit light up.
A question does come up when pairing this card with a CrossFire card though. You’re going to negate the quietness by sticking a CrossFire card which uses a regular heatsink and fan setup. Until Sapphire decides to release a CrossFire Blizzard card, those thinking of going with a two card setup should just pick up two regular cards. We don’t have a CrossFire master card here to test so we can’t comment much on performance or issues with installing a second card with the Blizzard.
The nicely done Sapphire Select is also included in this setup. If you don’t know what this is, there are a group of games that are included on a DVD and you’re allowed to pick two to own. The others can be purchased at a discount price. The Sapphire Select gets updated as time goes on to reflect some of the latest games and it’s a nice way for consumers to test out a few before settling on the ones they really would like to add to their collection.
So let’s get onto the test. We don’t have a comparative NVIDIA product here to run the tests against so we’ll pit it against Sapphire’s Radeon X1900 XTX I tested a few days ago. I am also including the fastest NVIDIA card we have in the labs, which is the GeForce 7800 GT. Tests were done with Catalyst 6.3 and NForce 84.21 drivers for the NVIDIA card.
Our test setup included:
- AMD64 3800+
- 512MB PC3200 RAM
- ECS KA1 MVP Crossfire motherboard
- Windows XP w/ Service Pack 2
- Maxtor 120 GIG 7200RPM HDD
Our first test will be the synthetic Futuremark test, 3DMark06.
is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. A fundamental tool for every company in the PC industry as well as PC users and gamers, 3DMark06 uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today. We tested at the standard 1280x1024 resolution.
iD Software's DOOM 3 offers great visuals and great detail. John Carmack's follow up to a classic series takes the game to a new level with a re-imagination of classic monsters such as the Imp and Pinky demon. For the test, we ran the benchmark at maximum detail and used a demo that was included in the game.
If there's one game that really suprised me it was F.E.A.R. The Monolith horror shooter features some of the most impressive graphics on the PC. There are plenty of physics and particle effects and the models are really detailed. We used the built in performance test and all the settings were set to maximum.
The Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX
's increase in clock and memory speed shows in these tests compared to the regular Radeon X1900 XTX
card. As you progress further into increasing the resolution, you can see the Blizzard card running at greater speeds as well. So not only do you get a quiet card here, you get a nice performance boost.
We ran two products, F.E.A.R.
and Doom 3
, in our image improvement testing phase. With the two games, we ran the card at both 4xAA 8xAF and 6xAA 16xAF. Below are the two games in various resolutions.
All Radeon X1XXX series cards allow for H.264 hardware assisted decoding. Part of AVIVO, the feature helps deliver smooth video and reduce the CPU usage when viewing them. For our test, we ran a Zathura trailer with the regular Quicktime player and then we used the ATI and Cyberlink combination to view the trailer.
As you can see, without any hardware acceleration the video just pegs the CPU at 100% and it’s unwatchable. It’s jumpy, jerky, and brings the system to its knees. Once we use the ATI drivers, the CPU usage becomes a lot less intensive and the video was very smooth. It won’t bring the CPU usage down to low teens in percentage but it will render the video watchable.
With the water cooled GPU, the processor sat at around 35c on idle. Just to see how hot the thing gets, I ran 3DMark06 on a loop for 8 hours and then checked the temperature in the Catalyst Control Center. Temperate readings after 8 hours almost doubled with a 67c reading. While that’s a hot reading, it’s not near the critical temperatures of the GPU. If you want to push it a little further, you can always turn the fan speed higher to cool it down a little more. When I placed the hand on the back of the radiator, I could feel the heat emanating from the back.
Overclocking was done using the Catalyst Control Center's Overdrive utility. There wasn't an option to push the memory anymore other than another 5Mhz but I did get a 14MHz increase in clock speed to 689MHz. I ran some benches but any performance increase was minor as I was able to get through 3DMark06 and Doom 3 a few times without any hiccups. The temperature hovered around 70c when running a few benches and games but this was done with low setting on the fan.
Ok it’s not the really amazing liquid metal cooling I saw at last year’s E3 but the Sapphire Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX is still one pretty sweet card. From the noise reduction to the increase in clock speed, the Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX delivers in performance. I just got word that the card is going to go for $539 after a $30 rebate from NewEgg.com. That’s $50 more than Sapphire’s regular X1900 XTX card, which I think is a good deal if you’re comparing X1900 XTX configurations. For $50 more you get a cooler that’s around $100 along with an increase in clock speed. The performance increase over Sapphire’s regular X1900 XTX isn’t that much but the setup is rather cool and Sapphire’s always puts out quality cards from the ones we have tested. A few minor inconveniences are there but they aren’t really deal breakers. Expensive and unique, the Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX offers enthusiasts some great gaming performance and a very quiet card to boot.
It may be an expensive card but it's not priced significantly more than a regular X1900 XTX. The unique Sapphire Toxic Radeon X1900 XTX gives gamers the most powerful card out there right now and it's quiet to boot.