Sapphire Radeon X1900 XTX

Sapphire Radeon X1900 XTX

Written by John Yan on 4/5/2006 for PC  
More On: Radeon X1900 XTX

We’ve gone through a few mid-range cards here at Gaming Nexus but it’s time to pull out the big guns. The GN labs has run through many Sapphire cards throughout our online career and we’re back again with another one from the #1 partner of ATI as specified by ATI CEO David Orton. Let’s get to the Sapphire Radeon X1900 XTX and see how this beast of a card fares.

Sapphire X1900 XTX

The Sapphire Radeon X1900 XTX is Sapphire’s current flagship card.  It’s a PCI Express card is based on the R580 chip built on the 90nm process and features a whopping 512MB of DDR ram. Clock speeds are at 650MHz for the core and 775 MHz for the memory. Other features nclude 48 pixel shader processors, 8 vertex shader processers, 16 ROPs, and 16 texture units. The 48 pixel shader units should make you do a double take as the previous X1800 XT card only features 16 pixel shader units. ATI is banking on that games in the future will be more pixel shader intensive thus the big increase in that area. The change has almost tripled the amount of pixel shader operations the card can do in one second.  

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.

Crossfire capability is also here and you’ll need the requisite X1900 Crossfire edition card to pair this puppy up with along with a Crossfire motherboard. Interestingly enough, the X1900 Crossfire card runs a little slower than the X1900 XTX card coming in at 625MHz for the Core and 725MHz for the memory. This matches the X1900 XT card but I’m curious as to why the Crossfire edition didn’t match the X1900 XTX. Perhaps the price of the Crossfire master card, which does run at a $50 premium, would’ve been too high for ATI. In any case, you’ll be able to run two X1900 cards together with the right setup and be set for some serious video power.

AVIVO is something I talk about a lot when doing All-in-Wonder card reviews but the same applies to any X1XXX card such as the one we are reviewing today. One of the great features of AVIVO is hardware assisted H.264 decoding. H.264 is a codec that’s going to be in many of the next generation multimedia formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD. With the latest drivers and Cyberlink’s driver, you can use the Radeon X1900 XTX to help assist with decoding the video so your CPU isn’t being taxed as much. Another aspect of AVIVO is the ability to easily convert media from one format to another. ATI includes a free utility accessible through the Catalyst menu to select one media source, adjust the quality, and output the file in another format that you select. ATI took a little time to really bring out the aspects of AVIVO for users but they’re available now and can really improve your multimedia experience.

There’s a slight problem though relating to AVIVO and high definition video as this card and current cards don’t have HDCP support. HDCP is what the entertainment industry will require on TVs and output devices to ensure that you’re viewing high definition material that’s digitally protected. A discussion on HDCP is best left to other sites but as a digital media geek, I am a little disappointed that this card currently doesn’t have HDCP support. This should all change soon though.

The card is a two slot solution as the cooler will occupy the neighboring slot. The large cooler’s becoming pretty standard as it features a large heatsink and an exhaust so that it will expel warm air out the back of the case rather than circulating more in the computer. The design is the traditional red PCB with the Sapphire branding on the cooler. There’s nothing that distinguishes this card from the rest but that’s left to the Blizzard line that Sapphire has cooking up right now. As is, you won’t find anything unique as far as the physical aspect is concerned for this card over ATI’s own.

On the bracket you can see the grill for the exhaust as well as two DVI connectors and a S-Video output. If you’re still stuck with VGA connections, Sapphire has included two adapters so you can connect the card to older monitors.

For the bundle Sapphire has included a plethora of cables. If you want to connect the card to an HD TV, you can use the included component cables if your TV doesn’t have a DVI connector. There are also cables for composite connections and S-Video.

Sapphire has a unique software bundling solution whereby all the games come on one DVD and you have the ability to unlock two that you would like to keep. Dubbed Sapphire Select, you can try out all the games and pick the ones you want to keep. If you want to purchase the other games, you can do so and usually at a discounted price. It’s a great way to bundle a lot of games in one box and Sapphire continues to update the selection as newer products are released.

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 the $200 less All-in-Wonder X1900 just to show the difference in speeds of the lowest and highest X1900 cards available. Tests were done with Catalyst 6.3.

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.

3DMark®06 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.
Doom 3 1024x768
Doom 3 1280x1024
Doom 3 1600x1024

Far Cry
Far Cry is Crytek's shooter that's set mainly outdoors. The lush foliage and long draw distance really set this first person shooter apart from many that were coming out a few years ago. All details were set at maximum for the benchmark.

Far Cry 1024x768
Far Cry 1280x1024
Far Cry 1600x1200
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.
FEAR 1024x768
FEAR 1280x960
FEAR 1600x1280
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.
Doom 3 4xAA 8xAF
Doom 3 6xaa 16xaf
FEAR 4xaa 8xaf
FEAR 6xaa 16xaf

The tests show the Sapphire Radeon X1900 XTX to be a very heavy hitter.  With the exception of Far Cry, which is CPU bound, you can see that it already trumps the quick All-in-Wonder X1900 in all tests. You’re paying a premium for the speed but it shows. With this card, you’ll get one of the fastest gaming experiences with the ability to turn on some very high level image improvements via anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering at this time.

For H.264 decoding, I ran a Zathura trailer that brings my system to its knees. Playing the Quicktime trailer, my computer stuttered and was maxed out at 100% CPU usage when playing the video.

NO Accelleration H.264 Accelleration
No acceleration AVIVO accelerated

Once I installed the Cyberlink driver and played the video in Windows Media Player, the video was smooth and played back without any problems. As you can see from the graphs above CPU usage varied a lot more and didn’t spike at 100%. AVIVO will help deliver smooth high definition video and relieve your computer from doing all the hard work. With the Radeon X1900 XTX, you’re ready to experience the better video quality.

Sapphire’s always had great ATI cards and this is another one. The Radeon X1900 XTX is THE card to get if you don’t have any qualms about spending money on your system. With the Sapphire Select, you’ll be able to choose your game and purchase others available at a discount rate. I really like the way Sapphire handles the bundle giving the consumer the choice rather than limiting the selection. The Sapphire card ran solid throughout testing and didn’t show any problems. I’ve always recommended the Sapphire brand of ATI cards and this is no exception.

Yes this card is mighty expensive but you get some damn impressive performance out of it. If money is no object, this card is a can't miss.

Rating: 9.1 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.

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