Review: Fast card with dodgy drivers
The Sapphire X1950Pro Dual is truly a unique product. We already mentioned it in our preview, here.
The Sapphire dual card is a single PCB with two X1950Pro GPUs. Sounds good, but keep in mind that the R600 is about to make its appearance in less than a month. Many are sceptical about the cost effectiveness of such a product. The first X1950Pro Dual samples were shown back in January and it’s a pity Sapphire wasn’t able to launch the cards back then. The card will cost you about as much as two separate X1950Pro cards would, thus the performance of this hybrid solution is the only important factor to its success. The suggested retail price we got was around €350.
Apart from the two GPUs, the most interesting detail is definitely the large chip located above the PCIe connector. This is the ExpressLane 32-lane, 8-port PCIe switch, made by PLX Technologies. It allows two way communication between the GPUs without using the PCIe bus. We already said the card can be paired with an identical card using two Crossfire connectors found in the upper left part of the card. Next to the Crossfire connectors, where you would expect to see additional graphics ports, you can only see holes. Their number matches a D-sub (analogue VGA) connector. Sapphire confirmed this, saying all cards to hit retail will have the missing connectors.
A large aluminum cooler covers both GPUs and the memory chips, and it performed well throughout the entire course of our testing. We can see two heat pipes in each block, helping to efficiently dissipate the heat from the GPUs and RAM chips with the aid of a center mounted fan.
A single Radeon X1950Pro card can’t match the performance of Nvidia’s high end products, such as the 8800 GTS, but the tables turn when we compare a Sapphire X1950Pro Dual with two X1950Pro GPU’s against an 8800 GTS. The performance of a single Sapphire X1950Pro Dual card is comparable with two X1950Pro cards running in Crossfire mode. This is no surprise as Sapphire’s card is just that, Crossfire on a single PCB.
Crossfire on a single card might be an interesting option for consumers who don’t have a Crossfire motherboard, as the card works on a single x16 PCIe slot. However, there is an issue. Nvidia chipset based motherboards don’t support Crossfire, so you will have to use this card with an ATI or Intel chipset based motherboard. We already saw that BIOS modifications can allow Crossfire and SLI capabilities on some motherboards, but we doubt Nvidia or DAAMIT will ever allow their competitors to utilize their chipsets in such a way. We tested the card with several motherboards. The EVGA Nvidia 680i motherboard won’t let you realize the full potential of the X1950Pro Dual card because the chipset doesn’t support Crossfire. The card will work, but with only one GPU and half the performance. After the Nvidia board we tried an Intel chipset. The Intel DG955OT has just one PCI-Express slot which means it’s not Crossfire certified, but the Sapphire X1950Pro Dual worked just fine with it.
Sapphire PC-AM2RD580 motherboard
Sapphire PI-AM2RS690MHD motherboard
The Sapphire card should probably provide the best results working on a Sapphire motherboard, so we tried it out on two Sapphire boards. We installed Vista Ultimate on a Pure Crossfire AM2RD580 motherboard and were less than impressed with the performance and Crossfire support under Vista. It’s still too early to test this card with Vista, as ATI officially has no drivers for this card. Then we let the tiny AMD 690G+SB600 based Sapphire PI-AM2RS690MHD motherboard have a go. Finally we found the right match. On Windows XP our Sapphire X1950Pro Dual showed that the twin GPU Crossfire board worked well and that poor Catalyst support was to blame for the bad results we got earlier. Back at Cebit we saw that the X1950Pro Dual can be used in Crossfire mode with an identical card on a Crossfire motherboard. This was probably the first public display of a Quad-Crossfire system. Will Quad-Crossfire ever leave the box and go into full functional use? It depends on the drivers and if AMD will to support it. So far AMD has officially confirmed that there is no support for such a card, be it 2X or 4X Crossfire. We can glance at Sapphire who will have to provide adequate drivers.
As we already said, we tested the card on two different motherboards. The first round was done with Vista on a Sapphire AM2RD580 motherboard. During the testing we got a Sapphire PI-AM2RS690MHD motherboard, we plugged in the Dual card, installed Windows XP and did it all over again. Throughout the test we only used Sapphire’s X1950Pro Dual and Leadtek’s 8800GTS 640 MB graphics cards. The results we got on two different motherboards with different operating systems could have easily been placed in separate tables. We chose to put them all in one table because we used the same AMD FX-62 processor and OCZ PC2-6400 Crossfire RAM. You can see the motherboard and OS we used in every column behind the card name.