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ATI Radeon X1950 Pro: Mainstream Graphics and Internal CrossFire

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: ATI
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The ATI X1950 Pro Card

The X1950 Pro


The ATI Radeon X1950 Pro card is a new design from any previous ATI graphics board, using a new cooler and new PCB with some major differences.



The X1950 Pro uses a single slot cooler that spans nearly the entire distance of the PCB board: from DVI connections to the back of the power connector.  The fan is located farther inside the case, an attempt to keep any fan noise from escaping the case and getting to the gamer's ears.  In my testing, the fan on the X1950 Pro was very quiet, much better than anything we have seen from ATI in a long time, and the heatsink didn't get too hot for me to touch either.  Overall, the thermals and acoustics of the X1950 Pro were pretty impressive.



The back of this card is completely empty; all of the memory is located on the front of the card under the same heatsink as the GPU.  You can no doubt see the new connections along the top of the card, used for CrossFire, but we'll cover those below. 



The X1950 Pro uses the same 6-pin PCIE power connector we expect, but this time the power connector is set in the middle of the PCB, instead of at the top of the card.  Try as I might, I wasn't able to come up with a reason for the move, but in the end it didn't cause any new issues either. 



Here you can see the two dual-link DVI connections which can support two 2560x1600 XHD displays.  The VIVO connection is located in between them, supporting either an S-Video cable or external dongle. 


Internal CrossFire Arrives


Since the very beginning of ATI's CrossFire technology introduction, we have been critical of ATI's implementation of dual-GPU technology.  Using an external DVI-like dongle and an external programmable logic chip, with often debilitating limitations, it seemed very hacked together, an obvious last minute addition that went uncorrected for way too long.  But with the introduction of the X1950 Pro card, ATI has implemented internal and integrated CrossFire technology. 



As this slide tells us, the new compositing engine has been integrated into the GPU ASIC.  No longer are you going to need to worry about buy a specific "master" CrossFire card to go with your standard "slave" cards!  The data transfer between the compositing engine is now done internally as well, with a conneciton very similar to what NVIDIA's SLI connection looks like, but with two connectors instead of one.  This internal connection is capable of transfering enough data for a 2560x2048 resolution @ 60 Hz, running on two independent 12-bit data paths. 


What you might be suprised to learn though is that the technical functioning of CrossFire remains unchanged; the entire process is the same to the software as previous CrossFire versions.  The functions of the custom Xilinx programmable logic has simply been moved into the GPU.  So funcitonally, CrossFire remains the same -- any issues or limitations that existed before will be carried over here. 



If there is one place where ATI's CrossFire has had the advantage over NVIDIA's SLI multi-GPU technology, it is in platform support.  CrossFire will run on any of the CrossFire-ready ATI chipsets for AMD or Intel platforms, as well as the Intel 975X chipset (and recently the P965 chipset).  From what I have been told as well, support on NVIDIA motherboards is probably closer than we think too, as it is only a software switch holding it from customers. 



At the top of the X1950 Pro card you can see the two sets of gold connectors for the new internal CrossFire connections.



You'll two of these cables for CrossFire to get the best performance.  ATI told us that since their multi-GPU implementation is platform independent, they will be including one dongle cable with each X1950 Pro graphics card.  Motherboard vendors don't have to worry about that item then, and when a user buys two X1950 Pro GPUs, they'll have all the hardware they need for CrossFire to run correctly. 



Here you can see our ATI X1950 Pro CrossFire setup running on the Intel 975XBX motherboard; no external dongles and clean internal data connection!  Software setup remains the same, you need only to check a single box in the Catalyst Control Center to enable CrossFire and you are off and running.

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