A lot has happened at NVIDIA since ATI launched its Radeon X1900-series at the end of January. The boys in green unveiled the GeForce 7900-series at CeBIT and then unveiled GeForce 7950 GX2 - dubbed SLI on a stick by some - at Computex. We've also played with Quad SLI, twice, since then too. While all of this has been going on, ATI has been pretty quiet on the GPU front.
Company executives at ATI have been pre-occupied with other things since the Radeon X1900-series launch. However, the strength and depth of the Radeon X1900XTX has kept the company right up there with NVIDIA. GeForce 7900 GTX wasn't fast enough to out-gun the X1900XTX, without even taking the more advanced feature set into account. While GeForce 7950 GX2 was considerably faster in many situations, it didn't break any boundaries on the image quality front.
Today, ATI is announcing the Radeon X1950-series - the first video cards to introduce GDDR4 at the consumer level. The Radeon X1950-series is based on the same R580 graphics processing unit, with some minor tweaks made in a new core stepping. It is still fabricated on TSMC's 90-nanometre low-k process node and the internal configuration is virtually unchanged. This means that there are still the same fourty-eight pixel shader processors, sixteen texture units, eight vertex shaders and sixteen pixel output engines.
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Even though the GPU has remained largely the same, ATI has made the move to GDDR4 memory on the Radeon X1950XTX. Under the mass of red plastic and copper, there are eight 64MB Samsung BC09 GDDR4 modules, making up a 512MB frame buffer. These DRAMs are rated to 1111MHz DDR (2222MHz effective), and are running at a dizzy 2000MHz effective. Because the memory is clocked lower than its rated speeds, there should be some headroom for even higher memory clocks than the clocks ATI has set. It will be interesting to see if any of ATI's partners choose to overclock the Radeon X1950XTX - I guess that time will tell on that front.
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Some of ATI's partners have been advertising HD-compliant video cards for some time now, even without full support for technologies like High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). In our book, part of being HD-compliant includes supporting HDCP - we just can't see the video industry selling HD DVD or Blu Ray discs without it. HD media discs without HDCP would be on the same level as DVDs without macrovision copy protection: i.e. highly unlikely.
Thankfully, the Radeon X1950-series has joined NVIDIA's GeForce 7950 GX2 with the required crypto-ROMs for HDCP compliancy across its two DVI ports. Much like the Radeon X1900XTX, both of the DVI ports are dual-link enabled, meaning that it is possible to run a pair of Dell 3007WFP monitors off one of these if you so desire.
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The card itself is incredibly red and the dual-slot cooling solution dominates the design - we will come to this in more detail shortly. With the redesigned cooler, the fan header has moved to the other end of the card, near to the power regulation circuitry. There are some slight changes in PCB layout, mainly relating to the different voltage requirements for GDDR4 memory.
However, none of these changes are critical when it comes to mounting aftermarket cooling solutions. There is no change to the mounting mechanism and mounting hole spacing, so if you've already got a Radeon X1800 or Radeon X1900-series card, you'll be able to install the same watercooling equipment if you're into the wet stuff.