Barrier Eliminators: X1900GT and X1950XTX from Sapphire

Quantity Takes On Quality

The idiom "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to the video card market, as buyers expect noticeable increases in performance with every significant increase in price. Game fanatics speak of frame rates, but ignore those "high frame rates" available from low-priced cards when used at low resolutions and reduced visual effects. Meanwhile, HD movie fans look to good graphics processors as a way to display high-resolution video smoothly and in fine detail. Like Marie Silvia has said, "it's all about the quality!"

Sapphire's X1950XTX and X1900GT hit the pricing sweet spots for upper and lower enthusiast markets, while EVGA's Superclocked 7600GT stands in for comparison. Let's take a look at how these technologies cope as we crank up the quality levels and resolutions.

Brand Identity?

The drive to bring new models to the market quickly has forced most of ATI's production partners to use reference PCB designs, but that doesn't necessarily mandate uniformity; Besides overclocking of some "premium" models, companies often differentiate through package design, features, accessories and price.

A colorful box might be the primary concern for local-level retailers, but enthusiasts just want to get at what's inside. Most noticeable on Sapphire's X1900GT is ATI's "old-school" small fan reference cooler, which has been tweaked to operate at lower speeds and noise levels on this reduced 36-pixel shader 575 MHz processor. Its super-cool X1950XTX counterpart is also based on a reference design, where huge copper sinks and heatpipes chill the 48-pixel shader 650 MHz processor.

Sapphire's X1900GT and X1950XTX support both AVIVO and VIVO, which are similar-sounding technologies that should never be confused. AVIVO encompasses ATI's latest video quality enhancements and namesake hardware-assisted video converter software, while VIVO simply means Video In/Video Out. Though most modern cards support TV-Out (the VO part of VIVO), only selected models such as these support TV-In. ATI's Rage Theater chip encodes Video Inputs, which can be captured using Windows XP's included software (Windows Movie Maker), third-party applications or possibly ATI Multimedia center, if you already have a licensed MMC product installed.

Sapphire bundles both cards with a manual, driver CD, a reduced-feature version of Cyberlink PowerDVD, a trial pack of Cyberlink PowerDirector 4, a four-pin Molex to six-pin PCI-Express supplemental power connector, Video In/Video Out splitter cable (supporting S-Video and Composite Video), component video break-out splitter, S-Video cable, Composite Video cable and two DVI-I to VGA adapter blocks.

The X1950XTX comes with The DaVinci Code PC-DVD game, while the X1900GT comes with a four-game DVD trial bundle and coupon code to keep one game of your choosing. Titles for the X1900GT game bundle are Brother In Arms: Road to Hill 30, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Richard Burns Rally and Tony Hawk's Underground 2.

Other than the pretty box and free game, Sapphire competes with other ATI partners on price. Starting at $200 for its X1900GT and $400 for its X1950XTX, Sapphire is among the most reasonably priced brands on the Web.

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Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.