Summary: Running at a blistering 695MHz core, Sapphire's TOXIC X1950 XTX is the fastest X1950 XTX card on the market. On top of that, it's also liquid-cooled for better cooling. See how this board stacks up against NVIDIA's GeForce 7950 GX2 and 7900 GTX, as well as the X1950 XTX and X1900 XTX in today's review!
For some end users, stock just isn’t good enough. “Stock” means compromises were made. These compromises could have been made to make the product cheaper to produce, or they could have been made to reduce performance. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, or it’s a case where the former compromise ends up affecting the later.
Whatever the reason, to hardware enthusiasts, stock just isn’t good enough.
This can be extremely frustrating to ATI enthusiasts who crave performance, as the high-end graphics cards these enthusiasts want like the X1900 XTX and X1950 XTX tend to strictly follow ATI’s reference board design to the letter. Often times, there’s very little innovation among ATI’s board partners on these cards, most of these boards are cut-and-paste copies of the ATI reference board. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, such as ASUS’ Extreme Radeon X1800 XT TOP, which was a highly overclocked X1800 XT graphics card equipped with blazing clock speeds and a massive heatsink/fan unit from Artic Cooling that was truly custom, but cards such as this are the exception more often than the rule.
The bottom line is that out-of-the-box, many ATI-based cards are flat-out boring.
Fortunately there are aftermarket cooling solutions from companies like Arctic Cooling, Thermaltake, and Zalman that are available for enthusiasts to purchase to deck out their ATI cards with. As Lenin showed you in our VGA Cooler Mini-Roundup, these coolers can do a pretty good job of cooling the X1900 XTX without generating an excessive amount of noise. Unfortunately however, the moment you swap out your stock ATI cooler with one of these aftermarket coolers you void your card’s original warranty, even though the aftermarket cooler does a better job of cooling the GPU than the stock ATI cooler.
So what is an enthusiast to do if he wants a Radeon X1950 XTX board with more effective cooling but he doesn’t want to void his warranty? Up to this point, that answer has been pretty simple: pray for someone to produce a X1950 XTX card with better cooling.
Fortunately those prayers have been answered in the form of Sapphire’s TOXIC X1950 XTX. The card features a liquid cooling solution for cooling the graphics core, and supercharged clock speeds for even better than stock X1950 XTX performance.
We were eager to see how the board compared to the stock ATI Radeon X1950 XTX in terms of performance and cooling, so when the opportunity to test a card for review popped up, we jumped at the chance. Let’s take a closer look at the card…
It looks like Sapphire is using the exact same liquid cooler that was previously used on the TOXIC X1900 XTX. In fact, the sticker on our X1950 XTX review sample clearly read “TOXIC Liquid Cooled X1900 XTX”.
If you recall, the cooler itself is manufactured by the cooling aficionados at Thermaltake and it’s loosely based on Thermaltake’s retail liquid cooling solution for VGA cards, the Tide Water. The cooling system Thermaltake has developed for Sapphire is composed of two pieces, a water block which keeps the GPU cool, and a second external cooling unit which feeds the water block with fresh coolant. Inside the cooling unit rests an all-copper radiator, a 12V pump, water reservoir, and finally a fan which is responsible for supplying cool air to the entire unit. The cooling unit used on the Sapphire board is a little thinner than Thermaltake’s Tide Water, occupying only a single slot in comparison to the Tide Water’s two slots, and a slightly different fan is used on the Sapphire TOXIC, but overall the concept and design is quite similar. So how does it all work?
A water block sits atop the X1950 XTX GPU for cooling, which is connected to two rubber hoses. One hose is responsible for feeding fresh, cold coolant to the water block, while the second hose takes the coolant that’s been used to cool the GPU back to the external cooling unit, where it can be cooled once again for use on the GPU.
This cycle is constantly running in motion, working to keep the graphics core cool. The 12V pump at the back of the Blizzard unit is responsible for keeping the water in motion, while the radiator works to keep the coolant cool. The coolant itself is cooled by the radiator at the back of the cooling unit. The radiator is a large, all-copper unit, with heat pipes for greater cooling, and is composed of numerous thin fins to increase its surface area. Finally, to help keep everything cool, a fan is used to pass fresh cool air from within your PC’s case over the radiator and its fins before the air exhausts outside your system’s case at the end of the cooler. At the center of the fan lies a blue LED for added flair.
The fan’s RPMs can be adjusted via a switch on the cooling unit; two different modes are provided a “High” setting, and a “Low” setting.
Thermaltake and Sapphire’s liquid cooler is completely self-contained, you won’t need any additional parts to get everything up and running, and installation is pretty similar to a regular graphics card, only you’ve got to find a place to locate the card’s external liquid cooling unit. The cooler can be located practically anywhere within your system’s case. The hoses Sapphire uses on their TOXIC board are about 13” long, so you could place the liquid cooling unit on the opposite end of your system’s motherboard if you wanted to and probably still have a little bit of room to work with, or you could place the two components next to each other if you’d like.
Fortunately it seems Sapphire and Thermaltake have done a good job ensuring that this won’t be an issue for the TOXIC X1950 XTX. The hoses on our board were all fit nice and tight, it would take a lot of force to loosen them. Based on this we don’t think they’d come loose accidentally. We did notice however that Sapphire used too much thermal paste to cool the GPU on our review sample.
Coolant levels can be measured by a fluid level on the back of the cooling unit. A water line is located here so you’ll clearly see if the Sapphire cooler is low on coolant. The reservoir can then be topped off by removing the screw cap on the back of the cooler.
In addition to the 6-pin PCI Express power connector which is used to supply additional power to the graphics card, an additional Molex connector is also attached to Sapphire’s TOXIC X1950 XTX card. This power connection is used for the fan on the external cooling unit. If you don’t attach this power connector, the fan won’t operate.
We ran our TOXIC board without the fan powered up for a little bit just to see what would happen, and while we didn’t notice any tearing or unusual artifacts, we wouldn’t recommend doing this for extended use if you care about the life of your graphics card. Keep in mind that the warranty period for the TOXIC X1950 XTX board is the standard Sapphire two-year warranty.
Cooling the other components
The rest of the cooling for Sapphire’s TOXIC X1950 XTX board is fairly similar to your typical Radeon X1950 XTX card. For instance, the VRM circuitry located just behind the board’s memory modules is cooled by the same copper heatsink used on ATI’s reference Radeon X1950 XTX board, while the memory modules themselves are cooled by simple aluminum RAMsinks. Here we were a little disappointed with the TOXIC X1950 XTX, as ATI’s reference board design uses one massive copper RAMsink for the Radeon X1950 XTX.
The card’s liquid cooler is only responsible for cooling the GPU. That’s it.
Everywhere else Sapphire’s TOXIC board is basically identical to every over Radeon X1950 XTX on the market. Sapphire has made no design changes to ATI’s reference board design, or the PCB itself. The exact same board-level components that are used on Sapphire’s stock X1950 XTX board are also used on the TOXIC card.
One key difference between the TOXIC board and every other X1950 XTX card that’s been announced to date however lies in its clock speeds.
Out-of-the-box Sapphire clocks their TOXIC X1950 XTX at the stock X1950 XTX speeds of 650MHz core/1000MHz memory. However, end users are also given the option of overclocking the board’s graphics core to 695MHz by loading Sapphire’s A.P.E. overclocking utility. A.P.E. stands for automated performance enhancer.
Loading A.P.E. won’t void your card’s warranty, as far as Sapphire is concerned the TOXIC board is designed to run at 695MHz A.P.E. can’t be used to overclock the TOXIC board beyond the standard speeds of 695MHz/1000MHz however, so you’ll have to use a third-party app or ATI Catalyst Control Center if you want to overclock the card any further.
Software and accessories
Rather than bundling their latest graphics cards with an assortment of games and game demos (like most manufacturers do), Sapphire has recently instituted their Sapphire Select game bundle program. Included inside the packaging of the Blizzard Radeon X1900 XTX is a Sapphire Select DVD. On the Sapphire Select DVD you’ll find four games: Tony Hawk’s Undergound 2, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Richard Burns Rally. You can try all four games for up to one hour, at that point you’ll then pick two games to be unlocked for the full version. The other two games can then be purchased at a discount if you’d like.
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast
GeForce 7900 GTX and 7950 GX2 cards are tested with NVIDIA’s image quality set to “high quality”, rather than the default setting of “quality”. This is done to help cut down on the texture shimmering seen in some games. ATI cards are left at their default quality settings.
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
Call of Duty 2 – Direct3D
Far Cry – Direct3D
We tried using multiple programs to overclock the TOXIC X1950 XTX, but nothing we tried seemed to work with the board, including apps we’ve used successfully in the past such as the driverheaven.net overclock tool for R5xx cards. Performance with that tool was unchanged regardless of what speed we typed in manually, including 999MHz core.
Sapphire TOXIC X1950 XTX at 650/1000:
Sapphire TOXIC X1950 XTX at 695/1000:
We ran our temperature tests with the TOXIC board two different ways: one with the board running at the factory speeds of 650MHz core/1000MHz memory, and the second with the board running at Sapphire’s A.P.E. speeds of 695MHz core/1000MHz memory (2D speeds remain unchanged with A.P.E. enabled). We also ran the board’s fan at both the “high” and “low” fan settings.
Radeon X1950 XTX core: With its unique branching abilities, 48 pixel shaders, and ATI’s eight 32-bit memory controllers, an argument can be made that ATI’s R580 core powering the X1900 series is the most advanced GPU out there. With the most recent addition of GDD4 in R580+, you definitely can’t knock the technology ATI has employed in the Radeon X1950 XTX.
Noise: With the Radeon X1950 XTX now sporting a near silent cooler, Sapphire’s TOXIC X1950 XTX is actually slightly louder than the stock X1950 XTX, particularly when the card’s fan is cranked up to the “high” setting. We wouldn’t classify it as a noisy board however, NVIDIA’s reference GeForce 7600 GT board for instance runs noticeably louder.
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