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Way back in September 2005 Spode reviewed the X550 from Sapphire. A budget card, it provided an alternative to integrated graphics, giving a nice boost to overall system performance. It also expanded your connectivity options allowing for dual-monitors and TV-out. Although claims of gaming performance enhancements were made on the packaging it was quite clear that this card struggled to keep up with any (then) current game at anything over 1,024 x 768, so it certainly wasn’t for even the casual gamer. All in all, it was considered a reasonable first step into discrete graphics for those that want a boost in graphical quality and performance but who aren’t going to be playing a lot of games.
Now, over a year later, ATI has renamed and refocused the X550 as a Vista compatible card that will enable even the lowliest of PCs to run the new Aero interface. The result is the X1050.
Many people have been quick to belittle ATI for basically repackaging a three-year old product and marketing it as a significant upgrade. However, at just under £40, it could be all a lot of people want from a graphics card. Giving them a sparkling new windows interface while offsetting any other graphical overheads and providing better video quality – by way of ATI's brilliant video processing. At a push, it will even play the most modern games, just at very low resolutions and quality settings.
My only gripe with this board is that in the intervening years Sapphire hasn’t updated their board design, core/memory speeds, or cooling solution. With the modest heat output that a card like this would have, I would have hoped a half height and/or passive solution could have been developed. With recent announcements like the X1950 Pro Dual proving that Sapphire is quite capable of designing boards if needs be, it is all the more disappointing that it's chosen to keep churning out the same old reference design. Also, other companies like Connect3D and HIS have released silent solutions so it’s evidently more than possible.
Instead, the X1050 remains a full height PCI-E card as big as the X1650 and not much smaller than a 7600GT. The heatsink only covers the GPU core, leaving the memory chips to fend for themselves, and is cooled by a tiny 50mm fan. Admittedly the fan doesn’t actually get very loud but overall the cooler is a pretty half-hearted solution.
Where the X1050, and the X550 before it, really has one up on integrated graphics is the inclusion of three output methods - DVI, VGA and TV-Out are all to be found on this card – which provides for dual-monitor support. This is perhaps not so useful for the home user but is a great asset to the busy office worker.
The core itself is the RV370, which is manufactured on a 110nm process and contains 75 million transistors. It provides support for Direct X 9.0b and shader model 2.0, and has four pixel shader pipelines, two vertex shader engines, and two render output units. Onboard memory comes in either 128MB or 256MB variants, which are expandable to 512MB by using system memory. The 128MB version uses either DDR, running at 250MHz (500MHz effective) with a 128-bit interface, or DDR2, running at 333MHz (666MHz effective) with a 64-bit interface, while the 256MB version uses DDR2 running at 333MHz (666MHz effective) with a 128-bit interface. Our review sample is the 256MB version.