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As a single card, performance is far better than I ever would have expected to see out of a £135 card. Compared to the 7900 GS, on average, Call of Duty 2 was 25 per cent faster and Battlefield 2 was 15 per cent faster. Prey and Quake 4 are generally skewed towards nVidia because of the superior OpenGL performance and support for UltraShadow II. However, in this case, on average is was only 2-7 per cent in the favour of nVidia.
However, the really interesting part of the the X1950 Pro is the now internal CrossFire support. Previously running CrossFire has been a messy affair. It either meant transferring data through the North Bridge, or via an external cable that required a special CrossFire edition graphics card.
ATI has moved away from these cumbersome systems and followed nVidia's methodology - though at present it's only available on this new X1950 Pro. Above you can see the connecting strips that enable the cards to communicate. Unlike most nVidia parts which have solid PCBs, these are very similar to the flexible strips that Asus has always supplied with its motherboards.
Unlike nVidia's solution, ATI uses two separate strips for full duplex communication and increased bandwidth. Setting CrossFire up was as easy as plugging the two cards in, connecting the PCB strips and plugging in the monitor. It doesn't even matter which card you plug the monitor in to!
Above you can see CrossFire at work. This isn't the board we tested with, but rather one that happened to be lying around ready for photography!
CrossFire worked without fault, but it wasn't without complications. I decided to try a mixed pair of cards – the Sapphire and the PowerColor. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get them working in CrossFire. On top of that, but I would frequently find while moving cards around, trying different combinations and even trying to revert back to the two Sapphire cards, I would often boot in to a black screen in Windows. It would seem that ATI still have a few issues to iron out, but this is definitely a strong step in the right direction.
What was most impressive though, was the performance. At higher resolutions, which is where you would really need CrossFire for, we saw as much as 93 per cent increase in performance. There were a few areas were performance was consistently lower – but I'd strike this down to beta drivers and hope for a future improvement. Generally speaking, performance looks incredibly promising.
Considering X1950 Pro is faster than the 7900 GS and supports simultaneous full precision HDR and FSAA, there is no doubt in my mind that I would choose the X1950 Pro over any 7900 GS.
CrossFire has been greatly improved, not only in terms of performance, but in simplicity of doing so. I still feel they have a long way to catch up with nVidia on the driver front, as SLI feels like a much more mature product. However, with ATI's commitment to regular driver updates – I'm confident this will improve, and quickly.