It's been said that three months on the Internet is equal to a normal human year but the pace is decidedly more 'pedestrian' when it comes to the widespread adoption of new technologies. Computer engineers and scientists may move at a pace set by Moore's Law but there is no guarantee that end-users feel the same urge. In the two years since PCI Express first made its debut as the much-touted successor to the AGP interface, a significant population of users continues to hang on to older AGP based systems.
Part of the reason why AGP systems are still abundant lies in the lack of urgency to mass-upgrade for those who have already invested in very decent AGP systems. While another relatively lesser-discussed reason lies in the fact that newer CPUs haven't really improved gaming performance significantly since the late days of AGP's heyday. Remember that we've mostly progressed into multi-core processors these days? Well, if you've been keeping tabs on our reviews, you would realize that dual-core and quad-core processors offer little gaming advantage so far. That brings us to the graphics card quotient that really makes or breaks a game's playability (as long as the system is decked with at least a decent amount of main memory).
Also during this period of transition, you have probably often read about the premature demise of the AGP interface, including our own (mistaken) predictions about its longevity. Yet both ATI and NVIDIA have eventually relented and produced bridge chips (Rialto and High Speed Interconnect respectively) to enable AGP support on their native PCI Express architectures. The aforementioned reasons combined with strong industry demand to support the AGP platform were key reasons why despite the fact that consumer graphics continues to progress in the PCIe scene, there have been the occasional AGP versions appearing now and then to cater to the holdouts. These have usually been of the mid and lower range, like NVIDIA's GeForce 7600 series and 7800 GS while ATI had their Radeon X1300 and X1600 variants on AGP.
ATI's relatively new and upper mid-range Radeon X1950 PRO is the latest to get this treatment and not just from the odd vendor. We have counted at least four manufacturers getting into the act, from those running standard clocks to a 512MB enhanced card. While there is an official ATI reference board for AGP, most of the cards seem to feature the vendors' custom designs and tweaks, making for an interesting comparison. What's also of interest to AGP owners is that the Radeon X1950 PRO has been 'ported' to the AGP interface with its full feature set almost intact, meaning the 80nm core, HDCP support and dual-link DVI outputs are all present. Only CrossFire support has been disabled since that would be superfluous for an AGP motherboard. If you are unsure of the features on the Radeon X1950 PRO, we recommend that you refresh yourself with one of our many Radeon X1950 PRO articles before continuing.
GeCube, HIS, PowerColor and Sapphire have all sent their Radeon X1950 PRO AGP graphics cards for this shootout today, as we dusted off our AGP system for probably one last salvo. Before we introduce the contenders, take a quick glance at the technical specifications for the stock Radeon X1950 PRO AGP card, which is to all intents, exactly the same as the PCI Express version.