ATI HD3850 & HD3870: Improved Acoustics & Power Efficiency

Graphics Cards
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March 10, 2008 by Lawrence Lee

ATI Radeon
HD 3850 256MB

PCI-E Video Card
Palit Radeon
HD 3870 512MB

PCI-E Video Card
ATI Palit
Street Price
~US$170 ~US$190

The ATI Radeon HD 3850 and Palit Radeon HD 3870 were launched late last year to near-unanimous applause from hardware reviewers. It's the first time in recent memory that ATI has produced cards obviously competitive with nVidia offerings in the same price category. The midrange price category ($150~$200) of these cards may actually be more important than the high end, as it represents where the bulk of DIY graphics cards are sold. The HD 3800 series is the first to be DirectX 10.1 compliant and is geared towards 3D performance.

Both of our review samples use the stock ATI reference coolers. Normally, gaming cards equipped with stock coolers would be dismissed as inadequate for a well-cooled silent PC, at least not without significant modification. However, these cards are not the power guzzling behemoths of GPUs past — ATI is claiming lower power consumption, lower temperatures and quieter fans. If this holds true, it may be possible for us to have our gaming cake and eat it too.

We'll also be looking at how well ATI's Unified Video Decoder (UVD) performs in a relatively low-end system (by modern standards). UVD is a piece of hardware incorporated into the GPU core that helps offload a significant portion of video decompression of H.264 and VC-1 content, allowing for relatively low CPU usage during playback. UVD is available on all of ATI's HD series graphics cards except for the HD 2900 line.

Side by side, the HD 3870 (top) and HD 3850 (bottom)

ATI Radeon HD 3800 Series: Key Features (from the product web page)
Ultimate Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 Performance You’ll be blown away by life-like graphics from the latest DirectX® 10.1 games, with stunning 3D graphics and shading effects.
Over 1 teraFLOPS of Compute Power up to 640 stream processors (320 x 2) on a single card deliver the raw horsepower to attack the most demanding graphics applications

ATI CrossFireX™ multi-GPU

Upgrade to even greater 3D performance quickly and easily thanks to plug-and-play ATI CrossFireX technology with up to quad-GPU support.

PCI Express® 2.0

Get ready for the most demanding graphics applications with PCI Express 2.0 support, which allows up to twice the throughput of current AMD PCI Express cards.
Unified Video Decoder View and manipulate the latest Blu-ray and HD DVD content with a dedicated hardware video decoder that leaves your CPU free to perform other tasks.
Ultimate Image Quality Performance that rivals high-end HD-DVD and Blu-ray players on displays with resolutions that exceed 1080p – up to 2560x1600.
Integrated Digital Outputs Enjoy your digital content the way you want to, with built-in HDMI that includes 5.1 surround audio for big screen entertainment.
More Processing Performance per Watt Get up to twice the Gigaflops per watt of previous generations of high-end AMD GPUs.
ATI PowerPlay™ Technology Power saving features that reduce power consumption at idle or during low-usage.
Runs Cool and Quiet With a smaller chip designed to use less power, your system can take advantage of high-end Windows Vista® features while running more efficiently and quieter than ever.

ATI's marketing emphasizes the HD 3800 series' video playback capabilities, low power draw, and cool / quiet operation. The two cards utilize the same core though the HD 3870 is clocked significantly higher: 775Mhz vs. 670Mhz core/shader frequencies, 2250Mhz vs. 1660Mhz memory frequency, and 72GB/s vs. 53GB/s of memory bandwidth. Our HD 3850 sample has half the video memory (256MB) of the HD 3870 but a 512MB variant is also available. Both are fairly lanky cards, approximately 23.15cm long from one edge of the PCB to the other.

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