ATI HD3850 & HD3870: Improved Acoustics & Power Efficiency

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This recording contains ~10 seconds of the video card fan at each speed tested. The recording begins, ends, and is interspersed with the ambient noise of the test system (with no video card installed). No recordings were made of our ATI HD3850 sample, as its contribution to the test system noise was not audible. (See #2 Test Results on page .)

This recording was made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files. It represents a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

The recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

More details about how we make audio recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.


Gaming: This is not our forté, so for an overall sense of how well the HD 3850 and HD 3870 perform in games, we recommend the reviews at The Tech Report, [Hard]OCP, X-bit Labs, and AnandTech. The general consensus is that the HD 3850 represents the best value in mid-range gaming performance today. The HD 3870's extra horsepower helps for those wanting to play at higher resolutions, and offers fair value to those who cannot afford a Geforce 8800GT, which is said to do a touch better in some games.

Video Playback: The Unified Video Decoder built into the HD 3800 series made video playback a breeze, blowing through our test clips with ease despite our antiquated processor.

Stock Cooling: Both stock coolers were adequate in our opinion, but the type of noise emanating from the HD 3870's fan was a little too grating for our liking. It was a huge improvement over previous dual-slot ATI coolers, but it's still a prime candidate for a third party heatsink such as the Accelero S1. The HD 3850's stock cooling surprised us — it was akin to a single slot passive heatsink as the fan was effectively inaudible in our test system. We'd be happy with this card's default acoustics in any PC. (We certainly hope its fan behavior is typical!)

Power Consumption: It's very low for both cards, especially compared to the previously top-of-the-line Radeon X1950XTX. During idle, the HD 3850 and HD 3870 added only 13W and 20W, respectively, to our IGP system's AC power draw. Considering the 3D performance, those are impressive numbers. No doubt there's some automatic 2D undervolting involved — of which we whole-heartedly approve! It's about time we had the equivalent of Cool'n'Quiet or SpeedStep for graphics cards. Perhaps as with CPUs a couple of years ago, a peak has been crested, and the industry will be moving towards high efficiency and lower power GPUs. The next generation or two of GPUs will tell.

Of the two cards, we highly recommend the HD 3850. For gaming at lower resolutions, it offers solid performance, very low power draw, and it's going to be completely inaudible in most systems. The price is also very attractive, especially taking into account ATI's recent price cut on the entire HD 3800 line. The HD 3850 512MB variant is now US$169 while the HD 3870 512MB price has been lowered to US$199. Rumor has it an additional price cut for the HD 3850 is on the way. For gaming at higher resolultions, the Palit HD 3870 is the better choice. It also presents a good value, though its stock cooler is not quite up to our standards and we advise replacing it if you are serious about silence. You should also seek other opinions about the Palit HD 3870's HDMI performance.

ATI Radeon HD 3850 256MB

* Good 3D Performance
* Very low idle power consumption
* Low load power consumption
* Excellent high definition playback
* Fan very quiet at default speed
* Tempting Price-point

* Fan uncontrollable (may be isolated to our sample)
* No out-of-case path for hot exhaust

Palit Radeon HD 3870 512MB

* Excellent 3D Performance
* Low idle power consumption
* Fairly low load power consumption
* Excellent high definition playback

* Stock cooler not up to SPCR quiet standards
* Poor HDMI connectivity

Our thanks to ATI and Palit for the video card samples.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 VGA Cooler
Updated VGA Card/Cooler Test Platform
Zalman VF1000 LED Graphics Card Cooler
Asus EN8600GT Silent/HTDP/512M Graphics Card
Asus EN8600GT OC GEAR graphics card


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