Sapphire Radeon HD 3870
- Dedicated tessellation unit, UVD, DirectX 10.1 support, CrossfireX support
- Gaming performance is only good at medium quality settings when playing DirectX 10 games
The Sapphire HD3870 is ATI's next generation of GPUs, superseding the HD2000 series and challenging NVIDIA's 8800 GT cards for a place in the mid-range market.
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This Sapphire 3870 is our first look at AMD ATI's new GPU (graphics processing unit) codenamed the R670, and so far we're impressed. It's still not up in the same bracket as NVIDIA's new Geforce 8800 GT, but there is a clear improvement over the previous mid-range card from ATI, the Radeon HD 2600 XT (GV-RX26T256H). Both cards currently available from the new HD3000 series, the 3870 and its less powerful sibling, the 3850, don a new naming scheme to separate themselves from the pack. The three indicates the series, the eight indicates the family and the 70 indicates its position in the line-up. So far the 3870 is at the top.
Like the HD2900 XT, which still sits at the head of the family, this card offers 320 stream processors and has a core clock speed of 775MHz, but unlike the HD2900 XT, which offers a 512-bit memory bus this card only has a 256-bit memory bus. What it does offer instead is 512MB of GDDR4 RAM. GDDR4 runs at lower voltages and functions more efficiently, allowing higher clock speeds. In this case the memory is clocked at 1175MHz (2250MHz effective speed). Both of these figures surpass the current HD2900 XT beast, which slots in with just 740MHz core and 825MHz (1650MHz effective) memory clock speeds.
Like the HD2600 XT and HD2900 XT this card occupies two PCI slots, but it only takes one PCIe power cable to power it. In terms of power consumption, the 3870 uses considerably less than the older cards in the HD2000 series. For example, the HD2900 XT uses up to 215watts, while the new 3870 uses just 105watts under load. This is partially attributable to the smaller 55nm (nanometre) fabrication process that has been employed in the making of this chip; shrinking the transistors down significantly from the previous 80nm technology used on the HD2000 series.
Another feature this card brings to the market is support for DirectX 10.1, a minor incremental update to Microsoft's DirectX 10 API (application programming interface). DirectX 10.1 is not officially available until the release of Vista Service Pack 1 and will bring minor graphical improvements, but is not necessarily a draw card against owners of DirectX 10.0 graphics cards.
Also on the list of new features is support for ATI's CrossfireX. This new Crossfire mode allows up to four graphics cards to be strung together. Each board has two connectors and links up to the next in a chain. A CrossFireX motherboard must be used in order to achieve this configuration, but it will allow up to eight monitors to be used at the same time and up to two (then four with future driver updates) GPUs to be configured in Crossfire together.
The Sapphire HD3870 also has the dedicated tessellation unit built onto the board and includes ATI's UVD (universal video decoder) designed to handle encoding and decoding on the GPU, rather than palming it off to the CPU.
In our benchmarks we found the 3870 is still not up to NVIDIA's 8800 GT, but it is a marked improvement over the previous generation. In Crysis the HD3870 averaged just 11.7fps (frames per second) on high settings using the native resolution of our Samsung SyncMaster 245B 24in LCD, 1920x1200, while the ASUS 8800 GT averaged 20fps. In the Lost Planet: Extreme Condition DirectX 10 edition we ran the game at 1920x1200 with all the DirectX 10 features turned on; the HD3870 averaged 16.65fps, the 8800 GT averaged 30.85fps and the HD2600 XT got 5.7fps.
In 3DMark 2006 the HD3870 scored 10,729 while the 8800 GT scored 11,572 and the HD2600 XT scored just 4879. Using FEAR and Half-Life 2 to get a real world DirectX 9 scores the 3870 scored well enough for comfortable game play. In Half-Life 2 using the maximum quality settings at 1920x1200 the HD3870 averaged 121fps and in FEAR it averaged 61fps using the maximum resolution of 1600x1200 with the best quality settings.
Overall it performed as good as is needed in DirectX 9 tests, plus it performed well enough in the DirectX 10 games to have some fun and enjoy the quality graphics. It's not quite as special as the 8800 GT, but it's a good value card otherwise.
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