So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
ASUS EAH3870 X2 1GB
- Four DVI ports, excellent performance when playing DirectX 9-based games at maximum detail levels and high resolutions, doesn't run very hot, doesn't require a CrossFire-capable motherboard
- Poor performance in the DirectX 10-based game Crysis, can't use all four DVI ports in CrossFire mode
Two GPUs on one card sounds promising in theory, but this card didn't shine in all our tests. It does have four DVI ports though, so if you've always wanted to run four monitors off one PC, then this is the card for you.
Price$ 649.00 (AUD)
With this high-end graphics card, you'll be seeing double. Not only does it have two ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics processing units (GPUs) onboard, it also has four DVI ports – twice the amount of a typical card. This means you can attach up to four monitors to your PC, boosting your productivity and making your friends and colleagues jealous of your vast desktop expanse.
The ASUS EAH3870 X2 1GB uses ATI's CrossFire technology to render games, so both GPUs can alternate the processing load between them to render the pixels you see on your screen quicker than a single GPU can. However, CrossFire isn't entirely bug free under Windows Vista yet, so some games may not benefit at all from this card.
A case in point is the DirectX 10-based Crysis, which, at a resolution of 1920x1200 and with high image details, averaged 10.3 frames per second (fps). That was with both GPUs working in CrossFire mode, yet it averaged 11.7fps with CrossFire disabled.
Conversely, the DirectX 10-based Call of Juarez benefited from CrossFire; at a resolution of 1280x1024 and with the image quality profile set to 'balanced', the game's benchmark averaged 50fps. Without CrossFire, the same settings garnered 28fps. If you're a fan of Call of Juarez, then this card will definitely give you a better gaming experience, but don't go playing it at 1680x1050 or 1920x1200 resolutions – even with CrossFire, it averaged 18fps at 1920x1200, which isn't a playable result. As always, if you have a 22in or bigger monitor, you'll benefit from a faster high-end card such as one based on the NVIDIA GeForce 8800GTX.
For DirectX 9-based games, you won't have to worry much as this card will play them very comfortably. Here are a couple of results just to give you an indication of what it can do: Half-Life 2 averaged 132fps with CrossFire enabled and 120fps with it disabled. That was at a resolution of 1920x1200 on our Samsung SyncMaster 245B monitor, and with all the detail settings turned up. At a resolution of 1600x1200 and with maximum detail settings, FEAR averaged 113fps with CrossFire enabled and 61fps with it disabled.
The card's specifications aren't typical of a standard ATI Radeon HD 3870 GPU; the GPU core on this X2 card runs at 825MHz, while the memory runs at 1802MHz. Each GPU is accompanied by 512MB of GDDR3 memory. The GPU clock speed is 50MHz faster than that of a standard Radeon HD 3870 GPU, but the memory speed is almost 450MHz slower.
CrossFire is enabled on the card by default (and you can use this card even if your motherboard doesn't support CrossFire), but if you plan on using four monitors, you'll have to disable it. With CrossFire disabled, you'll still be able to play games, of course, you just won't be able to harness the power of both GPUs. Luckily, with CrossFire enabled, you can still use a dual-monitor setup, so it's not all bad.
It's a double-thickness card, so it'll occupy two expansion slots in a PC, but because it has four DVI ports, its cooler doesn't have an exhaust. If you use this card, you'll need to ensure that your PC has proper airflow running from the front to the rear so that warmth generated by the card can escape. Furthermore, you'll need two PCI Express power cables in order to run it, which could cause some clutter.
For its $599 price, this card is more cost-effective than two individual Radeon HD 3870-based cards (which will also require a CrossFire-capable motherboard), but it only barely keeps up with cards based on NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 GTS GPU, which can also be found at more competitive prices (see MSI's GeForce 8800 GTS 512MB (NX8800GTS-T2D512E-OC) as an example). Compared against the 8800 GTS, the 3870 X2 was particularly disappointing in Crysis. Still, if you won't be playing that game, and if you've always wanted to run four monitors off one PC, then this card can be considered.
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