So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sapphire Radeon HD3850 Ultimate
- Silent heat-pipe
- Not for high-end gamers
An excellent choice for casual gamers who care more about noise than getting the best performance out of the latest games.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
Of ATI's new HD3000 series cards the HD3850 is the low-end, competing with NVIDIA's 8800 GTS 320MB cards. It may not be the most potent performer available, and certainly isn't the best choice if you want to see games like Crysis running at full capacity. However, its cooler operational temperatures allow it the opportunity to run on a passive heat sink, such as with the Sapphire HD3850 Ultimate we had the pleasure of testing.
The HD3000 range supersedes the HD2000 series, bringing a far more acceptable level of performance than the previous generation could muster. Although the HD3870 is the top player so far from the new family, the HD3850 is still a decent choice, especially considering the silent heat-pipe option.
It offers 512MB of GDDR3 RAM on a 256-bit external memory bus. The core clock runs at 668MHz while the memory puffs along at a bizarre 828MHz (1656MHz effective speed). Unlike NVIDIA's GPU (graphics processor unit), the 320 stream processors on all ATI Radeon cards run at the core clock speed, rather than on a separate frequency. All of this is achieved on a nice, power efficient 55-nanometre architecture.
Among its new features the Sapphire Radeon HD3850 runs the latest DirectX 10.1 API (application programming interface), a minor upgrade to DirectX 10. Although it's a bonus, this is not a feature to buy on, as it is only a small scale update to the API. The Sapphire HD3850 Ultimate also offers Crossfire X support, allowing up to four boards to be linked up in a daisy-chain (requires a Crossfire X motherboard). This will initially allow for displays on a maximum of eight screens while still offering support for only two GPUs, but will eventually support four GPUs in a Crossfire configuration.
Probably the coolest thing about this board, however, is simply its silent, passive heat sink. The card is no dud, it will run early 2007 titles at high quality settings in high resolutions, and is capable of running late 2007 titles (and hopefully more into 2008) at medium or at worst, low quality settings at high resolutions. The only caveat is the size of the heat sink, which is almost triple the size of the active stock cooler, taking up two PCI slots. This, unfortunately, is the price of silence, which this card offers in droves.
In our tests, as we've mentioned, the card didn't rock the frames, but it did perform fairly well for its price. For DirectX 9 (DX9) we used Half-Life 2, in which the Sapphire Radeon HD3850 Ultimate averaged 122fps (frames per second) using the maximum resolution of our Samsung SyncMaster 245B (1920x1200) and with all the quality settings turned up to the max. In FEAR it averaged 54fps using the highest quality settings and a resolution of 1600x1200. In 3DMark 2006 it scored 9876.
In DirectX 10 (DX10) tests the Sapphire Radeon HD3850 ultimate was less impressive, but was still able to run the games, and would still be suitable at lower quality settings or at lower resolutions. In the DX10 version of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, using the default settings, this card managed an average of 47fps, but fell to pieces at the maximum 1920x1200 and with all the DX10 features turned on, averaging just 13fps. Equally, in Crysis using the same resolution and all settings at high this card only managed 16fps. In the Call of Juarez DX10 demo we saw slightly better results with an average of 24fps using the default settings.
It's not going to suit hardcore gamers, but casual gamers will still be able to enjoy most gaming titles, as long as they're willing to sacrifice some of the higher quality visual effects.
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