Me and a friend are just short of physical confrontation over whether ATI brand ATI chipset cards are 'way' more compatible/reliable than other ATI chipset board makers. My experience has been that the difference in price between the 2 is unjustified.
Someone please convince me otherwise. I am open to being convinced that ATI brand cards are worth paying extra for. But I'm not convinced yet.
They use the same cores and same PCBs for almost every ATI board out there, be it official ATI or from Sapphire, Diamond, VisionTek, HIS or whoever else makes ATI boards. It is not worth any extra premium, since the ATI cards are all stock and some of the other makers put on better cooling(HIS ICE-Q series for example) or overclock them by default(you can do this yourself easily, but if its cheaper and higher clocked, then why not buy it?).
Not every card is a reference card, but it is a good bet that those at launch are. Some 3870x2's use Gddr3 memory instead of Gddr4. Cooling solutions can differ. Asus and Gecube are coming out with 3970 cards with 4 DVI ports. Some reference cards can use faster memory and be overclocked as some use .8ns memory and some use 1.0ns memory. I was just loking at a site today that compared different HD38xx ATI cards and they were not the same. If I can find the site I will post it for you. Will the faster memory be better enough for you to recognize? Donno, you gotta be the judge.